Quirky articles

The Flitton Potato Race 2018

Legend has it that this race started before the First World War and continued between World Wars. It then took a break before being revived in the 1970’s then went into intermission again (apart from once in 2004) until 2010 where it was reborn in its current form that we see today.

According to tradition at the end of the potato season the farmhands would lift the old hundredweight sacks (51 KG’s) and race with them from the churchyard in the village of Flitton to the farm one mile up the road in Greenfield then get to keep the potatoes for their efforts.

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In the seventies the route was reversed so that it ended at the White Heart pub (opposite the church) and the weight of the sacks was reduced to 25KG’s but the distance remained the same.

When it was brought back again the only further change made was bringing the weight down to 20KG’s for men and 10KG’s for women to meet with modern day health and safety regulations.

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Quirky Races’ Chris has been attending this event since 2015 where he won the race breaking the course record with a time of 5:30. He successfully defended his title the following year with a slightly slower 5:35 but due to a fixture clash had to miss it in 2017 so he was even more excited than usual to be returning this year with the aim of reclaiming his throne as the potato king!

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Flitton in the county of Bedfordshire is only a 40 minute drive from Quirky Races HQ in Northampton and the races don’t start until midday so unusually an early start wasn’t required which was nice as the event fell on Father’s Day so I got to open my cards and gifts before making the journey. I had my wife and two young children with me as this event is for all the family. As well as the adult’s race there are races over the same distance with lighter weight sacks for older children and spud and spoon races over shorter distances for the little ones. The pub garden at the finish line has fairground rides, stalls, inflatables, an ice cream van and BBQ where most gather afterwards and await the presentation.

It was another nice hot day, as it has been every year I’ve attended which always helps the occasion. Registration and safety briefing are held in the village hall at roughly the half way point of the course. I then took an easy run up to the start which acted as a perfect warm up. I was first to arrive and got some drills and strides in before the rest of the 59 males and 18 females joined me. It was then time to collect our potato sack. It was great to see three hardcore participants had requested to carry the old hundredweight! Fair play to them. I put my 20KG sack on the start line and waited for the signal to go.

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I was confident I was in shape to run a similar time to what I had done on the two previous occasions so I had the attitude that if someone was going to beat me they’d need to break my course record to do so. As the air horn was sounded we were off and my tactics were to start steady but be right up there in the leading group.

I found myself at the front with a couple of others just behind on either side of me but that gap seemed to lengthen with every stride and within a minute I felt no pressure. I was running well within myself and just stuck to my plan.

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Each quarter mile point is signed which really helps as theres no way of looking at your watch as of course your hands are raised gripping the sack on your shoulders. The route, which is on a closed road, is straight and flat and the further you get the more spectators there are lining the paths either side. From half way it gets very busy and this is where I put my foot down a little more.

The crowd had been waiting in expect for the first runner to come through so when they saw me I could really feel their excitement and I fed off that as my legs started to tire slightly. In the final 400 meters the streets are packed and the cheers get louder and louder. I pushed on again as although I felt no danger from behind it’s hard to tell and the noice from the spuds rattling around prevents that sense you normally get if someone is catching you.

As I completed the final stretch with the church and pub in sight I knew I had the win wrapped up but because I’d felt quite relaxed the whole way and hadn’t been pushed at any point I wasn’t expecting the time to be as quick but upon crossing the finish line and the timing mat the announcer call out that I’d ran a new record of 5:26. This really surprise me and was a really satisfying bonus.

I turned round to see second place (last year’s winner) coming in just under half a minute later and stayed in the finish area to see almost all the other runners coming home with smiles but very tired looking faces and then the kids from 10 years and above who set off just after the adults.

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Next up was the relay where teams of four take on the same course running a quarter of a mile each with the potato sack acting as the baton.

This was followed by the under 10’s races which my daughter was taking part in so it was another little run for me as I ran alongside her cheering her on, shouting encouragement just like so many others had done for me.

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Medals and goody bags collected it was time for a celebratory drink and ice cream in the pub’s garden while reflecting on what a great time we’d had.

