I ran my first serious race in full costume last Sunday at the Run Like Hell 5K. I’m great at coming up with concepts for costumes, but I’m a lot less good at actually creating and executing them in time for a race.
Run Like Hell is one of the year’s biggest costume races though, and Terrapin Events makes it a little easier by announcing a theme each year. For example, last year’s theme was “under the sea”, and many runners “went overboard” with elaborate versions of ghostly mermaids and the bow and stern of the Titantic, among other phantoms of the deep. I drew a blank, and just ran as myself that year.
But as soon as I saw the theme for 2015 (“Under the big top”), I immediately thought “scary clown!” (I’m not sure what that says about me.) That was something I could do, and for once I thought of it in plenty of time to pull it off. I bought an evil clown mask off the shelf at Fred Meyer, and my one concern was that there would be dozens of other runners who had the same idea. But amazingly, when I arrived at Pioneer Courthouse Square, I didn’t see any other masks like mine. In fact, it was easier to find Waldo, of which there were many!
I arrived in time to watch the start of the 10k, and then met some friends at the square. After awhile we wandered down to the finish line to cheer in a friend in the 10k, and take some group photos. Then it was time to head to bag check, doff my jacket, and put on my mask. Along with an evil clown shirt, colorful shorts, blue tights, and a clown horn, I was ready to send a chill through the crowds of runners and spectators. All I lacked was balloon animals to hand out to the kids.
I got a mixture of amused, bemused, and slightly horrified looks from the other runners as I took my position near the starting line. Humorously, a couple friends walked right up and greeted me, as if nothing was different. I’m sure the photos of myself in my costume that I had posted the night before had something to do with their recognition of me.
I wasn’t at all sure how the race would go. I wasn’t too worried about breathing, because it was only a half mask that ended at my mouth, but my vision was a little restricted. I wanted to run hard, but my first priority was avoiding tripping on a pothole and adding real blood to the fake blood splatters on my sleeves.
The countdown began, the horn sounded, and we were off. I honked my own horn a couple times in celebration of the start, and settled into my pace. I soon realized this was going to work out OK after all, as I could see well enough to get by, and I could breath fine as expected.
We reached Naito and turned right, beginning a new out-and-back segment of the course. My costume felt surprisingly comfortable for running, and I honked my horn at the spectators and volunteers. The highlight of the race for me came early, when I saw a family watching the race at an intersection. I honked my horn at them as I went by, and from behind I overheard a young kid say “Awesommmmme!” It felt good to know I was providing some entertainment. That’s what clowns are for, right? Even scary ones, especially around Halloween.
I made the turn, and started back downhill on Naito, past the large group of runners still heading out. I honked my horn and heard some friends yelling encouragement. Lots of runners seemed to appreciate my costume, and the fact that I was running hard in it too. It was fun to be simultaneously racing and amusing the crowd.
Usually, I’m a little more stoic when I race, appreciating the support, but trying to keep the blinders on and maintaining my focus as much as possible. But behind a mask and a flamboyant costume it was a lot easier to goof off a little and acknowledge the reactions from the crowd.
After we passed the street we had come in on, the run down Naito became quieter and lonelier as we headed north. I began to concentrate more on my breathing and the effort of racing, occasionally adjusting my mask so I could see better. I continued to honk my horn as I passed spectators along the course. I could hear the lead woman, Andi Camp, right on my shoulder, and soon she surged past me.
After several blocks we turned west and eventually saw half marathon runners and 10Kers a block away, heading toward the finish. The new out-and-back on Naito, meant we had a new loop through the Park Blocks and less of an out-and-back on 9th Ave., which normally I would have really enjoyed.
However, as Andi and I made our way along this section of the course, the cones and course marshals dried up, and the motorcycle officer who had been leading us suddenly made a right turn when we were expectting a left. A few moments of frantic indecision ensued, until the policemen finally told us where to go. I think we got back on track correctly, but I’m still not sure. It was unfortunate, because the rest of the course (at least the 5k) seemed to be well-marked.
Back on 9th Ave. we joined runners from the other races, but it was a lot less congested than in previous years, a nice benefit of the new 5k course. I followed Andi through the crowds, still honking my horn, and mentally acknowledging that my struggles to maintain my pace were due to lack of training and not at all a result of my costume.
We crossed Burnside and I tried to put on a final surge on the last few blocks up Broadway. I’ve wondered about the wide-spread starting times of the races at the downtown Terrapin events, but one benefit is that at the last two races (Cinco De Mayo and Run Like Hell) I have met up with fellow Run Oregon blogger Marilyn as she was finishing the half. It gives me a boost to see a friend, and hopefully it does the same for her (as long as she’s not too scared of clowns!) (And I also get to share a cool post-race selfie with a photogenic costume expert.)
I crossed the line tooting my horn, met up with my friends, and headed back to the square for the post-race festivities. I was hoping to do a little better in the costume contest, but the competition was fierce (and perhaps my alter-ego was a little TOO spooky).