On a very cold early October morning in Virginia Beach, a small group comprising an escaped convict, a clown, two pink fairies and a butler in a black and white morph suit gathered outside the VB Conference Centre along with 7,000 other Halloween runners, joggers and walkers. The Wicked 10k Halloween Run was about to begin.
For me though the race began several weeks earlier when family Di and Dan, who live in Fredericksburg, Virginia, invited us over to stay and casually mentioned they were entering the race. Would I like to join them ?
Never one to shirk a challenge, this opportunity seemed just the thing I needed to get me running again after a succession of foot operations and a broken toe-joint, that I have promised not to mention again. So, I girded my loins, put on my lycra and trainers, and simply got out there. Training.
It was, of course, difficult to get those old limbs going. Knowing the importance of preparation, in business as in running, as in life, I stretched my hamstrings and calf muscles just to warm up before making, what someone has previously called, the hardest step in running…the one out through the front door.
Five runs later and the date of our flight arrived. In the meantime, I had agonised over what to wear. I had no idea just how seriously the Americans take their Halloween costumes. Nor did I know that Halloween is the US’s second biggest holiday, in business terms, after Christmas. Halloween was worth an astonishing US$ 6.02bn last year, with the largest proportion on costuming. I spotted the butler’s morph suit online and thought that would be fun. All I needed was to think how to make it Halloween-ish.
When we arrived in Virginia, there were already pumpkins, witches, mock gravestones, ghouls and ghosties everywhere. From the supermarket to the front porch, to shop windows, to gas stations, to the local pumpkin-patch farm, just everywhere. So, whilst I had already thought about the butler carrying a tray, it became an easy decision to ditch the tray idea and opt instead for a very lightweight plastic pumpkin. I thought about filling it with sweets to give away, but worried about the rules and laws of giving candy to kids.
Two more runs around the neighbourhood where the family live and I felt ready to go. Ten km is only 6.2 miles, after all, I said with ‘confidence’. A quarter marathon, as they say…and I did run the London Marathon, although I was 15 years younger. It was just the same then, carbo-loading the day before (well, eating pasta for supper this time) and plenty of fluids on the morning of the event (well, a couple of cups of tea) which lead inevitably to a long queue for the men’s room before the start.
At the start of the race, everyone set off at a cracking pace down 19th Street. Too quick for me. A large green crocodile overtook me, strangely holding hands with Wonder Woman. A black-cloaked ghoul simply ghosted past the butler. There were some really nice comments about my costume and pumpkin, with ‘good job’ being a regular observation. The only person bold enough to tell me that I was daft to carry a pumpkin round the course was my brother-in-law Dan…but who listens to an escaped convict in a black and white striped costume, straight out of Great Expectations.
As we turned onto Atlantic Avenue, the wind hit us straight in the face and despite the velcro holding my pumpkin onto my outstretched hand it blew off. I fumbled with it and held on. ‘Great catch’ said a voice, which turned out to be a witch in a pointed black hat and a very short orange gypsy skirt. She looked very odd in long black and orange striped socks over the knee and what seemed to be over-large trainers in luminous (or was that bilious?) green.
Battling against fierce headwinds, we ran all the way down to The Loop at 1st Street and back along the boardwalk to 10th Street where we would cut back onto Atlantic Avenue. After a couple of miles, I felt a large clap on the shoulder and there was Karen the Clown, with her giant white hands, having just caught up with me. We ran together for a while. Karen said we were running at around 10 minute miles according to an app on her i-phone. Amazing technology. We ran behind two behinds…they were blue plastic ‘butts’ projecting from special shorts…effectively blue-mooning. Very funny.
Some of the great things about an event like this are the sound of the whoops, hollahs and yee-haas as mile markers are passed; the camaraderie between runners encouraging each other and the banter with the audience. A woman with her face painted like what I thought was a cat, had slowed to a walk. Urging her on, it turned out she was a mouse, but said she wished she was a lab-rat. Another woman was running in black with the stand-out white logo of Athletes Against Cancer on her t-shirt: she didn’t look very athletic, but she was out there doing her bit for her charity. Further along, someone in the crowd called out: ‘Wow, come on sexy, you can do it!’ Several runners called back, almost in unison: ‘Are you talking to me?’
After a long three mile stretch to the north of the resort along Atlantic Avenue, all the way to 40th Street, we turned back onto the boardwalk for the final mile-and-a-half towards the finish at 20th Street. It was around here that I was overtaken by two guys, both wearing gas masks, breathing heavily, but running diagonals and bouncing around us other runners just to show how much energy they still had to spare. Fortunately, for us at least, they antagonised a huge costumed gorilla in a Wicked orange T-shirt…that gorilla kept them busy as we ran past, leaving them to their fate.
Being spotted by friends or family calling out your name or taking a photo whilst running by, is a huge boost to all of us joggers, rather than racers. I saw my wife, Von, three times along the route and really appreciated those fleeting words: ‘Go, Baz, go.” Equally enhancing was to see the volunteers from LiveStrong – the race’s premier charity – cheering us on…and they did so relentlessly at various points of the course. Cheering encouragingly for an hour or more must be almost as exhausting as it is to run the race.
Like many others, I tried to speed up as I approached the finish with hundreds of spectators lining the route and got lots of cheers for carrying my pumpkin all the way round. I missed the clock at the finishing line, but felt that the technology would ultimately tell me my time, as everyone’s number bib had two chips in it measuring and recording progress around the course.
As the pack of finishers slowed down, willing helpers individually handed out a bottle of water then, another 20 yards on, a sparkling medal, followed by a banana and finally a baseball cap…the spoils of success. Large signs directed us to our individual ration of two glasses of Blue Moon ol’ pumpkin beer inside a huge marquee, which was a welcome respite from the cold wind. With more and more runners piling inside, the temperature rose as a cosy, warm fug enveloped the atmoshere. Just as I came out of the beer tent looking hard for friends and family, ominous big splodges of rain began. By the time I found everyone, we were all very wet and getting even colder. Von had, very sensibly, found a dry spot, but moving around got us throughly drenched. Despite some warming chilli, the final prize for runners, it was a cold and damp end to a well organised event.
We trudged back to our hotel, dodging further heavy rain showers and the blustery wind. Shivering. It really was cold, but by the time I had warmed up in a long hot bath, an email had arrived from the race organisers showing that I had completed the course in 68 minutes, with some 3,100 (of the 7,000) runners behind me. Finishing 33rd in my age group was a comforting result, too, as most of the 32 in front must have started ahead of me as I hardly saw anyone older whilst I was running. I was constantly surrounded by many, many younger runners who all seemed to find the run very easy indeed, despite their run-hampering costumes: one guy was an oven; another was a (two person) pantomime dachsund with a giant slinky between them; yet another was dressed as a calendar. I saw about 20 bees, very many super-heroes (from Batman and Robin, to Spiderman and Superman) of every shape, size, colour and ability, together with loads of angels, pirates, goblins, ghouls, ghosts, skeletons and other scary folk. The rain made their spooky make-up even scarier, and their mascara ran.
Running, jogging or walking – a great time to think about things. All sorts of business and other problems get unraveled in the tranquility of the mind, whilst the body focusses on the physical effort. What do you think about when you are running?
During the Wicked 10k, for me, at least, I realised that my preparation had paid off. The relatively few miles that I got into my legs in five training runs had made the race possible, and the finishing line seemed to come really quickly. Perhaps the most heart-warming remark, though, was when Von said she was proud of me…a morph-suited, pumpkin-carrying butler can’t really ask for more.