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Rat Race Runstock 2018

A trail run, an obstacle course, an ultra challenge, a festival. Runstock really does offer something for everyone. Weather you want to run one 5KM lap or go for the ultra challenge of 50KM and beyond you can do it all here. If running isn’t your thing then there’s a festival full of family activities but I’m pretty confident that once you’ve taken on just one lap of this course you may well change your mind and become a running addict like the majority of the 2000 taking on just some or all of the 8 hours of running time available.

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As much as I love obstacles, on this occasion I personally was just there for the running (I couldn’t resist a couple of goes on the monkey bars though). I did however manage to notch up 16 laps so could well be best placed to comment of the course as I ended up running more than anyone else.

What I saw throughout the day was more smiles on faces than perhaps any other running event I’ve ever been at. From participants to marshals to spectators. Everyone seemed to be beaming from ear to ear from start to finish and it was easy to see why.

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I think what contributed most to the chilled and happy atmosphere was the freedom of choice. So many obstacle course races these days have mandatory obstacle completion or a forfeit for failure. Here you did whatever you wanted with a run route set out for those who didn’t fancy getting wet or muddy or those, like myself, who had set themselves a running distance target. For many this was the ‘ultra challenge’ of 50KM (10 laps) set up by the organisers which came with an extra shiny gold medal and a vest (if you paid an extra fee). You could also stop running at the end of any lap, take a rest, go and enjoy the many activities of offer in the festival, then join back in at any period from the start at 10AM to 5.30PM with participants getting until 6PM to complete their final lap.

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The variety of people taking part further alliterated the appeal to everyone this event had and the lapped set up meant I could see this throughout as I went past those of all ages, shapes and sizes.

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This is the perfect introduction for kids to running and obstacles and for adults into ultra running as well as offering a challenging and competitive aspect for anyone who wanted it.

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Pizza Run UK

Review by Alan Moore.

Having already done food themed running events such as the Chocothan and the Pieathlon (https://quirkyraces.com/2016/12/15/pieathlon-2016/) when I saw Pizza Run UK was coming to Leeds I though what’s not to like and what a great idea, a 5k run with slices of pizza at checkpoints, I was going to enjoy this!

My first challenge however was finding the venue which had been changed at short notice. I followed my sat nav but the postcode given took me to a cemetery. No sign of any pizza I had a drive around and a mile later, on the same street, I found a park with people mingling and a few red marquees. Then a saw a pizza run flag, yes I had found it!

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There was already at queue at registration but this went quickly and I had my wristband and race number ready to go. I sat on the grass in the glorious sunshine with my son who I was running with and my wife who had come to support us as we watched the DJ.

Soon after the music got going it was time for the warm up hosted by Mr Pizza (basically a man in a pizza outfit).

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We where told that the run would be three laps of the park with two pizza stops on route then we where off!

I tend to struggle running in heat so stuck to a steady pace with put me in the middle of the pack. After the first lap it was time for a much anticipated slice of pizza. It was a lovely looking slice of margarita, however unfortunately it didn’t taste as good as it looked as it was cold and I mean cold! Now cold pizza is usually ok the following morning after a night on the tiles but not the best in 30 degree heat.

Lap two down I missed the pizza stop as I was looking for a water station but couldn’t find one resulting in me struggling on the 3rd lap, I know its only 5k but I was fast dehydrating and as I came around the final corner I was walking.

I crossed the finish line and was awarded a pizza slice shaped medal but chose to avoid the last bit of pizza and saw many other runners doing the same. I collapsed on the grass and my wife brought me some of her Fanta she had bought from a local shop.

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The music had stopped which I later found out was because the
generator had blown up which was a shame. When I had recovered I found out there was a water station but it wasn’t on the course it was behind the finish line in the registration tent. Strange place for it but this is a rather strange race I suppose.

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In my opinion this event has all the makings to be a success but it needs to get some of the basics right first such as having water on course and finding a way to keep the pizza warm but I do love the idea and its concept and after they have done a few more I am sure they will get better at it and I would like to attend another to find out.

