No cheering crowd, no mile markers, no water stations, no finish-line party. Due to COVID-19, the annual Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon and all of its related events looked a little different this year as the city held its first-ever virtual race weekend. Throughout May, participants ran the race they registered for on the course and date of their choosing. “This year, the Flying Pig felt like just another long run,” says marathon finisher Michael Weisgerber.
Weisgerber is one of about 200 individuals who has run the Pig annually since its debut in 1999 and is considered a “Streaker.” He participated in the virtual event not only to maintain his Streaker status but also to coach his 18-year-old son Joe through his first marathon. “I’ve always approached marathons as an opportunity to build relationships with people,” he says, “and this year was great because I got to run with my son.” Although Weisgerber would have loved for Joe’s first marathon experience to be in a traditional race setting, the father-son duo did not let four months of training efforts go to waste.
The most challenging parts of the virtual race, Weisgerber says, were staying focused and motivated. “You don’t realize how much you appreciate the support from the crowd, or water stations, or the other runners. Those things really make it easier to get through the distance,” he says. Although the Weisgerbers struggled through hot temperatures and dwindling motivation, they still finished the race. “I’m really glad we did it. There’s no day better than race day,” says Weisgerber, who adds that he’d participate in another virtual marathon if it supported a worthy cause.
Out of the 29,000 runners registered for all 2020 Flying Pig events, about one-fifth participated in the virtual event, more than half deferred their registration to the rescheduled October date or the 2021 race, and the rest decided to withdraw or make a donation. “We are about individuals achieving their personal goals and doing what keeps them fit, healthy, and whole,” says CEO and President of Pig Works Iris Simpson Bush.
Although the Pig Works team was disappointed they couldn’t hold the race in person, it plans to combine the rescheduled Flying Pig events with the Queen Bee Half Marathon, which is an event that Pig Works also organizes and is scheduled for October 10. Because these two events share many of the same participants, the numbers will invariably be lower when the races are combined. As a result, the organization’s fundraising efforts have suffered.
Bush is hopeful they will be able to hold the in-person events in October, but says the organization is keeping the participants’ health at top of mind. If the Flying Pig and Queen Bee are approved by the governor’s office, the races will come with stipulations to ensure safety. Bush expects the start and finish lines will remain at Paul Brown Stadium as planned, but is unsure whether they’ll be permitted to hold pre- or post-race parties. Whether or not runners will be required to wear a mask is also still up for debate.
“We are committed to providing a virtual option in October regardless because we are aware that there could be participants who are not yet ready for mass gatherings,” Bush says. “We don’t want to disappoint people, and we’re doing our very best, but we know that we can’t hold exactly the same event that we’ve done in the past,” Bush stated. “We hope that that participants and community at large will be understanding of the facts and realize that there is still reason to come together and celebrate.”