Your Stories: Martin goes ape

Introducing Martin Realey... the new CEO of the Family Holiday Association! Martin has a wealth of experience when it comes to mass participation events such as the London Marathon and is also partial to the odd fancy dress costume...


Has a 9 Foot Gorilla Run Past Yet?

The problem is that having spent 15 years in the Army, most of my friends had done challenging things and to push them for sponsorship money, I’ve had to do something on top of the 26.2 miles, or the adventure race or the Tough Guy course.  Something that made people take a double take and go, “Now that’s worth sponsoring!”  Whilst carrying a weighted back pack or completing it in a record time are very commendable, it still doesn’t hit the sponsors’ pockets.  

Well I’ve done some pretty silly things in my time: the Barcelona Marathon as Captain America, the London Triathlon as The Incredible Hulk and the Oxford Half as an 11-foot tree.  But deciding to run the London Marathon 2018 as a 9-foot gorilla carrying a person in the cage…. well this was my best yet.

Everyone has their race preparation training plans and each is as good as the others; ultimately it’s what’s best for you.  I had mine as far as the distance and duration were concerned, but how do you train to carry a cage for 26.2 miles, that you’re in, with the top half of a gorilla strapped to your back?  Add a charity flag, some balloons and a few hours of sweat, well I just thought….. you can’t train for a slap in the face!  Ultimately, it’s gonna hurt, a lot, and I’ll just have to get through it.  I could have practised running around in an outfit or carrying the cage but no matter what I did, it didn’t stop the fact that it was going to hurt, chafe, scrape and rub on the day.  So my theory was just practice in my running kit so that my legs were ready and suit up on the day.  

Race Day

Well living in Oxford and the need to get to the start a good hour before kick-off, race day was quite an ordeal.  Not only did I have all my running kit and equipment to get me through the day, but a gorilla suit that filled a bin liner and a cage that was 3-foot square.  I had two very excited children to assist with logistics but still needed to drive an hour to Reading since Oxford trains to London didn’t start early enough.  So suddenly it meant a 5 am start was required, after an excited and therefore not so early bedtime the night before.  Oh no, I’m knackered already! 

Oh well.  A drive to Reading, train to Paddington and then two tubes to the nearest station to my designated start point.  We arrive and start the 700m walk to the starting/hosting area.  This is when the nerves start to kick in.  40 minutes to go and armed with scissors, microporous tape, cable ties and a needle with thread, I’m ready to try and get in my outfit.  Oooops! Hang on.  Last minute emergency wee.  10 minute queue.  Quickly do the business and get back to the family who are tying balloons and plastic palm tree leaves to the top of my monkey cage.  With the help of excited children more interested in EATING MY HARIBO, I manage to get into the legs of the gorilla, get the cage on and start to have the gorilla’s body and head cable-tied to my back.  Then the announcement, “All runners should now be at the start point.”  WHAT?  We haven’t even got his head on yet.  

With a quick addition of a gorilla head and an 11-foot flag with the charity’s name on, I start to ‘waddle-jog’ to the start point.  It’s at this stage I realise I hadn’t taken the pre-race paracetamol and ibuprofen I’d planned to but worse still, I’d forgotten to Vaseline!  My supporters were already on route to the 6 mile stage for photographs.  The velcro of the gorilla suit is rubbing on the inside of my legs, the corner of the cage is sticking in to my ribs and the pretend human legs hanging out of the cage keep bouncing around.  Too late now.  Luckily there’s a St John’s Ambulance stand on route and I borrow a pair of scissors to cut the velcro out of the crotch of the gorilla suit.  Fortunately it’s ‘underneath’ so no one can see and also a bit of fresh air isn’t a bad thing in a 40lb suit on the hottest day of the year to date. 

The Race

The first 500m is fantastic and being in fancy dress just adds to the experience.  Children pointing, spectators cheering and other runners complimenting my stupidity all get the race off to a brilliant start.  Within a mile I have adjusted my suit, worked out which bits are rubbing, tried (and failed) to find a way of balancing the cage rather than holding it the whole time, and found my stride.  Yep.  This was definitely the most physically uncomfortable I’ve ever been in a costume and in a race!   

I’ll spare you the mile by mile update of the ordeal but what was important was the amount of water and Lucozade I needed on a boiling hot day, the praise I have for the first aiders with rubber gloves holding out wads of Vaseline near the half way mark, and just how much of a lift you get when you see someone you know cheering you on.  My children joined me for half a mile around the 17-mile mark which was the biggest lift ever and the last 4 miles have so many people cheering you on that you just have to keep going.  The blisters, chaffing, rubs and scars lasted a week or so but the memory of carrying a gorilla and cage around the whole of London will last forever.  Coverage of my stupidity in the Telegraph, Times and Daily Mail added to the euphoria and have helped me forget having to wear flip-flops to work for the next 4 days. 

So, having run a few long races now, if I can add anything to the many tips flying around, I’ll just make a few suggestions about running with spectating friends: 

  • Get a few photos that you want early, before the start.  You will be able to buy ones off the internet afterwards but if you want group ones or ones with family, try and get them early in the day.  You can get some at the end too, but you’ll potentially be too tired for many posing shots.
  • Try and know where your supporters are going to be, e.g. 6, 13 and 18 miles.  Plan it on a map.  Otherwise it can get exhausting looking out for them all the time and soul destroying if you think you’ve missed them.
  • Say goodbye to your supporters early at the start to let them get ahead of you.  This means they’ll likely get an extra stop in. 
  • Make a decision to run on the left or the right.  Tell your supporters and try and stick to it.  It makes it so much easier for them to see you and you don’t have to fight through the race to get to them.
  • Carry a smart phone and set up a ‘Find Friends’ or equivalent App.  That way your supporters can pin point you and not worry about missing you as they dive in and out of the tube or taxis.  Nothing worse for them getting to a point and not knowing if they’ve missed you.  “Excuse me – have you seen a guy in shorts and a vest run past?” (admittedly a little easier when you’re a massive gorilla).   
  • Don’t be scared to stop for 20 seconds and talk to them.  Your time is in hours and minutes, not seconds.  A 20 second stop, drink, jelly babies, bit of Vaseline and a photo can really make all the difference.  I guarantee you’ll make those seconds up in morale. 
  • Don’t forget to say thank you.  They’ll enjoy the day too but ultimately it’s your experience that they’ve contributed to. 

Thank you to everyone who has supported my annual ludicrous ideas.  Notably Elaine, Jacob and Florence that are forever hopping across cities to the next check point to try and see me struggle past.  They’re what makes it amazing! 

Finally, I welcome any thoughts on how to raise the bar for 2019?

Martin

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