Latest reviews by Preston Ramsey

(2018)
"When Pigs Fly!"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

The Flying Pig Marathon is quintessential Cincinnati. For 20 years, this race has been almost like the unofficial start to summer, taking place the first weekend in May every year. And, like clockwork...I've avoided it.

I avoided it because for two reasons - 1) the hills of southern Ohio are not friendly and 2) I felt like people hyped it WAY too much. Well, I'm not COMPLETELY wrong about the hills - they still suck, but they aren't nearly as bad as I feared - but I was WAY off about the hype. Over the course of my brief time in Cincinnati, this race more than made its point and earned its spot as one of my favorites.

I only signed up for the full marathon, but I know plenty of people who did the 3 or 4-way challenge (some adding the "extra cheese" option). Having run a 5k the day before this race and three other races within the last two weeks prior, I felt only running one race was good enough for me! The plan going into this race was simply to FINISH - nothing more. As I'll talk about a little further down in the review, that plan changed a little.

***

As for a breakdown of the Flying Pig Marathon event in general...

COMMUNICATION (leading up to the race): Pretty darn good. Enough emails to stay informed, but not so many as to drive one crazy. In addition, the race's Facebook / Twitter / Instagram accounts were always spot on with kudos to those training as well as providing in-the-moment updates about various aspects of race weekend. An added bonus under communication would be the Flying Pig Marathon APP. This little gem not only kicked out notifications about the event, but also provided access to the event web material and live runner tracking.

RACE DATE / WEATHER: The Flying Pig Marathon takes place annually on the first Sunday of May. In Ohio. This generally means the weather could be a huge crapshoot in regard to what could happen. Thankfully, the first half of the race (for me, at least) was pretty comfortable, though it did heat up a little bit closer to 10:30/11am. For reference, the race began at 6:30am.

EXPO: The expo for the Flying Pig took place at the Duke Energy Convention Center, which - like so many other things about this event - was incredibly easy to access. I rolled into Cincinnati the day before the race and I was concerned primarily about parking, how to access the expo, how far away I would be from the start, etc. All those concerns went out the window when I got off at the exit for where I was staying and immediately saw the convention center! As for INSIDE the expo, plenty of signage and volunteers made this expo very easy to navigate. Like other marathons, I received a clear plastic gear bag which normally doubles as a "shopping bag" during the expo. However, the primary race sponsor (Proctor & Gamble) had an area on the expo floor where they were distributing free samples of P&G products - Tide, Gain, Olay, etc - and a large nylon laundry bag!

PARKING: For me, parking was a breeze. I parked in a garage right next to the hotel and did not have to move my car until I left to come home. The hotel/garage was within about a mile - maybe less? - of the start line. Needless to say, no headaches with parking for this guy!

COURSE: This course had everything one could want in a really good marathon - just the right amount (and size) of hills, crowd support, plenty of traditional (water/Gatorade/Gu) and non-traditional (graHAM crackers, SWINE & CHEESE station, and - of course - BACON) aid stations. The amount of crowd support along the course was actually quite surprising. At no point did the race have any overly significant "dead zones" with zero crowd support. In fact, there was one specific area, near the easternmost point of the course, where spectators set up a huge block party between a few houses with easily over 150-200 people at this one spot. It was cool to run through as this was one of the most populated cheering areas AND by far the loudest!

MEDAL: The medal for the marathon is a double sided medal (photo below shows the front) with the reverse of the image on the back side. What's that mean? It means you're looking at the backside of a pig on the backside of the medal!

OTHER SWAG: All race participants received a technical race shirt, a poster celebrating the 20th anniversary of the race, an indoor/outdoor travel blanket, and a black finishers jacket with an all black Flying Pig Marathon logo. Genuinely, I walked away from this event with so much more than what I anticipated! If you are thinking of running the Flying Pig - especially if you're doing the multiple race challenges - make sure you pack accordingly and have room for all your swag!

MY RACE: As I stated at the top, this goal for this race was to FINISH. Two weeks prior, I had run the Glass City Marathon in Toledo, where I 1) completed the race I DNF'd in 2017, 2) ran the entire distance without walking, 3) broke 4 hours for the first time ever, and 4) as a result, I ran a PR of 3:58:12. I had hung with the 4 hour pacer for the first 5 or 6 miles before I just decided to go a little more by feel than by pacing. Well, that feeling had me passing the pacer within another mile or so and not ever looking back! When I got to mile 20 in right around 3 hours, I knew there was a possibility of breaking 4 hours again, but had no idea I would be anywhere close to running another PR, especially on an unknown and hilly course! However, it became clear when I got within about a mile of the finish that I was going to PR - but it was going to be VERY close. I ended up finishing in 3:57:23 - nearly PR'ing by a full minute.

