Royal Parks Foundation Half Marathon 2011Our ed Danny morphs into Chester the squirrel for The Royal Parks Foundation Half
Our man Danny talks to us about the highs and lows of life as a squirrel.
It was about an hour before the race when it hit home. There I was in the middle of Hyde Park, strapping on my squirrel tail, talking to a man struggling to wedge himself into a giant pig costume when he said: “You’re not actually running in that are you?”“You mean you’re not running in that?”What had I done? Was I the only one who had been foolish enough to actually run the entire Royal Parks Half Marathon in full mascot regalia? The pig shot me a worried look.Regular readers of Men’s Running will be familiar with the mission I had been set by the team at the Royal Parks Foundation – to run the race as their mascot, Chester the Squirrel.Upon meeting the rest of the charity mascots, my confidence took another torpedo. Some of them were actually running in their outfits, which was reassuring, until they all seemed to gang up on me in agreement that mine was going to be by far the toughest to manage the distance in.
“That looks awful to run in,” said a 7ft dinosaur. “Can you actually see anything?” queried a concerned elephant.“You must be nuts,” said a plump-looking Panda. It wouldn’t be the first time I’d hear that.We all lined up on the start for a few pictures with some of the celebrities running the race. Duncan Bannatyne looked a bit confused by the sight of an army of oversized animals looming over him.Formalities over, we were under way and, as arranged with the merciful team at the Foundation, I ran the first mile in Chester’s enormous, claustrophobic head before handing it off to a volunteer and donning a much more sympathetic piece of squirrel-like headgear.The change seemed to cause confusion among the hordes of spectators, however, many of whom mistook me for a fox, others a beaver, one a badger and, not far from the finish, a racoon. A Racoon? Does no one watch Countryfile anymore?Three miles in I began to wonder if I was going to make it. The heat inside the outfit felt like someone had forced me to run on the spot in a tanning booth. A gentle breeze off the Thames as I trudged up the Embankment seemed to take the edge off. I stopped outside a popular antipodean pub to enquire of a man in a South African rugby shirt about the morning’s World Cup scores. “We lost 11-9,” he said, before cottoning on that he had just been engaged in conversation by a man dressed as a huge parkland creature.Miles four, five and six flew by, and I was greeted just before the six mile marker by the Team Squirrel cheer squad, which largely consisted of my friends and family kindly decked out in Team Squirrel t-shirts.As the second half of the race snaked through Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, the pats on the back and nut-related quips continued. A kind Scottish lady offered me her jelly babies as she overtook me. I grabbed a handful which unfortunately had a couple of hairs intertwined with them. From nine miles on, I began to mix running and walking as the heat came in waves and the upwards slopes became a little more frequent. At 12 miles, Tom, the volunteer, was waiting with my nemesis - the giant head. “I bet you’ve been looking forward to getting this back,” he chortled. I swore at him and put the huge, red napper back on for the run to the finish.With 800m to go, the elephant who had mocked me earlier came steaming past. I made attempts to stay on his tail but it was to no avail. I was over the line, the head was off, I sucked in the Hyde Park air and staggered away to the VIP tent, proud to have finished, relieved that next year it will be someone else’s turn.Race verdict: Fantastic support, well organised and a route that takes in several of London’s iconic landmarks as well as giving you a unique view of some of its best parks. Thanks to everyone who cheered me on. Inside that furry head, I was smiling.