At work last week I was finishing up a call when Jen McNally from our marketing department came over and asked if I had read the email she had sent. When I said “not yet” she quickly urged me to read it. I mean like “right this second quickly.”She sent a request to some of us runners in Polar on behalf of Karhu – a Finnish sneaker company (and makers of a beer I later found out, www.karhu.com) – who was looking for a fast runner to be their Bear mascot in a 5K they sponsored in conjunction with the 13.1 running series taking part in several big cities across the country. The New York edition was set for April 2nd in Flushing Meadow Park, and before the half marathon race, Karhu has been sponsoring the 5K in which if you “Beat The Bear”, you win a free pair of Karhu’s. It sounded like a fun opportunity and once I got a look at the costume, I figured “Why Not?”. I told her yes right away and next thing I know I am talking to the folks at Karhu setting everything up. They like to get a local runner involved and were interested in my background, racing, and website. The TEAMMC concept was the reason I jumped at this chance and plus how often do you get to come across a challenge like this. I was only concerned about how big the head would be to run with, and since the outfit looked loose and run-able in, set a goal for myself of 18 minutes. Thinking how it being a NY race, some fast people would show up anyway and get to win some sneakers. I didn’t intend to change my training in anyway for the event, but knew it would be a full day’s workout since I’d be in the suit for some 5 hours doing the rounds, hyping the crowds, and cheering everyone before AND after the race. I checked the www.131marathon.com  how other Bears have done and the LA guy did sub 19 with a top 10, but was concerned when I saw the Miami Bear got publicity by let’s say – clawing his way to the finish.

So last week I had a series of interviews, got prepped by Corey and Lisa at Karhu, was sent a poison apple color pair of women’s Fast Fulcrum’s, and great gear from Craft. The weather was expected to be cool and that morning it was indeed. Bit breezy in the 35-40 range, but comfortable. I planned to just wear the Craft tshirt underneath and a pair of bike tights. Gina and I got there before 7:30 and met Danielle, Megan, and Meagan who were my bosses for the day. They were great in getting me setup and it was a bit chilly getting into the costume, but once in, it felt like it got 50 degrees warmer. The head was adjustable only with a chin strap and made for a bit of a wobble, so I wore a beanie to add some volume and it helped a bit. It was a comfortable liner inside, but later after sweating realized it did actually lead to some chafing with high knee lifts.  Not that there was much knee lift allowed. My paws only had 4 fingers but I was comfortable. However, I quickly had to wonder if going fast was even possible in this thing.  Gina pinned up the legs so they wouldn’t drop down as I jogged around. The mouth allowed for decent vision, but I had no peripheral vision after 6 inches. No trap door, so I didn’t get to drink much after putting the head on. We took BEFORE/AFTER photos and once in gear I assumed my new alias as KARHU BEAR (it’s how I was registered and scored when finished). Let’s start this party!!

No time to think about warming up – I had a job to do. I quickly jumped around, cheered on the runners, began what would be hundreds of photos with runners/families/kids, got use to being called “Hey Bear!” and it made for a good hour of warming up. I was having some serious fun. I would grab Gina on occasion and introduce the Bear Hug, I would high-fived folks, hopped around, danced, and the announcers (Terry B. was on the mike for this one) pointed me out letting the crowd know of the award that Karhu was offering for finishing ahead of me. We made our way to the start and I got to be front and center. I took a quick look around and didn’t think 10 people would be able to beat me, but I made it a point to make sure a good handful got some kicks anyway. Also, I had no idea how this head would hold up and for that matter what going full speed in this would feel like. I had my RS800 on hand and was recording the whole thing. I had it on for an hour already, and was going to keep it recording for at least another hour to get an idea how my “training day” would be. I gave a quick “kiss” to Gina and danced around to the disco while we waited for the start. Three deep breaths.

