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Team Squirrel sign-up completed

by Editor
Wednesday 3rd October 2012

Tim Heming leaves the rat race on Sunday to join the rodent race, as a fancily-dressed squirrel for the Royal Parks Half marathon. Here he tries to figure out why

“Fancy dress should only be worn by circus clowns and children at parties.”

The non-negotiable words of an England fan who fixed me with his penetrating stare across a bar in Kazakhstan.

TIM HEMING leaves the rat race on Sunday to join the rodent race, as a fancily-dressed squirrel for the Royal Parks Half marathon. Here he tries to figure out why

Fancifully dressed runners

Recovered from chronic myeloid leukaemia and has gone on to raise over £5million for good causes. Feats include tackling marathons in a deep sea divers outfit, ‘running’ an underwater marathon in Loch Ness and cycling from Perth to Sydney on a Penny farthing. Last year he completed the London Marathon by crawling around the course as Brian the Snail from the Magic Roundabout. It took a mere 27 days, he suffered nosebleeds and vomiting and was then fired by Action For Kids for not raising enough money.

And you thought her mother was the crazy one. Princess Bea added a bit of royal variety to the Virgin London Marathon - wearing a lime green tutu and matching fluorescent leg warmers in aid of her mother's charity, Children In Crisis. It’s always a little crowded on the course but overtaking has rarely been more difficult than in 2010 because the 24-year-old was tied to 30 friends with a bungee cord. They formed a giant green caterpillar that, er, snaked its way round the Capital setting a world record for the largest number of runners to finish the marathon tied together.

The Forces were definitely with the Senior Aircraftman from the 2622 Highland Squadron of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force Regiment when he smashed the Guinness World Record for the fastest half and full marathons completed in a gas mask earlier this year. The 41-year-old reservist from RAF Lossiemouth shaved a massive 21 minutes from the previous record over 26.2miles, finishing in 3hrs 28mins and praised the new General Service Respirator, saying: “Compared to the old S10 model it is almost as if you are running without one.” He was also the fastest marathon man on the planet in full military kit - including full body armour, uniform, boots and helmet - when he completed the Lochaber Marathon in April 2009 in 3hrs 49mins.

Laying claim to be the King of fancy dress marathon running, the Sharmanator ‘returned to sender’ message to other Elvis impersonators when he clocked a tidy world record of 2hrs 40mins 53secs in Napa Valley marathon in California earlier this year. An eight-time Guinness World Record holder for various fancy dress marathons, including outings as Spiderman and Superman, Sharman is already something of a superhero of the running world. He’s notched up over 160 ultras and marathons in over 30 countries in the last seven years alone.

The 2011 Chester the Squirrel claimed that running in “a big fancy dress outfit is on a lot of runners’ bucket lists”. True or not, he took his own challenge seriously, even undertaking gait analysis in the suit and specific strengthening exercises to help negate the swish of the big bushy tail. Having trained on the towpaths of the Thames and being hit on by BBC newsreader Sophie Raworth, he was inspired to an impressive time of 2hrs 31mins. No wonder he ended up with a big head.

And one fancy dress fail...

With the year being 2012, Bob from Emmerdale was planning to run the London Marathon as one of the Olympic rings - specifically the green one - to raise money for Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research. Four of his hardy chums were going to be the remaining colours, yellow, red, black and blue, except they were forced to abandon under the threat of legal action. The International Olympic Committee, highly protective of its trademarks and sponsors’ rights, threatened to sue Tony and his charity if they went ahead. Feeling like a naughty schoolboy he backed down and instead ran the race... as a naughty schoolboy.

We were discussing the merits of mankinis back in 2009, in vogue after Sacha Baron Cohen started poking a bit of fun at anyone ready to take offence.

I nodded in agreement. He had bought the beers and I didn’t want to come across as a spoilt Borat. Plus, he looked like he might punch me.

It’s one of the few things I can remember from what amounted to a day trip from Gatwick to the Chinese border.

I was mixing with the Three Lions most loyal supporters ahead of a World Cup qualifier played out in some old Soviet-style stadium in Almaty, with stands set back so far you needed binoculars to follow the action.

Fabio Capello’s tactics required some fathoming too, but despite the cautioning words of my fellow weary traveller, I do remember seeing a smattering of fancy dress, including some fella in a horse’s head and Emile Heskey in an England shirt.

