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The Marathon Running Bear

The great Steve Redgrave once said after winning gold in the Olympics, ‘If anybody sees me near a boat, you’ve got my permission to shoot me’.  Well, if anybody sees me near a bear costume, you’ve got my permission to shoot me.  Two marathons in a 7ft costume weighing 10+kg is enough – or at least that’s what my body is saying.

With the JDRF Rufus costume now dry cleaned ready for the next lunatic, the funds transferred to JDRF and the new Hoka trainers ordered (to be used without a bear costume) I have had time to reflect on both the Manchester and London marathons completed as Rufus, the JDRF mascot.

So, why run 26 miles as a bear?

It’s been 18 months since my son, aged 7, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.  Being uninformed on diabetes, I couldn’t quite work out why my wife was devastated.  I tried to reassure her diabetes is simply managed by an injection a day and everything is hunky-dory.

How wrong could I be.. The diagnosis changed everything, forever – T1D requires relentless monitoring day and night.  Whilst technology is helping, we still must monitor him constantly, providing insulin injections several times a day, along with sugar when his blood sugar drops.  We were lucky  in that we caught his symptoms early – sadly many children are diagnosed having been rushed to hospital very poorly.  Incidentally, the early signs of diabetes are the 4 T’s: Tiredness (feeling tired all the time), Thinness (unexplained weight loss), Thirst (always feeling thirsty) and Toilet (constantly needing the loo).  Look out for them!


As a parent you feel useless (at least I did),  I am sadly not a scientist so I cannot cure diabetes so what else could I do to help? – The idea came during a visit to Centre Parcs not long after his diagnosis.  Henry had a significant low (hypoglycemia) and it was scary, very scary.  It was at that point I decided I had to do something to help find a cure, but what could I do?  I decided my contribution would be to fundraise whilst increasing the awareness of diabetes.  So the idea to run a marathon in the Rufus costume was conceived and an email sent to JDRF.


Better get on with then

So, the training started.  With a new pair of Hoka shoes (Clifton), I hit the streets.  I was already a decent runner, but how do you prepare for running 26.2 miles in a bear costume?

There are a few lessons learnt, and here they are:

Footwear: I decided I wanted a good quality and very lightweight shoe.  I am 6’ 5” and 95+kg combined with a costume weighing another 10kg I wanted a robust shoe that didn’t add unnecessary weight.  I decided to try the Hoka brand.  I purchased the Clifton and Rincon shoes, training in both. I ran the Manchester marathon in the Rincon namely because they are so light however these are not necessarily perfect for the long distances.  Shoe experts at Running Bear can provide better advice than I.  Whilst using the Clifton for training, I later purchased some Hoka Carbon shoes that I used for the London marathon.   I now tend to train in Hoka Clifton and race in Carbons.  I do plan to try the new Bondi X as a replacement for my current Cliftons.  It goes without saying, it is so important to get a good shoe that suits you.  As a size 12, getting shoes is not always easy and the Hoka have now become my go-to shoe.


The costume:  

Many friends were surprised that I did not train much with the full costume – I guess running around my village in the costume seemed a little weird.  I did a few laps in Total Fitness initially to check the fitting of the full costume – that was a very warm experience!  A couple of weeks before Manchester, I did a 10km run in just the body of the costume followed by another 5km with just the head.  Aside from the heat, the body was not a problem – the biggest challenge was making the heavy headpiece comfortable – and the small matter of seeing out of the small plastic eyes!

The head was constructed on a builder’s hard hat – putting sweat bands around the hard hat inner structure, I managed to create cushioning whilst improving stability.  This made a huge difference, keeping the head secure.  I also added a chin strap to the hard hat with sweat bands on the strap for even greater stability and comfort.  With hindsight, this was invaluable.

