Construction causes course changes; champions still AWOL for 2017 Flying Pig Marathon

CINCINNATI -- It’s nearly time for pigs to fly.

Three weeks from now, runners and walkers from all 50 states and 20 countries will converge in downtown Cincinnati to bring home the bacon in the 19th edition of the Flying Pig Marathon.

Race weekend starts May 5 with the P&G Health & Fitness Expo and packet pick-up at Duke Energy Convention Center. The festival culminates May 7 with the running of the marathon, half-marathon and relays, as well as the Michelob Ultra Victory Party at Yeatman’s Cove.

Five-time Flying Pig champion Sergio Reyes might not compete in this year’s event. (WCPO file)

The weekend is jam-packed with its usual assortment of events for every age and ability level, and there aren’t many changes this year, Flying Pig Marathon executive director Iris Simpson Bush said.

But there are a two construction-related nuances. While the start and finish of the marathon and half-marathon courses remain in the same areas, there are slight detours in Northern Kentucky (both courses) and on Marburg Avenue (marathon only).

“In Newport, they’re putting in a round-about so our course changed a couple of blocks to avoid that construction,” Simpson Bush said. “Then on Marburg, there’s a railroad bridge that’s going to be under construction.”

The changes are spelled out in detail on flyingpigmarathon.com, which includes maps. Most of the fluid stations and mile markers will be in the same places, and the course -- which has not changed since 2005 -- is expected to be back to its usual form in 2018.

This marks the first year the Cincinnati Bell Connector has existed during race weekend. The Pig received a special dispensation from city council through 2018 that prevents the streetcar from running during races.

The Little Kings Mile has grown in popularity since its inception and this year the race, which starts at 8 p.m. May 5, has a new feature. It will boast “celebrity” runners, otherwise known as local elite runners, politicians, personalities and media members. Competitive runners will fill one heat and everyone else will be sorted into corrals with a celebrity.

The Little Kings Mile is part of the Christian Moerlein Beer Series. People who have done all three events -- the mile, the Bockfest 5K in March and the Hudepohl 14K Brewery Run in September – are called Brew Hogs, another draw for the beer-loving running crowd. Numbers are up for the Little Kings Mile.

Registration for the rest of the events has been a bit flat. That’s not altogether unexpected, as Running USA’s annual state of the sport report in 2016 revealed a decline in U.S. road races for a second straight year. The Pig remained immune to the issue as recently as last year, when it welcomed its largest field in its history.

Participants in all weekend events totaled 39,692 in 2016. That beat the 2015 field by more than 1,900 entrants.

Simpson Bush said some people have indicated they’re holding out for the 20th running of the Pig in 2018 to fulfill bucket-list aspirations. The Pig also attracts a crush of registration in the weeks leading up to the event so it’s too soon to say what the turnout may be.

“I got another call from another race director who said, ‘Iris, how have you been up the past three years when everybody else is down?’ I said, ‘This year, I don’t know. We may be flat.’ And he said, ‘Flat’s the new win!’ You’re up!’” Simpson Bush said.

Five-time marathon champion Sergio Reyes has not registered to defend his 2016 title. The California resident hinted after last year’s victory that he may not return since his relatives from this area were moving. Anne Flower, the women’s reigning marathon winner, has not registered either.

The Pig stopped offering prize money after its first year in order to make the weekend more family- and runner-friendly. In recent years, Saturday events -- like the Toyota 10K, Tri-State Running Company 5K, Kids’ Marathon 26th Mile, PigAbilities and IAMS Flying Fur Dog Run -- have become immensely popular.

“Saturday used to be a dry run for Sunday. It is an entity unto its own right now,” Simpson Bush said. “We have almost as many participants Saturday as we do Sunday.”

The Reds have home games all Pig weekend against the San Francisco Giants, but the first two outings are at night and Sunday’s tilt at Great American Ball Park starts at 4:10 p.m. The Reds and Bengals long have partnered with the Pig to ensure a successful and safe race weekend.

And safety, above all, remains the top goal.

“We’re looking forward to a safe, successful event,” Simpson Bush said.

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