I’ve never quite understood why, but the need for silly costumes seems to resonate with the British psyche.

Whether its lure leads to charity fundraising or vice versa, every year thousands get dolled up to trot out distances from 5km to 26.2miles and more whilst raising millions for good causes.

The Run4Life cancer-fighting women don silly wigs, Moonwalkers have acid pink bras and the Virgin London Marathon turns into a carnival of three-metre tall robots, leprechauns and crawling snails. Who won? Who cares, let’s just gawp at a foam Big Ben crossing Tower Bridge.

And they don't seem to do it anywhere else.

New York squeezed in 47,000 to run its marathon last year - that’s about 11,000 more than London - but I cannot remember too many in fancy dress. Not even a solitary Big Apple. Come London, I was still overtaking people in Superman costumes 23 miles in.

So what possesses us? Surely there are less humiliating ways of raising some money? Just chat with a chugger and set up a direct debit. But then, where’s the fun in that?

To use the motto of Robin van Persie, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, so I’ve agreed to run the Royal Parks Half Marathon to find out if it’s really all it’s cracked up to be. As. A. Squirrel. The official race mascot, Chester the squirrel, to be exact.

It won’t be Chester’s first outing over this course. As leader of Team Squirrel - helping support wildlife conservation, landscape restoration and other eco stuff - he’s tackled it on all five occasions of an event that has quickly risen to be a popular sellout for 15,000 jogging types.

Thankfully it’s a distance I’ve covered a few times before and, if I have really bad day, I’ll just keep the mask on to protect my anonymity. It’s the same tactic Kendo Nagasaki used when Big Daddy sat on him. Easy.

At least that was my mindset - until I read Danny Coyle’s post-race wrap-up from last year.

Danny, the esteemed editor of Men’s Running, took the role of Chester for 2011 but his preparations consisted of more than simply signing the registration form.

He’d taken it so seriously, he’d even taken the ludicrous step of training. In the costume. On towpaths. Surely risking a Trigger Happy TV-style mugging in the process.

He finished - bright-eyed and bushy-tailed - like the Eastern Grey Squirrel (reported top speed of 12.4 mph*) in 2hrs 31minutes.

For some reason Danny wasn’t available this year - he’s off composing Olympic opening ceremonies or some other lesser pursuit (probably) - so it looks like I’ll be the only roaming rodent in town.

Squirrels are not pack animals but there was some early talk of celebrity running professional, Nell McAndrew extending the bray.

Loveable Nell is like the Kitemark for big city jogging events these days, giving all other joggers that warm, fuzzy feeling that pounding along on tarmac for several hours is ‘OK’. If in doubt, ask yourself: ‘What would Nell do?’

It would also have given the 34th fastest female runner in the country (thanks, Power of 10) the chance of revenge after I took her down by a massive 28 SECONDS in this year’s London marathon.

I won’t mention - and nor will her website - our other tussle, where she shoved me in the swimming pool back on Nineties TV extravaganza Man O Man. My bad. I thought I’d be quids in on a primetime show hosted by Chris Tarrant.

Enough small talk, I’m scuttling off to pick up my costume and forage around for any last-gasp bits of advice.

An expert personal trainer from Royal Parks fitness partners Matt Roberts has already prepped me that I’ll need to drink a little more than usual to replace the body’s electrolytes that I’ll be sweating out.

As such I’ll be using a few products from the sports nutrition brand Science in Sport, who are supplying runners on the Royal Parks 50km Ultra race on the same day.

It probably makes sense (as some of them will be finishing in a faster time than me), the only issue might be the oral consumption whilst wearing a massive squirrel head.

*I only know all this thanks to a handily-timed Royal Parks Facebook seminar which offered the chance to put a few questions to sports scientist Chris McManus. Having asked Chris what sort of pace should I be aiming for he said: “If you were to maintain a velocity close to top speed of a squirrel I would anticipate taking slightly longer than one hour to complete a half marathon.” Thanks Chris, looks like I’m on for a colossal PB and the win then. The first woodland animal to win this encounter since... well... 2008 actually when the inaugural event was won by a runaway RABBIT.

The 2011 Royal Parks Half Marathon

Photo: The 2011 Royal Parks Half Marathon


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