Breaking World Records with Michelle Frost

Last month Quirky Races’ Chris interviewed Michelle Frost after spotting her completing The Big Half on stilts. (https://quirkyraces.com/2018/03/08/michelle-frost-skys-the-limit/) It was then that we found out she was using this as a warm up for a world record attempt at the London marathon. We were delighted to hear the news that Michelle was successful in that so we caught up with her for a follow up interview.

(Quirky Races) First of all, many congratulations once again on becoming the Guinness World Records holder, that was an amazing effort. You didn’t only break the world record, you absolutely smashed it! Am I right in saying the previous record was 6 hours 50 minutes so your time of 6:37:38 knocked over 12 minutes off? I remember you saying that you did 8 hours 25 mins last time too so that’s a huge improvement. Did the speed of your finishing time surprise you or were you expecting to go that fast?

(Michelle Frost) Yes smashed it! 6:50:02, now 6:37:38 and a drastic improvement on my PB. It definitely surprised me, I honestly didn’t know how well I’d do. I knew I could do the distance but did not know how fast! I knew I was in for a good chance after doing the half marathon in 3:15 but still knew anything could happen on the day.

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(QR) I’m sure the heat effected everyone out there this year. I personally was so glad of the water stations every mile but were you able to get to the water bottles ok? I know you said to me previously that you can’t stand still while on the stilts so what was your strategy with fuelling?

(MF) It was very warm and I’m nearer the sun! It did get a bit hectic at the water stations with runners cutting in and out to get to water, especially where some started running out. It looked potentially difficult but it was ok on the day. If the marshals were next to the road one of them would run over and hand me a drink but if they were stuck behind fences they couldn’t but plenty of runners saw me gesturing and helped pass me a bottle. Runners were also encouraged to share any water they weren’t going to drink so I was also passed bottles at other points. Very grateful for this in the heat. I had originally planned to not drink too much so that I didn’t need to go to the toilet (this involves getting off the stilts, not any other weird and wonderful method!) but with the heat I just drank as I needed and it wasn’t a problem. I’d rather brave a toilet stop than dehydration!

(QR) I guess the on course showers didn’t really help you either as their height would have only reached your waist?

(MF) I avoided the showers as I didn’t want to get cut up by too many runners and I feared that the wet roads might be slippy. I discovered just before the marathon that the stilt feet were a lot more worn than I thought they were but I didn’t want to risk changing them just before the race so some stilt pedicures happened.

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(QR) What other challenges did you encounter on course? Is congestion a real issue for you?

(MF) The congestion in general wasn’t too bad, it got worse near the end as runners slowed, but I was on a fairly steady pace being able to sneak past others from behind. Unfortunately I was knocked over at one point around mile 23 but luckily there was lots of helpful people who pulled me up and got me going again, bruises on my knees but no major damage.

I’d like to mention I had a fantastic support crew with me, not only organising themselves into teams to travel round and pop up almost every other mile along the course, but appear armed with sweets, cereal bars, fruit and any other kind of snack & might want. They were very coordinated passing messages between them so if I said to one group I wanted something, the next group would appear with it! They probably ran round just as much as me and I couldn’t have done it without them. As well as lots of other friends and family that popped up along the route to cheer me, it gave me such a boost to see familiar faces.

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(QR) Was there a point where you knew that the record was in the bag or did you literally have to keep pushing right to the finish?

(MF) I didn’t know and I didn’t want to. I know I have a pretty steady pace that wouldn’t slow down too much, but if I needed to speed up that was unlikely to be possible. My support team kept me updated, but knowing if my pace just wasn’t quick enough I wouldn’t make it, I didn’t want to be disheartened. But when they knew I would do it, they let me know, but even then it was fairly close.

(QR) What were your emotions when coming down the mall for those final couple of hundred meters ten years on from your last London marathon knowing the world record was yours?

(MF) Fear mainly, from the last mile there were markers every 200m and the distance between them seemed to take forever and the clock was ticking down. It was showing near the record time and whilst I knew I needed to count the time I passed under the starting gantry, I knew it was close and that last stretch seemed to take forever until I finally saw the finish line.