Heat training: 

I knew that regardless of the conditions, the costume would be hot; very hot.  I was dreading a hot day, or even worse, a wet day – image the weight (and chafe) of a sodden costume!  In preparation, I did quite a few runs on holiday in Spain – going running at mid-day – the hottest part of the day.  Armed with water, gels and energy drinks, I did several of these long mid-day runs in order to get used to the heat (you clearly need to be careful and stay well hydrated). I also ran in the mornings and evenings in Spain when it was still 25+ degrees to fully acclimatise to running in the heat. I’m sure this training helped me during both races, especially London which was 20 degrees at the end of October. Even in Manchester the sun shone and temperatures pushed the high teens, So I’m convinced that the warm weather training helped enormously.

The big day:

And so, the big day came, and I will admit I was VERY nervous, but I was confident that I would get round the course, knowing that if I had to, I could just walk or even crawl. Manchester was my first ever marathon and I was fortunate that JDRF enabled me to have two support runners to help me navigate the uneven streets and purely concentrate on running.  Visibility in the Rufus costume is very poor, however my support runners highlighted any hazards such as speed bumps, potholes etc.  This made such a difference but was unfortunately not the case in London where I ran solo, which made the run much more challenging and I tripped several times.

The crowds were incredible at both events, and they really helped push me along whilst also providing  a welcome distraction, Rufus received exceptional support! The other runners were generous with their encouragement too and this really helped, be it diabetic runners thanking you or runners asking for photographs to share with their diabetic friends – all interactions were welcome.  That said, I do wish I had a pound for every time somebody said, ‘you must be warm in that!’ –  Yes to confirm, I was very hot, very hot indeed.

I was determined to wear the full costume, including the head, for the entire run, so I stopped at most water stations to get fluids and gels.  It is critical to drink as much water as you can during the run, and I adopted the same approach in London too, taking on even more water at every water station. I recall crossing the finishing line at Manchester and the relief was overwhelming.  It was an unseasonably warm October day in Manchester and I was soaking wet with sweat.  The race commentator, welcoming me over the line, exclaimed “he must be sweltering in that costume”.  Under. Statement.

When the going gets tough

There is a great camaraderie in these events which is a tonic for anybody, especially somebody running in a costume.  I crossed the line in Manchester at 4:12min and London was completed in 4:45 mins.  I found London much harder: it was much hotter, and not having support runners was more challenging than I imagined.  The sheer volume of runners made it very tricky with poor visibility.

When the going gets tough, the fellow runners and the amazing crowds keep you motivated as does the thought of all the incredibly generous family, friends, businesses and organization’s who have contributed to cause – you simply do not want to let them down.  Moreover, I simply reminded myself whilst I may be uncomfortable for 4 hours, it is only 4 hours.  My son will have to inject himself several times a day, every day, for the rest of his life (or until we get a cure).  Being uncomfortable for 4 hours does not compare, “just get on with it” I would say to myself.

Vaseline is your friend

As the friction burns on my legs from the suit finally repair, a top tip is to cover yourself in Vaseline (or similar!) then add even more, and then more.  I feel lucky to have been so well supported to run two incredible running events, representing the outstanding JDRF charity whilst supported by wonderful family, friends and strangers and raising more than £11,000 for diabetes research.  As for awareness, the London marathon images of me were used by the BBC Online, The Mail Online and the Sun Online, bringing much needed awareness for diabetes and the JDRF charity.

The team at Running Bear have been a great support to us and the JDRF charity.  My family and I are enormously grateful for their help, encouragement and financial support.  It again highlights the value of local businesses and why we should support them.  You don’t get that online.

My recommendation

If you wish to consider running in a costume for fun or to support a charity, do it.  The preparation and planning take time and hard work, but the sense of purpose and achievement is something I wish I could bottle.  As for me, after 52 miles of sweat, more sweat, and even more sweat, if you see me near a bear costume again, you have my permission to shoot me.  However, just like Steve Redgrave, I’m not entirely sure Rufus won’t feature again in my running future, but it’s definitely someone else’s turn for now.

In the meanwhile, I’ll enjoy the freedom of running weighing 10kg less!

JB a.k.a Rufus


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