Off we go and it was a good 400 yards before we were to make a left turn. I started off on the right and was immediately introduced to the difficulty of going full tilt as Da Bear. As we make the turn, some guy cuts to my left of which I never could see him trying to pass due to my lack of vision. I got tripped and down I went braced by my fuzzy paws. “Down goes the Bear!!” is all I heard from some runners and I quickly tried to get myself back up and into speed. I now had some 10 people in front of me and I am motoring to gain some ground again while adjusting a 10 lb head with 4 fingers. I think the suit weighed a total of 20 lbs. I manage to work my way into 5th as I pass the first mile in 5:55. I had the lead woman next to me so I paced with her as I tried to regain form. Good luck with that. Only my feet were level since Karhu uses a fulcrum system in their sneakers. My big head is like a bobble, I’m like 80 degrees in this thing, and I’m like at 170 bpm trying to get knee lift. I actually rubbed paws with her since I couldn’t approximate my arm swing, but she was cool with it by always saying “Sorry Bear.” Heck, I’m gonna let her win some kicks for that kindness. As we get to mile 2, my beanie starts to fall over my eyes due to the head bobble. Great, now I can’t see! I had to take off my paw and jam my beannie upwards to keep it in place. I had to do this four times, and by the second time, two guys joined us and they were now running with the woman some 10 feet in front of me. I was now in 7th place and I had to be careful too, because I almost tripped over my own feet doing this adjusting.  Once I got it fixed, we passed mile 2 and I was trying to hold on so now one else would pass me. I had the three runners in my sights and could have made a late kick to pass them, but we made a turn which enabled me to see who was in fact behind me and knowing no one was in sight, I tried to make sure I finished upright. Besides, I wasn’t going to try and pass them for a photo finish and the spirit of the event would have been wasted to me. This was so much fun. I heard Terry shouting “Here comes the Bear!” and once I made the turn into the finish, I started waving to the crowd while catching my breath so I could talk. I finished in 20:43, 7th overall and won 2nd in my age group! Roar it up!

After a photo with the crew that beat me, an interview with the local media, and some bear hugging with Gina, I stayed at the finish line and high-fived everyone coming in. Some gave me hugs, some almost tackled me, but most were just happy to get a paw-fist bump. I was able to loosen up and once everyone finished, went to the Karhu tent for another interview, then spent the next few hours dancing with the disco-funk band girls, taking plenty of photos with runners, the other sponsors of the event – like the U.S. Army, La Croix drinks, and Tuscan Chocolate Milk, and many from the Team World Vision who had some 1000 runners entered. I got a chance to take the head off for a few minutes to hydrate, but remained in gear as I cheered at the finish line for all of the half-marathon participants until the 2 hour mark on their clock. Same deal. I got to catch and hug Mo from Quantum Runners and a few of her team. In this crowd more of the same too - hugs, high-fives, cheering, even a few grabbing at my tail. Check out the photos in the PHOTO page on my website under Karhu 5K to get an idea of what it was like. You can even check out the www.131marathon.com website for the recap, results, and interview, which is in the NEWS section. Man, it was great. It wasn’t until almost one o’clock that I got the OK from Danielle, Megan, and Meagan to finally put the bear back in the cage. I was dripping sweat and  loving the idea of breathing in air normally. I was so warm that as we walked backed to the car, I just wore my Craft tshirt and shorts the rest of the day.

Gina and I had a great time. Gina actually hopped I was able to stay in the costume for the day and thought maybe I should be a mascot more often. We had another family affair to attend to later that afternoon, so by the time we got home, that’s when I started to feel it. It took an Odwalla Vanilla Smoothie, three cups of java, and some DP Max to rehydrate over the course of the day. My neck and shoulders felt like it had been through a 100 mile bike ride and my feet the same as a long run. There was plenty of BioFreeze and Aquaphor being applied before hitting the bed. This morning I was still able to train, but the red marks are visible now on my ear, chin, and back. Kinda like I was mauled by a bear. But loved every minute of it. One of those days where you lie down exhausted with a smile on your face. I can’t thank the crew at Karhu enough for this experience. It is a great idea for their brand and if they approach you to be Da Bear at a 13.1 series event in your city, jump at it.  

Next up is a trip Gina and I will take to Charlotte for the Racefest Half Marathon. We plan to see a lot of people while we are down there and check some things out, but mainly to perform well on a hilly course. We haven’t taken a trip together since last October, so we are looking for some time away together. Two more weeks of Lent!! Move forward!!

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