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(QR) Talk us though the record guidelines process once you finish. I know at London there is an official from Guinness there waiting and they actually have your certificate there ready and waiting don’t they?

(MF) Unlike last time (when I was quicker than expected and they were in a café having a drink and had to run across the park to get there to see my finish) they were ready and waiting. The certificate pictured with me at the finish is a generic one saying that you’ve achieved a record at the London Marathon 2018. I’m waiting to be able to claim my official certificate with my name and time and everything on. There wasn’t much at the finish, just well done & some pictures. At the start line we checked in with them and there were costume checks & measurements for those that needed them. I spoke to them about my timing chip as it didn’t work at the Big Half but I’d made some adjustments to help it sit more like it would on the top of a trainer, whilst being on the bottom of my stilt.

(QR) Was there much media attention for you and the other record breakers and have you received many requests for interviews etc. since?

(MF) Sadly not many, just lots of mentions online and stories about the records – particularly the one that did the fastest time as a film character. I was due to appear on This Morning the week before the marathon but unfortunately that got cancelled (as I was in the train station on my way there). There has been plenty of pictures shared of me online and friends of friends speaking about spotting ‘the Stilt Lady’ doing the marathon.

(QR) What’s next? Will it take you another ten years to return to the London marathon or will you be back sooner this time round?

(MF) I’m hoping that I’ll be another 10 years wiser but that didn’t happen this time so I’m sure won’t again! I’m hoping I’ll hold on to the record for at least a few years and that might stop me trying to claim it back but taking part in the London Marathon is such an amazing event I’ll always want to do it again in some way.

(QR) And finally, how much money have you managed to raise for MND?

(MF) So far I have raised £4500 which is so amazing to be able to know that’s supporting people affected by MND! I’d love to be able to hit £5000!

If you’d like to help Michelle reach that target you can donate here: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/michelle-frost5

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UK Naked Sport Event Guide

It seems that naked sport is on the up so if you’re looking for a new challenge to keep your pecker up here are a few events that might do more than just raise your eyebrow.

Running

Since 2014 ZSL’s London zoo has put on an annual Streak for Tigers run where participants run around the animal enclosures in nothing but trainers and optional tiger body paint. The event has raised an amazing £135,000 for the wildlife fund but unfortunately is taking a break in 2018.

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On May 13th 2018 the Naturist Foundation are putting on the Naked 5k Run. This run is open to anyone and you can enter via the link we’re provided where all information (other than the location) can be found. Our guess is that they are keeping the venue on the down low to reduce media attention which was justified by the fact that our Facebook post about the run received over 1,500 comments in 48 hours!
https://www.naturistfoundation.org/5k-run-2017/

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British Naturism are also hosting a 5k and 10k at the NudeFest 2018 in Somerset on Saturday 14th July. All details can be found here: https://www.bn.org.uk/calendar/event/4111-5k10k-run-at-nudefest/

If you like the idea of running around with your Willy out but don’t want to get completely naked then The Great Willy Waddle could well be the event for you. 3k around the Queen Elizabeth Olympic park dressed in a giant inflatable penis was certainly one of the most fun (and serial) runs we’ve ever done. Check out our review of the 2015 event here: https://quirkyraces.com/2016/11/15/where-is-willy-run/

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If the want to support Orchid – Male Cancer Charity and act like a massive knob for a night then this year’s event takes place in September: https://www.facebook.com/events/158240891558473??ti=ia

Swimming

We’ve all thrown off our clothes and ran in the sea after a few too many drinks on holiday right? Well now you can do it as an organised (and safer) event as The Great British Skinny Dip are aiming to put on nude swims, that are accessible to anyone, all over the UK with 12 venues already set up. You can find out where here: http://greatbritishskinnydip.co.uk/events/

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If you want to swim with nothing but your goggles on in slightly more private surrounding while still embracing the great outdoors then check out Red Bulls’ 10 top UK skinny dipping spots:
https://www.google.co.uk/amp/s/amp.redbull.com/gb-en/wild-swimming-uk-ten-places-to-skinny-dip