***
I came into this experience with many preconceived notions of why I was not excited to run the Flying Pig, but I am SO very glad that I did. Yes, the hills are tough, but they are manageable - which is why we all put in our hill training, right? Even if all the SWAG is removed from the equation, this race is well worth the trip simply based on the organization, the support (from the organizers, volunteers, crowd, and so on), and the general atmosphere. Cincinnati really gets behind this event and it shows.

If you have the opportunity to run the Flying Pig Marathon (or any of the challenge series races), I highly recommend signing up and getting "piggy" with it!

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(2017)
"Columbus 'til I Die"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

As I did in 2004, 2015, & 2016 - I returned to downtown Columbus to tackle my "home" race: the Nationwide Children's Hospital Columbus Marathon. As I said last year, this is one of my favorite races and when you look at what goes into this race from all aspects, it isn't hard to see why this is one of the best marathon events in the country.

For me this year, the stars had seemingly aligned for what would be a fantastic day, which I'll get to later. Before I get to that part though, here's my overall review of the 2017 Nationwide Children's Hospital Columbus Marathon.

COMMUNICATION (leading up to the race): Spot on as always. Darris Blackford (Race Director) and his team are always so great about letting those who have registered know exactly what is going on with events related to the race, how to stay connected, how to help benefit Nationwide Children's Hospital (NCH from this point forward), and so on. The update emails are always well organized and give just enough info to keep one's interest without making you want to hit delete right away. The official Facebook / Twitter / Instagram accounts are also great at providing event information. These are also awesome methods for race organizers to interact with participants by providing answers to FAQ's or simply giving kudos on one's training run.

RACE DATE / WEATHER: As always, the NCH Columbus Marathon takes place the 3rd Sunday in October. Normally, this equates to pretty decent weather. This year, however, it was more humid than normal with the threat of some storms moving in during the race. Obviously, organizers can't control or predict the weather, but having this race in October definitely helps manage it!

EXPO: Due to construction in the Greater Columbus Convention Center last year, the expo location was moved from where it was in 2015. However, that project has been completed and the expo found its way back to that original location this year. The Battelle Grand Ballroom is, from a logistics perspective, an absolute dream. Official race merch right as you walk in / walk out, vendors of all kinds all across the main level. On the upper level, overlooking all the vendor awesomeness below, runners collect their race collateral (bib, VIP perks, gear bags, t-shirts, etc) in a horseshoe-type setup - up on flight of stairs, loop around the upper level collecting race gear, down the opposite side. This setup makes it very easy to get in, move throughout the expo, get what you need, see what you want (or don't), and head out.

PARKING: Personally, I followed the same game plan this year as I did in 2016. Paid ahead for a parking pass for one of the garages near the start/finish line. $30 extra out of pocket, but WELL WORTH IT. Essentially no traffic issues for us the morning of the race (even as we got closer to the start area) and a VERY short walk to the Children's Champion Tent. This paid off later as we had another VERY short walk back to the car after the race and NO traffic issues whatsoever as we left.

CHILDREN'S CHAMPIONS: Did I mention that this race directly benefits Nationwide Children's Hospital? One of the biggest ways participants can help - beyond simply registering for the race - is to sign-up to be a Children's Champion as well. Children's Champions are runners & walkers who fundraise for Nationwide Children's Hospital. While there is no minimum fundraising expectation, Children's Champions have the opportunity to earn perks based on how much they raise such as a race-day jersey, custom medal engraving, access to a VIP area pre/post race and more. By the way, the VIP area is pretty cool - free breakfast, massage therapists, post-race lunch, private gear check, etc. While these perks definitely make the race experience enjoyable, raising funds to help children in need makes it incredibly worthwhile. I've had the privilege of being a Children's Champion since 2015 and will continue each year I run the Columbus Marathon!

START: The corrals/start line experience is AWESOME. I've been in Corral C all four times I've run this race and I love it. Lots of room to move, PLENTY of porta-johns, great view of downtown Cbus, etc. The build up to the start is also very fun - great deal of music and fireworks that help enhance the positive atmosphere. When you hear "Thunderstruck", you know it's go time!

