By Patrick Cruywagen
If you ever want to experience what it feels like to be George Clooney or David Beckham for just a day then do the London Marathon in a Womble suit. Tens of thousands of people are guaranteed to shout your name. When we ran alongside the Victoria Embankment towards the houses of Parliament a band stopped what they were playing and changed to the theme tune from the Womble’s TV programme just for me. It was more powerful than any drug or energy gel. The people of London literally carried me for 42 kms. It was the most insane running experience I have ever had. Mothers screamed support, drunken sailors mixed up the Womble song words, kids high-fived me and grannies sent supportive smiles in my direction. When I eventually crossed the finish line I was loathe taking off my suit as suddenly I was just Patrick again. Once the suit was off gone were the admiring stares or shout outs of support.
I have run the London Marathon before in a Womble suit. It was about 15 years and 10 kgs lighter ago. Yet after my recent move to the UK I decided to do it again. That is the problem with times gone by, the further back they are the less we tend to remember how tough they were. To get an entry for London is hard and so I opted for the charity route again. As a Catholic I am a massive supporter of the Jesuit Missions and the work they do, especially in Africa. They are based in Wimbledon which is why some of the people running the London Marathon for them do so in a Womble suit!
I ran with a mate of mine Cliff Fourie who hails from Zimbabwe. In the spirit of ubuntu Cliff too donned a costume, he ran as Sonic the Hedgehog. As the Wombles are already 40 years old there were times when some kids would refer to me as a rabbit and Cliff as Sonic. It was great to run with a mate as we could support each other during the dark times.
Running a marathon in something such as a Womble suit is tough. For starters it is not that light. The head is massive and bobs about and so you have to hold it up with one hand so that you can see out of it or else you are looking down at the ground. So your arms get a real work-out. Also you don’t have peripheral vision so you have to be careful when making your way to the side of the road because you cannot see who is next to you. Then when things get congested and people in front of you are walking you cannot fit through a normal sized gap. When I was at the tired stage I just kept a straight line and wedged myself through these gaps. I looked on Twitter afterwards and a few fellow runners did mention the ‘barging Womble.’
I took my first Womble wobble at about the 9 mile mark and suddenly started craving salt. Fortunately for me I spotted a big South African flag with a couple of braai drums underneath it. I wobbled over and said I needed salt. They looked at me as if I was weird before somebody produced a massive packet of biltong. The brandy was flowing freely at this braai and suddenly everyone wanted a picture with the Womble. I grabbed the bag of biltong and wombled on.
After a few mouthfuls I felt stronger and so I broke the rest of the race up into 2 mile sections, allowing myself a short walk when reaching each target. With the amazing support from the crowd the last thing I was going to do was to let them down. The great thing about the London Marathon is the sights and support. You are never alone and almost always have something to look at. This helps you to take your mind off the fact that you are running (in a Womble suit).
Running over the Tower Bridge was spectacular plus my wife was waiting for me there. But when you see the houses of Parliament you know it is not far to go. I was disappointed the Queen or Kate was not on the palace balcony to welcome me home but what a day it had been. So many heroes and non-runners all running for good causes. It is what makes the London Marathon so unique and special. For me it is right up there with the New York City Marathon in terms of big city marathons. Even though it was just for a day I now know what it feels like to be in the Hall of Fame.
Thanks to Brooks UK for my pair of Ghost 5 running shoes and to the bloke who gave me the packet of biltong. Without them I would have been barefoot and buggered.