Cycling

In June the World Naked Bike Ride is returning to the UK and more specifically Folkestone. This is a global ride where cyclists bare all to promote awareness of safety on the roads. Kent Live sum this event up here: https://www.kentlive.news/whats-on/whats-on-news/world-naked-bike-ride-2018-1463743

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Before saddling up be sure to read Active’s ‘7 things to know before joining a naked bike ride’ which includes such wisdom as ‘Just be sure you bring socially acceptable clothing for post-ride activities. Nude is cool during the ride, but not always at the bar after.’ You’ll do well to remember that one in general life as well as naked cycling!
https://www.active.com/cycling/articles/7-things-to-know-before-joining-a-naked-bike-ride

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UK Wife Carrying Race 2018

Always the Bridesmaid at the Wife Carrying Race.

On Sunday 8th April 2018 for the THIRD consecutive year my wife and I made the 200 mile round trip from Northampton to Dorking to finish runners up at the UK Wife Carrying Race.

This year however didn’t pass without controversy both in our own personal race and that of another even more unfortunate couple as the eleventh edition of the event took place.

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On what was a wetter than usual 380 meter course conditions were slippery. I can’t however blame the weather for affecting my own performance on the day as my trail shoes did the job in keeping me on my feet (and my wife on my back!) This couldn’t be said for two couples in particular though as one stumbled then crawled over the finish line for victory and the other slipped and fell in discomfort for a trip to hospital. Unfortunately it was the latter that the large media presence (and all the vultures who picked up on it) focused on.

This race is fun. It’s silly, it’s crazy and it’s the pure definition of quirky. It can also be dangerous though. You’re racing at high speed up and down a steep hill, jumping over hay bales and having water thrown at you at great force all while carrying another human being over your shoulders. Of course it’s not 100% safe and this is clearly pointed out on the event’s website homepage (as well as in the pre race email and briefing). In fact it really couldn’t be any clearer:

‘Wife carrying can be a dangerous activity, which can lead to any one or more of the following injuries: slipped disk, broken legs and arms, spinal damage, facial injury, skull fracture, hernias, and other sundry injuries and illnesses, and potentially including death.’

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‘Grippy’ trail shoes were advised in addition to all of the above but disappointingly that didn’t mean an accident was avoided as a quick google search or a flick through the following morning’s newspapers will tell you and although we were bitterly frustrated to have not won (again) and obviously concerned for the couple involved it was perhaps not the worse year to have missed out on the title as the outcome of the race became a minor footnote where as in the previous few years the winners have been the highlight of media attention.

We’d put the training in, learnt from previous mistakes, adopted a new and improved holding technique and come aiming to win. This may sound very over the top to outsiders but anyone who has been to this event before will know just how competitive it gets forwards the front with a national title at stake and a winning prize of £250 towards costs for the World Championships in Finland.

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In the last two years we had let a couple get a big early lead and although we closed it down dramatically we’d not managed to overturn it so this time round the plan was to get out faster and not let anyone get away. This plan was however scuppered within seconds as a Lithuania pair absolutely flew off and a husband and wife from America followed them with us in third. This order remained all the way up the hill of ever increasing elevation.

Once the summit is reached that marks the halfway point in which you turn back on yourself and head back down. My feeling was that the Americans were catchable but it was going to take a momentous effort to even get close to the Lithuanias. Little did I know that, from nowhere, another team were about to steamroller passed all of us as we got to the bottom of the hill and tackled the hay bales for a second time.

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All I could do now was push with all I had left. Amazingly the couple that had lead all the way had now come to a grinding holt and we moved into third. As the water from the ‘splash zone’ blasted me straight in the face I continued to pick up pace and with only moments remaining we moved into our familiar position of second place.

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All eyes were on the finish now and just as I approached it I saw the leaders stumbling. With every step they got closer to the ground and just before the line both husband and wife hit the deck with a thud. The wife’s momentum had taken her passed the two huge blue flags that signified the finish but the husband, who was sprawled out across the grass, clearly only had half his body over the line so I crossed it with my arms spread to signify that I was in fact the first person to finish while actually carrying my wife. This somehow seemed to be ignored though as all the camera crews and news reporters started to crowd around the floored couple.

