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'We were good to go': Flying Pig official doesn't regret decision to kick off race despite inclement weather

A temporary shelter-in-place order was issued shortly after the start of the race
Flying Pig 2023
Posted at 9:17 AM, May 07, 2023

CINCINNATI — Though heavy rain and storms pounded runners through the majority of the marathon and a temporary shelter-in-place order was issued, Flying Pig Marathon officials don't regret the decision to start the race like normal.

More than 15,000 runners from all over the world kicked off the full and half marathons around 6:30 a.m.

At one point during the race, runners were pushing their way through water above their ankles.

Just 45 minutes into running, officials issued a "shelter-in-place" order at 7:15 a.m. after they previously mentioned via social media that they were closely monitoring the forecast. The order advised runners and spectators to stop and take cover at various locations along the race route.

Roughly 45 minutes later, race officials lifted the shelter-in-place order, while heavy rain continued to fall.

WCPO crews along the race route saw some people stop and head to shelter-in-place locations, but the majority of runners continued on in the weather conditions.

Jamie Smith, board chair of the Flying Pig, said race officials expected to lose roughly 10% of runners due to the weather, but he said it didn't visibly look that way Sunday morning.

He said race officials began watching the weather forecasts Saturday afternoon and they were told to "play it by ear." He also said that with five minutes until start time, officials still had yet to make a decision.

"We thought it was better to get them out of the starting line and then allow them to shelter in place," Smith said. "We reminded them all that it was a personal decision to make the run, and so far, every one of them has thanked us for letting them go."

He also said that officials had not received any indication of injuries caused by the weather conditions.

Despite the heavy storms, Smith said he wouldn't change any of the decisions that were made regarding weather.

"We were good to go," Smith said. "I think we made the right decision, you know, the best we could at the time. We were watching the different systems come in, and we were kind of right in between them, and if we got them out of the starting line we knew we were good to go."

Executive Director Iris Simpson Bush echoed Smith Monday, telling WCPO her team kept people updated on social media and through the organization's PigWorks app sending out alerts on available shelters during the storm.

"As it got closer and we realized that it was fast-moving, that it appears that most of the lightning was generalized, we felt that we should give the choice to the individuals involved," Bush said. "People who went out and then didn't feel safe were directed by our volunteers, by first responders to places where they could shelter I'm told hundreds if not thousands did so. "

Most people, runners and spectators alike, said they agreed with the organizers' decision to start the race on time.

"We saw the lightning pretty early on but we weren't going to let us affect us. We're out here to finish, so it's exciting," said men's half marathon winner Seth Elking after he crossed the "Finish Swine".

Women's half marathon winner Aimee Piercy said she welcomed the rain.

"It made for a nice refresher out on the course, kind of distracted me a little bit," she said.

Some people voiced concern over, however, telling WCPO they felt unsafe. Some even went as far as to call the decision irresponsible.

While organizers affirm they maintained constant communication throughout Sunday's race, Frank Metzmeier said he disagrees.

He was a volunteer on the sidelines in Eden Park and said he and his peers had no communication from officials when they issued a shelter-in-place.

"It really frustrated me when I read race officials saying they did everything they could," Metzmeier said. "I know the race has been postponed before and I just didn't see why it wasn't possible yesterday. The volunteers were out in the rain and in the storm and there were multiple lightning strikes next to us, feet from us."

The former college runner said he, his family and other volunteers — some elderly — only found out about available shelters by word of mouth. He said his group don't use Twitter and never saw officials' tweets.

"I felt that there could have been more done," Metzmeier said. "I was on the course with younger people, older people, and some of them were panicked, some of them were scared and we did not know what to do."

Chris Vagasky with the National Lightning Safety Council said the organizers' decision to start the race on time, despite storms on the radar put lives at risk.

"Just one of the more than 300 lightning events that were around Cincinnati could have killed one or more people," he said.

He feels the race should have been postponed at least an hour, if not two.

"Anytime there's lightning in the area you don't want to be outside, especially when you have 18,000 people out in the elements on the course," Vagasky said. "I saw a video that somebody took as they were running over the bridge and you could see the lightning and you could hear the thunder and you could hear them comment on that in the video."

Bush said her team kept everyone's well-being top of mind, but that postponing would have also caused logistical problems. She said postponements oftentimes lead to cancellations.

"We, I'm told, are the largest police detail annually in the city of Cincinnati," Bush said. "There was a Reds game post-marathon. Our permit and all of the preparations and road closures were planned for a reasonable amount of time."

Bush said her team ensured runners were as safe as possible and that ultimately, it was their choice to run.

"We cared about, obviously cared about, getting them back to that finish line safely and we made it obvious to them as best we could: go if you will, if you don't -- again, it's your personal choice," she said.

Jason Salyer and Caitlin Keen were crowned winners after they crossed the "Finish Swine" first in their respective male and female divisions Sunday morning.

Salyer won the men's division of the full marathon after finishing at 2 hours 27 minutes and 10 seconds. The 32-year-old Tipp City, Ohio-native recently finished first in the Mercy Health Glass City Marathon on April 23.

"It's unheard of to come back (after Glass City) and try another competitive marathon, let alone win it," Sayler said.

Other than Salyer, 25-year-old Will Cadwell from Covington and 28-year-old Jack Randall — who won in 2017 and 2018 — were finalists in the men's division.

Here are the top male division runners and times:

  1. Jason Salyer — 2:27:10
  2. Will Cadwell — 2:27:38
  3. Jack Randall — 2:28: 13

Not far behind Salyer, Keen from Fort Worth, Texas, secured the women's division victory after crossing the Finish Swine in 2 hours 45 minutes and 34 seconds. The 30-year-old led the female racers from the start, race officials said.
Following Keen, was Cincinnati native Katie Hallahan and 29-year-old Lauren Mullins.

Here are the top female division runners and times:

  1. Caitlin Keen — 2:45:34
  2. Katie Hallahan — 2:59:08
  3. Lauren Mullins — 3:00:00

Keen made history with the victory has the first female Flying Pig champion to win the full marathon three times. She first won in 2018, and then won again in 2021. In 2022, she ran the Paycor Half Marathon, which she also won.
"I may be the first to win it three times but I will not be the last," Keen said. "I want little girls to see this and know they can do anything they want."

In terms of the half marathon, 19-year-old Seth Elking, who is a distance runner at UC, won the men's division, and Aimee Piercy, 25, won the women's. Piercy came in third last year while running.

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