FIRST HALF: During the first mile, runners are still pretty packed together. However, just before the first mile marker, the course widens and you have TONS of room to do whatever you need to do - move over, speed up, slow down, etc. Also, spectators - SPECTATORS EVERYWHERE. If you're looking for a "quiet" race, the first half of the Columbus Marathon is NOT for you. The energy the spectators - casual observers, scheduled entertainment, aid stations, and, most importantly, from the Mile Champions (patients from Nationwide Children's Hospital) - bring to this event is off the charts. Not to mention you get to pass some pretty cool sights - Ohio Statehouse, Franklin Park Conservatory, Drexel Theatre & Capital University, Nationwide Children's Hospital (with a MASSIVE cheer zone!), Katzinger's Deli, German Village, Brewery District, and back to the Ohio Statehouse again before the course split.

COURSE SPLIT / SECOND HALF: Just north of the Ohio Statehouse, the half-marathon runners will split off and head back to the finish as the marathoners continue north toward the Arena District (Nationwide Arena, North Market) and Goodale Park, before moving to the campus of The Ohio State University. The crowds slim down a bit during this first part of the second half, but not to worry - they'll pick up again! After traveling north on High St and weaving through the OSU campus, runners do a little jog around Ohio Stadium before heading west into Upper Arlington. The crowds begin to swell again as runners approach mile 18/19, or what I refer to as the "northwest corner" - the farthest point from the start/finish line, before turning sharply south and heading back toward downtown. Runners weave through Upper Arlington and are quickly in Grandview where the crowds are back in full force for the remainder of the race. Mile 20 to the finish is largely regarded as the section where many runners run their fastest 10K of the race. The course takes runners through historic neighborhoods on the north side of downtown and then back through the Arena District before heading back to North Bank Park and the finish.

FINISH: Making the final turn onto Long Street and heading to the finish has always been a favorite moment of mine. It's all downhill from that turn with a very slight incline as you come around a curve with .2 to go. The crowds are incredible during the last two miles of the race and are very reminiscent of what crowds were like during the entire first half of the race. A huge big screen and a DJ calling out names await runners as they approach the finish line

MEDAL: Once again, the medal (see attached photo) does not disappoint, capturing the fireworks display from the start of the race. Not the largest medal, but still one of my favorites to earn - and once you've got it, trust me: you've EARNED it.

***
MY RACE: As I stated at the top, this race had the potential to be something really special. 3 weeks earlier, I had absolutely CRUSHED my marathon PR (4:45) by running a 4:08 at the Akron Marathon. For those who aren't familiar with Ohio geography, Akron has hills - lots of them. By comparison, Columbus is flat - very flat. By following a really great training plan, and crushing a PR on a hilly course, I absolutely thought that breaking 4 hours was in the bag.

I THOUGHT WRONG.

Maybe 30 minutes before the start of the race, I got a sharp shooting pain in my right shoulder which would have me running very tense (and too fast to compensate) for the first 10k. Not good. Upon arriving near the 14th mile, my body just was not having anything to do with this whole day and I had to begin run/walking. Got to mile 20 and a feeling of nausea was kicking in, but no resolution from it. Mile 24 brought said resolution (read: vomit - sorry, it happens). It just was not my day, but I was still able to finish and snagged a COURSE PR by about 15 minutes. Additionally, my goal for 2017 was to run 1000 miles, which I hit right around mile 18.5. Despite the day not going as planned, I'll take these two little victories and move forward!
***

The Nationwide Children's Hospital Columbus Marathon is a fast and relatively flat race, great for runners of all skill levels. I've said it before and I'll said it again, Columbus and the surrounding communities are made up of thriving arts districts, green spaces, historic landmarks and amazing local businesses - making Columbus a great place to live, work, play, and visit.

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(2017)
"ZIPPING through Akron!"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

First and foremost, this race - nay, this race SERIES - is incredibly well organized. I can not express how amazing the organizers were at communicating information, updating their web presence, ensuring that the race series app was ready to go - the list goes on and on. It seemed like every little thing you could think of was thought of and planned for.

The expo for the marathon was a streamlined event for sure. Runners collected their bibs and "swag bag" in the first of two large convention halls, before moving on to take the obligatory photo with their bib & the race backdrop. After this, participants moved on to the vendor side of the expo. SO MANY VENDORS! Great showing from a TON of upcoming races, local universities, non-profit organizations, and so on. Near the end of the serpentine path that wound through the expo was where runners collected their official race gear, which included a 1/4 zip finisher pullover and lightweight running hat for the marathoners. Just being honest, I've worn my pullover every chance I had since race day!

