By Paul ... I have had a growing curiosity about running in fancy dress ever since I ran the London Marathon in 2013. On my ballot entry that year, I had a predicted time of 5 hours as I had no idea how fast, or even if, I could run 2 miles, let alone 26, when I filled it in. That meant when my hallowed running number arrived in the post, it was colour coded for the Blue start line / Zone 9, which meant my journey began right at the back of an enormous field in Greenwich, I might even have been in Lewisham so far was I from the start line! And I was surrounded by and spent the first few miles running with Homer Simpson, the crazy Rhino guy and a pantomime cow. Ever since that day, I have always wondered what it would be like to run incognito so Challenge 4, the Reading Half Marathon, provided that opportunity to go undercover as the Honey Monster.
As the race drew closer over the last week, I had been having a few doubts about the wisdom of the Honey Monster pledge, and those grew a bit more when I was browsing the race’s FAQs the night before and they confirmed that whilst running in fancy dress was entirely supported, they highly recommended that you practice in it prior to the race. I had rather adopted the ‘I’m only doing this once’ approach, combined with ‘I’m not going to make a prat of myself trotting around the neighbourhood with a furry yellow head on before race day’. So, I made some last minute fashion changes. The heavy red tracksuit bottoms and nylon HM branded track top were discarded in favour of red shorts, base layer and Cardiomyopathy UK’s new logo T-shirt, which the charity had asked me to wear, as I decided that running in a furry head, gloves and feet was enough to fulfil the pledge and get the experience.
So Sunday arrived and the weather gods shone down on us all, with a glorious spring day and a few more degrees of heat than I had been hoping for … Thanks! I nervously made my way to the race village to catch up with friends from the Burghfield Running Club, and got some useful last minute advice to lube up my cheeks (facial ones of course ;0) in the battle against chafing. Then it was onto the start area, and the usual pre-race waiting around, whilst catching looks of amusement and concern with the odd comment of ‘you’re nuts’ from surrounding runners, before our wave was brought forward to the start line and the head was put on.
The gun went and so a nightmare first half mile or so began. Within a few strides, any enthusiasm I had left for the idea drained out of me as I struggled to find a comfortable breathing pattern, my temperature gauge seemed to rocket from normal to red hot instantly and a personal battle of man against fur ensued, choking on and struggling to see through the stuff. The FAQ was immediately haunting me and I was honestly cursing myself for being such a twat to think I could do this and how stupid I would look when I gave up within the first mile and discarded the head. All of the above was probably a momentary whirlwind of thoughts and emotions that lasted far less time in reality than it has just taken me to write about it, as I then remember hearing Rob next to me saying to Richard ‘He probably just can’t hear us with the head on’. I had obviously been in my own temporary little world of doubt, not hearing what was going on around me and having even that briefest of conversations with a couple of running friends seemed to immediately bring me out of it, and ease the anxieties as I focused beyond just the costume.
Throughout the rest of the Green Park loop, I started to become more accustomed to the challenge ahead, found my stride and by the time we started hitting the crowds on the way out across the A33, I was in the frame of mind of how I could get through at least the first 4 miles in costume, then see how I felt. And that is when the fun started. With the crowds came the encouragement, and with the encouragement, things started to feel easier. The Reading half marathon gets some awesome support, and running in costume only heightens it as you’re an easy target to cheer for. Throughout the whole race, I was spurred on by constant calls of ‘Go On … Honey Monster’, or from those less clued up on their cereal super heroes, sometimes the shout was for ‘Sugar Puff’, ‘Monster Munch’, ‘Cookie Monster’, ‘Elmo’, ‘Lion’, ‘Tiger’, and from one particular bloke on Hartland Road that made me laugh … ‘Go on … errrrr … Weird Yellow Guy’. With support like that though, what had initially seemed like a nightmare quickly became a pleasure. There was a definite feeling of being a mini celebrity for the day, playing the Honey Monster role at least, with so many cheers, and the ability to get the crowd going even more with a fist pump or Rocky balboa shuffle here and there. And whilst the most common comment I received throughout the day of ‘Jeez, that must be hot under there’ was definitely true, by keeping hydrated and fuelled with the odd breeze hitting me every now and then, it was manageable. The flip side of the fantastic support when in costume was also an odd sense of guilt for everyone else around you who were equally deserving of the crowd’s cheers for slogging out 13 miles themselves on an unusually warm spring day, but less likely to get them than the Honey Monster.
The halfway point quickly came and went, and I was able to spot quite a few friends on route for a quick hello and high five before the moment I had been waiting for at The Southcote pub on the Bath Road around mile 10 … my family. It was such a great moment to get down and give Imogen a big cuddle as she had been so excited about the Honey Monster running. My brother and niece had additional drinks and gels at the ready and Sam got a less than welcome sweat sodden furry kiss before I headed off to finish the job. Not for the first time at an event, hyped up on the endorphins of the run and seeing the family, I managed to leave a little bit of daughter devastation behind for Mummy to deal with as I dropped a sweet that Imogen had been patiently holding until my arrival, and I got a good 4 year old’s telling off when I got home for my error!
The final 3 miles was a blast to be honest. I had paced myself well within my capabilities, concerned about the effect of the costume. I finished with a time of 2:03:39 and whilst I was definitely feeling it in the legs more than I might normally expect in the last mile or so, I was feeling pretty strong and pushing the pace back up towards the end towards my more usual 8 minute miles. Mile 12 to 13 of the Reading half is the quietest and hardest of all, as you have a long straight slightly inclined stretch of dual carriageway to conquer, usually into a headwind with the oasis that is the Madejski stadium shimmering in the distance. This is always the mile that you see so many runners struggling, but they are the real heroes in my eyes of such large scale long distance events. Some may be walking, many will be in pain, but they are all showing the absolute guts and determination needed to make it to the end and achieve their goal. To quote the Mastercard ad, the common reactions of those heroes when a ball of yellow fur comes calmly trotting by was ‘priceless’, but as this is a family blog, I won’t repeat them here ;0)
The race ends inside Madejski stadium with a whole heap of spectators cheering you on, so the arms were raised high for the money shot as I crossed the line. An awesome experience, with some great memories and a nice piece of Lion shaped bling to add to the medal cupboard. A chance to meet up with friends from the running club afterwards and hear that most had had great runs with fast times and some nice comments from a few runners who told me afterwards that they had followed me the whole way round as the cheers kept them motivated too, so my guilt was perhaps misplaced. Hopefully I also put a few smiles on faces and of course the Honey Monster stunt was a definite success on the fund raising front.
So, running in costume … done! It is an experience that I would definitely recommend though I think I will be leaving the Honey Monster at home for the final challenge of London next month.
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