Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No! It’s a moderately decent runner in an ill-fitting Superman costume! That’s right: for the first time since I took up this running nonsense, the urge to dress up for a big race and thus make everything more difficult for myself in the name of charity had become too much. And after some last-minute dithering, the decision was made: I would be Supes, and my regular race partner would be Batman. The Dawn of Justice was coming early. To South Shields.
Having committed to costuming up for the big day I will freely admit to not daring to put the outfit on before arriving in Newcastle. The thought of being in a serious road collision on the way up the A1 with the subsequent news coverage depicting Superman being freed from his vehicle with the Jaws of Life was too much hilarious irony to risk. So instead I threw dignity out of the window and decided to change from Clark Kent to Man of Steel in a phone box deserted car park outside Newcastle’s Discovery Museum, whilst Batman looked on. Midway through this transformation I was engaged in polite conversation by two men dressed as burglars (well, I say ‘dressed as’ – they might have been about to steal the perpetually flushing toilet from the Discovery Museum for all I knew), which was a decent indication as regards how strange this day was going to be.
Now, lets stop here and have an aside regarding the Superman suit. There are several things of note:
1) It was tight around the crotch. And I mean TIGHT. Which meant…how do I put this…without a fair degree of pre-planning I risked being sliced in three if I sneezed unexpectedly.
2) Because of the crotchal tightness, there were unsightly bulges. A pair of overshorts became necessary to avoid a public indecency charge. More vivid description is included in this hilarious Amazon review.
3) Once donned in the infamous red and blue outfit, going to the toilet would be a laborious process.
4) The cape was surely going to get accidently lost mid-race or it was going to choke me to death. But we’d give it a go.
Suited up and race numbers pinned, Superman and Batman strolled nonchalantly into the middle of major UK city.
First stop: the toilets. Now I bleated on about this at length a few days ago, so I’ll keep it brief. Lets just say that as the chap in front of me exited the Portaloo and muttered a ‘good luck mate’ to me, I didn’t know whether he mean good luck for the race or with using the Portaloo that had frankly already ‘seen a fair degree of action’ that morning. But there was at least a hook in there on which to hang my cape.
Next it was a slow meander down towards the starting pens. Which takes you past the proper athletes and the celebrities. All of whom are of course safely separated from the unwashed masses, meaning there’s no chance to give Professor Brian Cox a friendly slap on the backside or Steph McGovern a peck on the cheek. Instead you’re forced to gawp at them through a 7-foot metal fence whilst mouthing ‘you complete me’ until moved along by the race stewards.
I had a feeling that appearing resplendent in superhero full costume may attract some media interest, and our first hint of this came when a reporter from a local newspaper asked for a photo and some information. After overcoming the momentary inability to speak and instead communicate via excitable screams, this went quite well.
After one final precautionary trip to the urinals (I simply refuse to be a mid-race pisser. Again.) we were into the starting pen. I’m not a fan of the synchronised start-line warm up. There’s not enough room for all that squatting and rotating for a man like me who values his personal space. So I (alongside about 50,000 others I would guess) ignored that. As the starting time drew nearer, some latecomers felt they didn’t have time to find the proper way in to the starting pen, and decided they simply must clumsily scale the 7-foot fence and risk injuring themselves and any poor sod unfortunate enough to be in the way. You can understand their impatience. After all, these runners were surely going to win and break the world record at the same time.
As the race commenced, we were on the wrong side of the course to make palm-to-palm contact with Jo Pavey, so instead had to settle for a shout-out from grizzled North-East radio legend Alan Robson. Whom I still hadn’t forgiven for withdrawing his hand just as I was about to high-five it last year. The bastard. Anyway, we were off. And what became apparent very quickly was that the costumes were a big hit with the spectators – particularly with the younger members of the Newcastle and Gateshead crowd. Although if you ever needed to know who is the more popular superhero, evidence suggests that Batman is the people’s choice. Poor Superman got almost forgotten at times. Or called ‘Robin’ or ‘Spiderman’ or ‘Another Man’. Yes, it was very much a case of Batman & Afterthought. But I took it in good spirits. By which I mean I said things like ‘I’m clearly Superman you idiots!’ whilst high-fiving the children in Batman’s wake.
I think our relative popularity owed a lot to us being quite far up the field, comparatively speaking – nowhere in the TV footage will you see Batman and Superman hot on the heels of Farah and Biwott, mind. But our pace was decent though on what was a very warm day. Being quite the Sweaty Betty in usual running attire, you can imagine that a full-body superhero outfit only increased those issues leading in turn to an increased likelihood of spectating children asking ‘but why is Superman melting, Mummy? I’m frightened.’ Should the heat have caused me to have to stop and take a breather, I of course had my quip of ‘clearly someone spiked the last water station with Kryptonite’ to amuse the crowd/paramedic.
