Two of the most eye-catching participants at the 2015 Virgin London Marathon were Andrew Smith and Thomas Bolton.
And while you might not recognise the names, there's every chance you'll have noticed them if you watched or ran in the race as they took part as a giant cactus and a Tardis respectively!
As if running 26.2 miles in a decent time wasn't hard enough, this intrepid pair were part of the growing band of runners in fancy dress who went the extra distance by donning incredible costumes to generate additional sponsorship, delight the crowds and potentially bag a Guinness World Record into the bargain.
They've each been been good enough to talk us through the whole process and in part one of this feature they pass on tips and tricks to those thinking of following in their fancy dress footprints as we focus on the preparation, before part two reveals how they fared on the big day itself...
Tell us how the idea came about in the first place...
Andrew Smith: I’ve always run the London Marathon in costume. I’ve done it twice as a banana (for one of those I was the Guinness World Record holder for the fastest fruit), as a zombie and as the Stay Puft marshmallow man [pictured, right] - a 19 ft tall joint effort with a colleague!
As I’m a relatively average-paced runner, London is all about promoting charities and giving the thousands of spectators that line the course something to laugh at, and what better way than wearing a ridiculous costume?
I also have a penchant for cacti, and have surrounded my home and office with the prickly plants. So, when I heard I had a ballot place for the 2015 Virgin Money London Marathon, it seemed a good idea to combine my two interests, and raise some funds and publicity for Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research. It was a fantastic experience. The cactus costume attracted some much-appreciated media attention, so I was on the front of the local paper, appeared on the BBC’s One Show, had a two-page spread in Time Out magazine, all of which helps the charity.
Thomas Bolton (@Marathon_Tardis on Twitter): I'd done the marathon once before in 2013 when I donned a Superman costume [pictured, right] - it seemed like the thing to do as my earliest memories of seeing the race on TV were of the costumes and my Dad even calls it the world’s biggest Fun Run.
I started out wanting an idea to raise as much money for my charity (Headway) as I could and I also felt that in return for asking for money that people deserved something extra back. I thought I'd try something new and try and go for a Guinness World Record and set about finding a way to link into my work and try and generate a 'good news' Police story.
One night after a few beers I was staring at a canvas wardrobe that I was going to sell online when I thought... if I make that top hole bigger I could put my head through it. Which I did and Marathon Tardis was born.
How did you go about putting the costume together?
TB: On my first dress rehearsal I underestimated the length of the fabric, tripped on it and nearly fell onto my face so I knew it had to be shorter! Initially it was a pole supported wardrobe so I had to take the top off and turn it around so that the hanging rails rested on my shoulders.
It took at least 10 runs over two miles until I'd got it as best I could - and even on race day it wasn't quite right. I wanted it as light as possible for obvious reasons but couldn't have it too flimsy or unstable. I had various issues in the build-up - one of the corner joints broke, the shoulder straps were a massive challenge and the Tardis was also pulling my whole body out of sorts when running. Thankfully a friend had just started up his PT Company @RenovateWB and was on hand with advice, from lacing up my trainers to posture and exercise. I would have probably injured myself without the help and advice of a decent physio and this was probably the most important part of my preparation and he also helped with all sorts of other little - but important - things, such as bandaging tape for creating a decent grip on the handles.
AS: For me, 70% of the preparation time for the marathon is in making the costume, with 30% training. There are so many considerations - how will it be supported to your body? What are the lightest materials you can use that will survive the 26.2 miles? Will it withstand heavy rain? Will you be able to move your legs and arms without restriction and chaffing? Do you have enough ventilation? And most importantly, will it fit out of your front door once you have made it!
I find that for a bulky or top-heavy costume, you need to begin with a rucksack with a metal frame. Then you can attach metal rods to this frame to make the supports for the costume skeleton. Using a variety of adjustable luggage straps, you can tether this to your body in such a way to make the costume a part of you. It’s a slow process and can take many attempts to create something which vaguely resembles the thing it’s supposed to, and which can also function as running gear. The cactus underwent four completely different versions before I was happy with it.
And how about the actual training for the marathon?
AS: The training for the cactus didn’t really differ from my normal training. I usually cover about 80-100 miles a week, most of which is from running to and from work. I felt that adding extra weight during these runs would only lead to an increased risk of injury, which I seem to be very prone to.
I did test out the costume a week before the marathon at a local parkrun. There were many strange looks from the fellow runners, but they were all really nice, and many were kind enough to contribute to my charity. The 5K took 25 minutes, which was about five minutes slower than without the costume.
I noticed that there were many flaws in the design, however, and the costume was bouncing all over the place. The wind resistance was huge, so much so that when facing the wind I wasn’t actually moving forward! So I spent the next week making some major structural changes to the costume up until 4am the morning of the marathon - so no time to test it before the race. Fortunately it held up perfectly throughout the race, and was much easier to run with than during the parkrun.
TB: As is always the way with these things I didn't do nearly as much training as I wanted to. Having not ran since the 2013 VLM I had to start from scratch again. I began with light running through January just getting my body used to the exercise again and then started with the frame in February making several adjustments each time until I could get it as comfortable as possible.
I then alternated my runs between a normal run with a longer distance to a steady distance in the Tardis as it was then more about the technique and rhythm. Very early on I thought 'What have I done' as the frame kept breaking or chaffing or I would trip on the fabric as I got tired - but every time that happened I would get some random support which gave me a real boost.
I remember the first time I had the frame two workmen in a white van went by cheering and hitting the horn - that was just what I needed to remind me what the crowd reception would be like on the day.
Click here to find out how our dynamic duo got on in the London Marathon itself...
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