We'll Run When Pigs Fly: Meet the Runners

By , Elizabeth Lowry, Staff Writer
What's that saying? We'll run a half marathon when pigs fly? Well guess what? In Cincinnati, they do! Every year, more than 36,000 participants spend the weekend in downtown Cincinnati running a variety of Flying Pig races—from a kids' fun run to a full marathon. 
Why a "Flying Pig"? Cincinnati earned the moniker "Porkopolis" back in the 1800s when its downtown was full of stockyards and meat-packing plants. Back then, it was not rare to witness pigs running through the streets. In the 1980s, a sculptor added flying pig statues to welcome visitors to the city. Then, in 1997, when marathon creators were looking for an event name, choosing "Flying Pig" seemed like a no-brainer.
SparkPeople staff members are an enthusiastic and energetic group, each of whom participates in a range of extracurricular activities. One employee is a practicing black belt in Brazilian Jiu jitsu and another an Orangetheory devotee. The tech guys play basketball on their Wednesday lunch break and a personal trainer, holistic health coach and several runners and other sports enthusiasts round out the group.
This winter, four of us decided to challenge each other and train for the Flying Pig half marathon. We are all working diligently toward this goal and wanted to let you, our loyal SparkPeople friends, in on our journeys.
Between now and May 1 (race day!) we will be coming to you every other Tuesday with training updates, plus sage advice on prepping for a race, how to battle those hills (between miles seven and 10, the climb reaches almost 800 feet), how marathons build community, the gear you'll need, the best ways fuel up along the way and—the big finale—a race-day wrap up.
Hopefully along the way you, too, can benefit from the training knowledge that we either already have or are about to learn—whether we like it or not. So, without further adieu, meet the SparkPeople team:

Mike Honkomp, Ad Operation and Yield Director: 
About three years ago, I had enough. I was nearly 300 pounds and had set a goal to shed the extra weight. After three months of hard work including dieting and going to the gym, I decided to add running to my weight-loss plan. So, at 37, I became a runner. I couldn’t believe I actually enjoyed running. It took me nearly a year to lose the weight I needed to lose and in that time I ran my first 5K and a 10K. The following year, I ran another 5K, a 10K, a 14K and my first half marathon. Four years in, here I am, still running at least two to four times a week and completely hooked on the sport.
Running is my time: Time to reflect, time to unwind, time to let my mind go blank. I also love the adrenaline rush of race day. Pack running is great fun--not a word has to be said when I'm running with others or we can talk for hours about anything we want.
This year I decided to check off an item I had on my bucket list and sign up for the Cincinnati Flying Pig half marathon. I consider myself only half crazy, so I didn’t set my sights on the full. As always with running, I believe in proper planning and good shoes. I bought myself some brand new shoes, fitted at my local running shop. I also joined the shop's training program, which will not only give me a training program to ramp up my distance appropriately, but also provides a great deal of information whenever I have questions. The program also keeps me honest and accountable. It is a lot easier to train and stay motivated when you have 200 new friends to encourage or nag you, whichever may be needed.
I am currently five weeks into the program. We have run through snow, cold and darkness. We are up to seven miles now and will be adding roughly a mile every week from here on out. I am keeping up with my stretching and trying to do yoga again. I am in the zone.
Elizabeth Lowry, Assistant Editor:
If you don’t count a pretty unsuccessful bout with track and field my freshman year of high school (which I don't), I really started running when I was a junior in college. I didn't run very far back then, maybe one to two miles most days of the week. When I took up spinning in 2000, I stopped running completely for a while to focus my attention on the workout and becoming an instructor.
Knowing I wouldn't be able to get to the gym as often after the birth of my first child, we purchased a treadmill and back to running I went, albeit slowly and awfully. My first race was a local four-miler in 2007. I ran to help lose the baby weight and also to clear my head. I have learned over the years that if I get worried or anxious about something, going for a run or hitting the gym helps me instantly feel better.
In 2014, my husband and I decided to run a 15K. That was the first race I really trained for, getting up really early to hit the treadmill, adding half a mile a week until I was up to eight miles. The race was difficult, but fine. We got to the point in the race where there was a split—one way to finish the 15K, one way to do the half marathon. We briefly discussed going to the half route, just to say we did, but at that point I just wanted to be finished. We still kick ourselves for not taking that half path.
Now, two years later, I’m fulfilling the bucket list item by signing up for the Flying Pig half. Since my spin classes take up a typical training day on Saturdays, I have to train on my own. I can only get in two to three runs a week—one long run, one hilly 5K and another short run if I'm lucky. I figure, it worked before, it can work again, right? At least I hope so.
I don't particularly look forward to the runs. In fact, I worry about my long weekend run pretty much the entire week leading up to it, but after I finish I’m always glad I laced up my sneakers. I finally got fitted for new running shoes, and they are like running on clouds. For me, any little thing that gets you motivated (new shoes, new music, a new route) is helpful.
Melissa Rudy, Health & Fitness Journalist:
I have never been an athlete. As a kid, I preferred sticking my nose in books to kicking a soccer ball. It wasn't until adulthood that I started feeling the itch to move. Although I didn't have a lot of weight to lose, I didn't feel strong or fit. At the age of 23, I started walking every day, but soon I felt compelled to move faster and push harder.
Using the Couch to 5K program, I slowly transitioned from walking to running. I'll never forget the euphoria of running my first full mile without stopping. I registered for my first 5K race in 1999 and was officially hooked. As the mileage grew, so did my strength, speed and confidence. I transitioned to 10Ks, 15Ks and then my first marathon in 2002. I can't say I enjoyed every minute of those endless 20-milers on the weekends, but that May, I was thrilled to beat my goal time in the Flying Pig.
When kids came along, my daily runs became my sanity saver, stress buster and, occasionally, my only hour alone. When I'm angry or anxious or just feeling out of sorts, nothing gets me back on track like a good run. I'm proud to be setting a positive fitness example for my three girls, too. In 2013, my oldest daughter and I ran our first 5K together with Girls on the Run.
2016 will be my third year running the Flying Pig half marathon. One full marathon is enough for me—I've found the half to be the perfect length. For training, I'm running five days a week, anywhere between five and nine miles, and mixing it up with spinning, boot camps and Sunday walk days. Although I'm not following a specific program, I plan to gradually increase my long runs up to the 15-mile range to make sure I'm ready for the race.
Dominic Acito, Engineering Director

I got into running in high school with track and field. I ran three years as a short-distance sprinter (100-400m). In college, I decided to start running some longer distances and completed a few 5Ks. For a long time, I stuck around the two- to four-mile mark. However, when I moved to Chicago about five years ago, I really got into running longer distances to see my new city in a new way.
While I haven’t done anything longer than a 10K before in an official race event, I have been running eight or more miles on my own for a few years now. I thought the Flying Pig half would be a fun way to increase my distance a bit and actually participate in an official event. I also have a number of friends and family members that regularly run the half or full Flying Pig marathon and thought it would be fun to join in.
When it comes to training, I plan to train with a local group and follow their program. Joining the group will help me stay on track and is also a great way to meet new people. I have already noticed that training with the group leads to much healthier weekends in general for me. My running group does their long runs on Saturday mornings, and who wants to eat a really unhealthy dinner and have a few drinks the night before a long run? So far, it is going well. Aside from the bitter cold days, I really look forward to the running.

The fun doesn’t stop here! Follow more behind-the-scenes SparkPeople team training on Instagram with the hashtag #runsparkrun.
Are you training for a big race or another event this spring? Tell us in the comments.