On we plodded, and after about 7 miles or so came a new challenge: The Incredible Hulk was spotted. And we had to pass him. Apparently. Now, rather than my inner monologue being the voice of unreasonableness, this role was fulfilled by my running partner Batman, who became somewhat determined that we be ‘first superheroes home’. With The Hulk soon in our wake we spotted another Batman. With him passed, a third Batman. And Robin. This time there was even a little friendly Batman-to-Batman banter as we passed. You don’t get that at the Olympics.
The steady incline at around mile 11 was as trying as ever, but it wasn’t long before the North Sea edged into view and we were on the final straight. Which is a mile long, and thus ‘the sprint finish’ must be delayed as long as possible. I high-fived a few more kids, raised a victorious fist to those who cheered me on and began to fanaticise about a post-race Lucozade. But with a few hundred yards to go, I spotted another Superman ahead of me. Gah. There was no option but to turn on the afterburners and pass him. I did momentarily contemplate keeping pace with him until the very end just for the sake of the amusing scenario of two Superman’s dipping for the line in an attempt to beat the other. But in the end I ‘rocketed’ past and crossed the line with Batman to finish in a respectable time of 1 hour 46 minutes and 10 seconds.
But there was no time for self-congratulation. Before I knew what was happening, Batman and Superman were with Phil Jones, being interviewed for the BBC. Batman was even comically unmasked to ‘reveal his secret identity’ for the cameras, but alas it seems the interview never made it to air. Boo. It’s a shame, because if it did you could note how Superman had his hand on Batman’s shoulder in what appeared to be a gesture of brotherly affection, but was actually an attempt to stop himself keeling over.
After being adorned with the finishers medal and picking up the goody bag, Batman met his loving family I went off to pat the hearing dog. Not a euphemism – my charity of choice is Hearing Dogs for Deaf People and as a reward for a 13.1 mile slog you get to meet a dog in the charity village bit. Just so we’re clear.
So, that’s it? Well, the race was over. The day had a few more surprises in store yet. After being wowed by The Red Arrows we opted to dine in one of the 8,947 eateries on Ocean Road. The fish and chip cafe of choice had impressive photographic evidence of celebrity customers. They were all there: Patrick Stewart…Peter Mandelson…Vera Duckworth from Coronation Street. It was like a low-budget British version of Planet Hollywood. You know, I once dined in one of those where our table was directly beneath the knife that Steven Segal used to stab Tommy Lee Jones in the head at the end of Under Siege. Which was quite the appetite builder I can tell you.
After a very agreeable portion of battered sea-life and chipped potatoes we joined the queue for the Metro which would take us back to Newcastle. Eventually. If we didn’t die of old age first. The expression ‘the queue was a mile long’ was quite literally appropriate. Which is fine: I understand that there were 57,000 people trying to get home. But for a time I did think that the gradual shifting of the Earth’s tectonic plates was moving quicker than the queue.
Whilst queuing however, my mind wandered. Would the parking ticket I bought last long enough to allow for a delayed return to Newcastle? Wait…what parking ticket? Cue a tangible feeling of dread. In the exciting mix of Batman, burglars and Vaseline that greeted me in the car park outside the Discovery Museum that morning, I’d only gone and forgotten to get a ticket. This would surely mean a fine. Or a clamp. Or worse. And for a nervous, compliant, law-abiding citizen like myself, this was akin to a criminal record. And if I’d forgotten about that, WHAT ELSE HAD I FORGOTTEN? We have five chickens – had I forgotten to let them out of their coop this morning? Had I?! The day had started well, but I was clearly going home find my car had been cubed and my poultry had suffocated.
After continuing to freak out for a bit, we finally got on the Metro. And to borrow a favoured phrase of the chap who does the traffic report on my local radio station of a morning, it was ABSOLUTELY RAMMED TO THE GILLS. Which again, is understandable. To add to the multisensory experience however, the driver’s frequent use of the break was not what you’d describe as ‘feather touch’ and more what you’d describe as ‘emergency stop’. Still, I’m sure 45 minutes of compressed jolting is good for tired muscles.
When the Metro finally rumbled into town the end seemed in sight. But there was one final hurdle, as the chap manning the exit gates – whom I’ll call Overenthusiastic Orville – took issue with my ticket. I made it clear to Orville that I was not trying to get one over on the public transport infrastructure and eventually I was begrudgingly allowed to continue my journey rather than being consigned to the none-payment dungeon deep below Monument Station.
I then headed back to the car. Would it be cubed? Or clamped? Or towed? Actually, let’s be optimistic Ben: maybe the fates would smile on me and I’d have gotten away without a parking fine…
Still, I rang my wife and the chickens were alive. I had let them out and wasn’t going completely senile as yet. So, the day had been a veritable rollercoaster of emotions. And I’ll be back in 2016. In costume. One cannot simply ditch the cape once its been worn. “With great power comes great responsibility”, after all. Yes, I know that’s Spiderman not Superman. Shut up.