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Stumbling even before the blue finishing flags are in sight.

My wife and I got our breaths back and deliberated what to do. Although the rules state ‘If you drop the ‘wife’ you must both take three steps backwards before remounting’, I knew there was no instant playback technology available, the race director was running the race himself so still out on course and it seemed the media at least had already made their minds up so we just waited for the presentation. Although pretty sure, without a reply we couldn’t be 100% positive that they didn’t cross the finish before impact with the ground so there wasn’t really anything we could do at the time so we just, somewhat reluctantly, applauded the announcement out their victory (after all they didn’t fall on purpose) and went home with another runners up finish to our names.

A few hours later footage from the race started to emerge online and one video from Britclip confirmed our suspicions to be true. Watch the whole video as it’s a great insight to the event, then forward to 4.20 in where their fall and our finish can be seen: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=rhVGUPvpzzI

This still is also pretty conclusive:

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This was an unfortunate end to what has, is and hopefully will continue to be a truly unique occasion of sport. A race that is everything one should be – fun yet challenging, enjoyable yet competitive.

We certainly don’t want the situations from this day to bring negativity on what is one of the world’s most unique running events. We write this review in hope that we can all take something positive from it weather that be to train even harder, to properly mark the finish line with an actual line or to wear more suitable shoes.

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The wife who fell and was hospitalised sustained bruising and ligament damage. We wish her all the very best in recovery and good luck to the winners Chris and Tanisha in the World Wife Carrying Championship in July and we look forwards to a rematch next year.

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Matthew Balding AKA Mental Bear

The Man Beneath The Bear

Matthew Balding’s achievement of completing SEVEN Spartan Race Trifecta’s in one year is almost unprecedented and that’s before you even consider that he did it all while wearing a huge bear costume. We caught up with ‘Mental Bear’ to find out all about it.

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(Quirky Races) What’s your running/ racing background before you donned the bear costume?

(Matthew Balding) Being military I try to keep as fit as possible, I’ve done some ultras and about 80-100 trail runs /obstacle course races all together from 2015-2016 then I started the Spartan mentalbear challenge.

(QR) I understand that you wear the bear suit as an extra challenge to raise money for your chosen charity but why a bear and what made you chose such an elaborate costume?

(MB) A couple of things. The charity I picked – Zoe’s Place Coventry, had a picture of a bear as their logo and after my 2016 season ended badly with my hernia worsening, I couldn’t run to fast so mentalbear was born.

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(QR) When did you first wear the costume to race in and did you train in it at all beforehand? If so where?

(MB) My first race as Mental Bear was Spartan St. Claire at the start of the 2017 season which was so hot. I trained as the bear running in rivers around Coventry to get used to carrying the extra weigh as it is nearly 30kg’s when wet.

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(QR) I know you’ve done lots of obstacle course races (OCR) in the outfit, partially Spartan Race, but do you know how many you’ve done in total?

(MB) 22 in all. 21 Spartans (a total of 7 trifectas) and then mud7.

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(QR) Wow! Have you done any runs outside of OCR as the bear?

(MB) Not yet, I did plan to but the Coventry half marathon 2018 was cancelled due to the snow.

(QR) What’s the biggest challenges you face while in the costume. You’ve said it gets very heavy when muddy and wet, which I can imagine, and judging by your photos you certainly don’t avoid the mud!

(MB) Overheating is the worse, I had to carry an icepack to cool my core temperate down. I went to France for Spartan Race Morzine which was so hard as it was wet and so hilly.

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(QR) You’ve told me that you’re having a break from racing as Mental Bear this year. What are your goals for 2018?

(MB) None, I’m having some family time then I plan to be back to the charity work for a couple of runs in 2019 starting with winter Nuts Challenge.

(QR) Will the bear be making a comeback and if so do you have any future ideas to challenge yourself further and raise even more money for charity?

(MB) Yes just not sure what races and charity yet.

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(QR) How much have you raised so far?

(MB) So far £2094

If you would like to keep up to date with Mental Bear’s challenges and give him a sponsor his fundraising page is below:

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/matthew-balding3

Good luck Matthew!

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