IN GOOD SHAPE: Life Education Trust mascot Harold the giraffe looks strong as he crosses the finish line of the Rotorua Marathon last weekend. Photo supplied

IT must be a mid-life crisis type of thing, but instead of getting a fast motorbike, I decided to try marathons.

It started with the Rotorua marathon three years ago, then Tarawera, Auckland last year, and Rotorua again this year. That was last Saturday. The way I tackle them is not so onerous, quite achievable really. I walk-run: run for half an hour, walk for an hour and repeat until finished.

Easy peasy. Training is not hard either. Off a base of a half-hour run once a week, I pick it up about a couple of months out from the race, running and walking almost every day, for just half an hour. Seems to do the trick. My calf muscles give me a bit of jip, so I run mainly up the Kohi Point bush track, and the steps off Clifton Road.

This time though, I thought I’d do it in the Harold suit. Crazy, I know. It was a late decision. Harold is the giraffe mascot of Life Education Trust, which I’m involved with. The charity educates primary children about important life skills like: how the body works, healthy eating, social relationship, respect, resilience, drug and alcohol abuse.

The idea is to give our children these skills so that they can make the right decisions as they grow up. A fence at the top of the cliff, rather than an ambulance at the bottom. I thought Harold doing the marathon would be a great example of resilience.

It was such an amazing experience. Harold is so popular. As we made our way around the lake, cars tooted, people yelled out “Hi Harold”, “Why aren’t you running Harold?” from a cheeky car of teenagers. Lots of selfies and photos at the starting area, high-fives as we ran out of the city with the spectators lining the streets. People were so friendly. On five separate occasions people gave me lollies they had bought to energise the runners. One was from a fellow runner.

It’s quite an experience donning the suit. Harold doesn’t talk. So, you kind of leave yourself and become Harold the mascot. Nobody can recognise you. The true you becomes invisible.

I wasn’t the only one in costume. There were two runners dressed as Storm Troopers from Star Wars.

Harold has a new suit, made from the latest materials and very smart. The huge head is made of polystyrene and is quite light. It was just a bit awkward. It was loose-fitting and the head fell forward so I had to hold it up under the chin all the time. At times it got quite hot, and sweaty, but generally wasn’t too bad.

However, it was tricky going to the toilet. Knowing it was going to be a hot day, I loaded up with water the night before, and at every drink station had three glasses of water from the friendly volunteers. To get into the portaloo Harold’s head had to come off, as well as the top piece of the suit. I must have gone through this struggle four or five times.

It took about eight hours to get around. I didn’t run much, about two kilometres out of the city, and the last 100 metres to the finish line. Had to look good for the camera. The first time I did Rotorua it took about six hours. So, with the suit it took another two hours. No too bad.

Because I didn’t want to disappoint Harold fans, the head stayed on most of the time. At the top of the lake, the north end, with no spectators or cars, I was able to take it off for about an hour. That was a relief. I got talking to Stuart.

Stuart was up from Christchurch to do this run for the fourth time. He had done 26 marathons. His wife was amazing. I didn’t meet her but Stuart says she has done 70 marathons in four-and-a-half years. This one was the 70th. Just something she got into.

Sometimes she’d run two on a weekend, one on Saturday and one on Sunday.

He wasn’t too rapt about that, missing out on doing other things, he says. He was a short, stocky guy, with a fondness for beer by the sound and look of it. Must have had a mid-life crisis as well.

So that was Harold’s first marathon, and probably his last. It was great publicity for Life Education Trust. An awesome experience being marathon Harold for a day.

By John Spring

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