I’ve got to be frank here – I’m outraged and disappointed that I’m even having to write about this.
Last weekend, while I was in West Virginia and then at home recovering, Flying Pig Marathon weekend was going on in Cincinnati. I’m assuming most of the runners who read me know what I’m talking about, but for the non-runners and folks outside the United States (hi there!), Flying Pig is a weekend-long event that culminates in the marathon on Sunday morning through Cincy and into northern Kentucky. I know a few runners from Columbus who love the course and the city, so heading down there to run in almost the equivalent of a holiday. The race is also considered a bucket list race runners from all over the U.S. come to.
I was giving serious thought to registering for the Flying Pig as a full marathon next year, in honor of the 25th anniversary of the race, and because I’ve not ran in that part of Ohio yet.
Then I was scrolling through Reddit and double-checked the local and a few national new outlets when I kept seeing Flying Pig’s name pop up.
The short ‘n sweet – there’s no way in hell I’ll be running the Pig unless some serious changes are made with leadership.
To get you all up to speed, the controversy over this past year’s marathon comes from the fact that a family – mom, dad and their six kids – decided to participate in the marathon together. The youngest child is six. That’s right – a six-year-old walked the race with his parents. According to the family Instagram account, it took this child eight and a half hours to complete the race and there had to be some bribery involving two cans of Pringles.
The minimum age for the full marathon is 18, by the way.
I’m going to go ahead and get my take on the parents out of the way – they’re buffoons. I had never heard of this family before, although the parts of the internet who have heard of them stated they have a history of undertaking physical feats as a family that are questionable with the ages of the kids. A quick hop over to Instagram to skim over the bio and read a few posts about the six-year-old pretty much confirmed some suspicions I had, and of course the dad runs a family YouTube channel.
Even though the family’s name is in the article I linked, I’m purposely not stating it here since four of their kids are minors (I realize the parents post about the kids regularly, but my personal policy on here is not to name minors.) And because I absolutely do not want to encourage anyone to go to their YouTube and give them views. Views = money and I don’t endorse family channels.
Reading their explanations for having this kid walk with them – and insisting it was completely his choice – was eyeroll-worthy. So were the comments on a YouTube video from “Inside Edition.” According to the “Inside Edition” comment section, anyone condemning the parents and calling them abusive are just a bunch of judgmental jerks who are jealous a child did something we couldn’t and it’s such a great thing the parents let their kids do as they want.
I have a feeling the people supporting the parents have never trained for and ran a marathon, so I’ll share a tweet from American long-distance runner Kara Goucher – a marathoner who represented the U.S. at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. Her thoughts sum up what those of us who have actually ran a marathon or two or ten before think about a child participating in the distance:
In spite of what I just shared with you, my thoughts and unhappiness isn’t directed at the family and the ignorant people supporting them. It’s towards Flying Pig Race Director, Iris Simpson Bush.
The Pig shared an open letter from her on Wednesday after angry comments flooded the Pig’s Instagram account. You can read it yourself and here’s the summary, according to ISB: the family has banditted the race previously without the race’s knowledge and the dad was planning to bring the six-year-old to the race regardless.
Banditting, for non-runners, is when people who don’t register and pay entry fees sneak into the corrals or hop onto the course to run part or all of the race. Aside from being completely unfair to the runners who pay the registration fees, bandits usually take up resources (fluids from aid station, first aid in medic tents) and a medal from the runners who deserve to be there.
There’s also the extra liability of having someone on the course who didn’t register getting hurt and trying to sue the organizers. I’m speaking as someone who has volunteered at plenty of races – if they don’t have a visible bib, they don’t go near that course.
However, in this particular case, the four minor children in the family did have bibs. How, you’re wondering, would that have been possible if the minimum age is 18?
According to a deleted post by the family, the race director helped them get registered, which allegedly included comping the race entry and dropping off medals to the family at their home.
ISB’s statement didn’t mention comped entries or dropping off medals. For what it’s worth, I don’t buy that giving the six-year-old a bib was about trying to “offer protection and support if they were on our course (Medical, Fluid and Replenishment.)” Especially because the family did finish the race after the formal closure of the race – which by the way, that’s why races have time limits and enforce them strictly. Having people out on main roads without police or volunteers is a massive liability.
The race director massively screwed up.
As of now, many runners who have participated in the Pig or thought about doing so in the future are furious that the marathon allowed this family to participate and put a six-year-old up to this. It’s an insurance and liability nightmare, in addition to the PR one. Many of the comments on Instagram accuse the race of supporting child abuse, which is incredibly ironic given that Cincinnati Children’s Hospital is the beneficiary organization.
I’m going to wrap this up by stating that the parents made a terrible choice and should be ashamed of themselves – for banditting the race, for exploiting their young child, and then for acting like it’s no big deal or somehow noble. Marathons are worth it, but they are hard on the body. I started running them at 25, as an adult with a fully developed frontal lobe who could legally sign waivers and commit to training – which came with a lot of struggle, sore muscles and self-doubt, but also victory. If it was truly about being active and living a happy, unconventional life that involves running and hiking, you’d start slow and work your way up – and wait until the last child is a teenager before you start doing this “family marathoner” crap.
And Iris Simpson Brown – you should be ashamed of yourself. Not only did you condone putting a child in harm’s way (what would happen if this child had a medical emergency on your course?), not only did you open a great organization up to serious liability and condemnation because you wouldn’t enforce your own rules, but you’ve also shot your own credibility to hell. No one who was thinking about registering for next year’s race is going to be jumping the gun to do so if they don’t believe you’ll actually enforce security measures to keep bandits and minors off the course.
If you love the race the same way any other race director with a sense of right and wrong does – resign. Show us your ethics aren’t completely shot and let the race organization show us they are committed to doing the right thing.
Until then, you’ve lost a runner who was looking forward to running in your city and supporting the mission of Flying Pig.