Three words: KARA - FREAKIN' - GOUCHER. I had the opportunity to meet and chat with one of my favorite runners of all time. She's incredibly humble and does so much for the sport. Hands down, one of the absolute highlights of the weekend!

RACE DAY:
Parking - There's a fair amount of parking, set up by which event you are running (full, half, or relay). My wife and I drove past the first marathon-specific garage (a block from my corral) and had no problem accessing the next one, only two blocks from the start line. Easy in, easy out.

Start Line Area - Unlike the two prior events in the race series, the Akron Marathon holds to a strict corral system. This ensures that runners start where their ability level dictates! Minus some minor bottlenecking getting INTO the corrals, moving around the start area was very easy. Lots of music and (thankfully) an abundance of porta-potties! Race started on time without incident and we headed out!

The course itself is thriving with spectators at all points, offering boundless encouragement, cheers, smiles, and hi-fives! However, the course is also a challenging one, with varying elevation changes throughout - especially in the second half. There are definitely more significant hills on this course than what I am used to in the relative flatness that is the Columbus, OH metro area. This fact alone had me quite nervous about how this marathon was going to pan out!

Thankfully, coming around a corner at just before mile 24, I realized that the 16-weeks of training had put me in unfamiliar territory - coming VERY close to cracking 4 hours. Ultimately, I finished in 4:06 - setting a nearly 40 minute PR. I think it's safe to say I was ZIPPING (nod to the Univ. of Akron there) through Akron!

THE FINISH. First off, you finish the race on the home field of the Akron Rubber Ducks - a minor league affiliate of the Cleveland Indians - which is pretty darn awesome. Great crowd to cheer you in as well! Then, snag up your medal and head over to the post-race party - or Finisher's Festival - which was AWESOME. Live music on stage, beer, pizza & other food all out on the outfield. Can't ask for too much more than that. On your way OFF the field, you can snag your SERIES FINISHER medal (and medal hanger) if you've completed all three events (1-National Interstate 8k & 1 Mile, 2-Goodyear Half Marathon & 10K, 3-Akron Marathon, Half Marathon, & Team Relay).

Walking away from the finish with my wife, I was racking my brain to identify anything I could critique about this race - and I couldn't! Almost two weeks removed from the race, I still can't. If you're looking for a well-organized, friendly, and challenging event - come check out the Akron Marathon. I truly believe that you will NOT be disappointed. Thank you, Akron Marathon, for a great event and an even better race series!

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(2016)
"Glory to Columbus"
Overall
T-Shirts/SWAG
Aid Stations
Course Scenery
Expo Quality
Elevation Difficulty
Parking/Access
Race Management

I ran my very first marathon ever back in 2004 and it just so happened to be the Columbus Marathon. I never ran another race beyond a 10k until 2015 when I took on Columbus again. This past year, in 2016, I returned once more and have essentially dubbed the Columbus Marathon as my "home race". When you look at all the things that go into this race as well as the city itself, it isn't hard to see why.

First, the date of the race. Almost always the 3rd Saturday in October, which generally means relatively cooler temperatures throughout the race. While sometimes unusually warmer temperatures or higher humidity sneak in to make the race a little tougher, this race is often very comfortable to run.

The Expo = A+. Always a great atmosphere with fantastic vendors and merch to check out. Over the last two years, more and more LOCAL (Columbus as well as Ohio based) vendors are getting in on the fun. All of the volunteers helping with packet pickup are always very friendly and are just as excited as the runners!

Parking. Any time there are thousands of people trying to get to a specific location, there are bound to be traffic issues. Plan, get there early, be smart. No different than any other major event.

The corrals/start line experience is awesome. I've been in Corral C all three times I've run this race. Lots of room to move, PLENTY of porta-johns, etc. The build up to the start is also very fun - great deal of music and fireworks that help enhance the positive atmosphere.

Along the first half of the course there are spectators EVERYWHERE! There are very few spots in the first 13.1 where spectators are absent. The energy is amazing from the casual observer, scheduled entertainment, aid stations, and - most importantly - from the Mile Champions (patients from Nationwide Children's Hospital). The spectator numbers drop off slightly during the Ohio State University section of the race, but pick back up on the way back into downtown.

The medal (see attached photo) is awesome - and a bit weighty! The strap on the medal serves as a reminder that you definitely earned it.

The Columbus Marathon is a great race and the City of Columbus is a great place to live, work, and play. From our thriving arts districts and green spaces to our historic landmarks and amazing local businesses (read: breweries), Columbus is the place to be.

Get signed up and come check out my "home" race. See you at the start line in October!

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