[ back to Tom 7 Radar ]

p
e
r
s
o
n
a
l
Pittsburgh Marathon 2010: Project SHARKWEEK (02 May 2010 at 17:57)
YES. You guys know I like to run races in costume, or carrying something, or otherwise making it conspicuously difficult. Well, when I signed up for this year's Pittsburgh Marathon they allowed us to pick a 9-character personalized vanity bib, and since the first thing that came to me was SHARKWEEK, I did today's marathon in a shark costume. At first, it was just a dream, with this as the prospectus:


Pinch to zoom


Erika, a costume whiz, helped me get started planning it out and correcting my grievous anatomical mistakes, but then I slacked off for ages not working on it, until I bought a sewing machine and then put together the costume starting Friday night on my own. It's highly overengineered, with an adhesiveless design, inner wireframe made of coat hangers, and tailored felt with reinforced stitching. I discovered that pretty much every part of a shark's body is shaped like a coat hanger:

Project SHARKWEEK - Tail Section


It was a good long day of remembering how to sew and which unfortunately lasted longer than I wanted it to. I decided to punt on the gills, which were unanatomically located anyway, but otherwise it pretty much came out as I had hoped. Here's shark-face:

Project SHARKWEEK - Shark face


I was worried about this race, though. Weather reports predicted temperatures up at 80°F at some point, plus thunderstorms. That'd be bad for just running regularly, but one of this costume's main difficulties is how it seals in the flavors and spices. I wanted it to be hard but not heat-stroke hard. And then I had unwisely stayed up until 12:30am finishing the costume, and also I couldn't fall asleep until 2 or 3am because of Pitt's graduation party noise, heat, allergies, and excess energy from tapering. Despite the 3 hours of sleep, and not being able to find my bicycle pump, I biked downtown with the costume on and with a flat tire (the biking is where I first discovered how obstructive wearing a tail can be, particularly when it gets caught in the wheels), tried to find my friends running (couldn't) and then started towards the back of the pack. Part of the idea of this costume was the mental image (hopefully communicated to some) of a shark (me) attacking a swimming (running) throng of people (people) at the beach (marathon course) trying to get to shore (finish line), eating all the ones who weren't fast enough.

Project SHARKWEEK - In Race


It turned out that despite all the looming potential disasters, it really went quite well. Temperature was mercifully in the 60s. The costume was hot, for sure, towards the end of the race forcing me to walk off problems that I knew weren't just exhaustion (e.g., headache) but it was way better than it could have been and I managed to run the first 18ish miles only stopping for water, and only some modest walking in the last 8. The costume was heavy and soaked up water when it rained on us for most of the race, but honestly the water there wasn't as bad as it was in my shoes. Although the head would stay on pretty well if I was just walking or biking, when running it would bounce too much (bad design). I therefore had to spend the whole race holding it on, usually with an internal handle under my chin. The coathanger shoulder-"rests" dug into my shoulders the whole time and left some pretty grody bruises, but given all the other sharp pieces and metal burrs it's a miracle I didn't come away with some real serious abrasions or stabbed as the thing collapsed around me (it held up almost perfectly). The tail was an unexpected difficulty: As soon as I actually started running I realized that I was kicking it and probably would be for the whole race. So I used a shorter than usual stride, but still it was pretty tripoverable and I was hitting it or worse with every step. That's fine, think about what a shark with feet must feel like! My official time was a garbage 4h29m49s, which is about a 10 minute mile, more than an hour slower than my non-costume first marathon.

The costume itself went over extremely well. The Tribune-Review says,
Marathons usually bring out their share of off-the-wall running apparel, from tuxedos and wedding gowns to Elvis impersonators, but there were relatively few that engaged in the offbeat this year. One of the few was someone who donned a shark's head and dorsal fin for the occasion.
Still Pittsburgh runners have not picked up on the fun of costume-running. Other than all the trouble, it's the best: The whole race other runners are running up to say hi or you overhear them saying to a friend, "I just got passed by a shark!" The crowd who is sitting there in the rain waiting for their one family member or because they can't go anywhere because the roads are shut down, they completely love it, so you get people from all backgrounds laughing and clapping and shouting, GO SHARK MAN!!!, and the water station volunteers who are doing labor in the rain for nuthin' in return always perk up, and little kids trying to figure out what is going on with that dude but with that little kid smile where they know something's funny but don't totally get it. Two people recognized me as the guy from birthday cake running. At some point a woman comes up to me who had been running at a mutual pace for a while and says, "You have made so many people smile today."

Project SHARKWEEK - Mile 20


(BTW Thanks to Gabe and Someone on Twitter for the pics. I can't photograph myself while running yet.)

One of my favorite groups to make smile is the live bands or musical cheering organizations like the dance music cheerleaders. In this race I slowed down in front of every such group (probably about 15 of them) and did an interpretive dance to their music. This was so fun. I got several of the singers to mess up their singing from laughing, and some bands made musical or lyrical reference to the shark (like the cover band that lamented having just played "Fins" right before I got there), and the cheerleaders were flipping out, chanting, "go shark! go shark!" and pumping their fists. The best was when a school band saw me coming and quickly arranged a full marching-band version of the Jaws theme—not kidding, this was completely amazing—and I did the hunched over swimming lurch by them.

Most people only see the shark for a few seconds, so it's interesting to get a catalogue of thousands of people's first reaction. I was surprised that Land Shark was the most common thing shouted, since that skit is pretty old now. It's not like every shark costume is depicting land shark just because it's on land. If I were dressed as the International Space Station, would they say "Land-ISS!"? No. Also popular: Sharky (don't know if this is some specific cartoon character but it was too common to not be), Shark Man, Shark Boy (at least one referring to the Rodriguez film), Sharkweek (reading the bib), and in single digits: dolphin (?), whale (?), alligator (??). I get the benefit of hearing the quips so many times over the four hours that I can develop and refine comebacks. Like at the water stations, if someone takes the last cup of water right ahead of me, "Save some for the fishes!" or when biking back home against the runners who hadn't finished yet, and someone goes "26.2 miles is not enough, now you're going biking?", I say, "Yeah, it's a triathlon. The swimming part is easy."
c
o
m
m
e
n
t
Erin (user-0c2i1cd.cable.earthlink.net) – 05.03.10 10:13:25
Awesome sauce to the max.
c
o
m
m
e
n
t
Anonymous (arndtdell-bio.bio.pitt.edu) – 05.03.10 10:26:28
Hope you got my link on FB..
c
o
m
m
e
n
t
Erika (pool-72-95-136-83.pitbpa.fios.verizon.net) – 05.03.10 11:16:39
ALLIGATOR?!? Ha ha ha ha ha. You looked so great running! I want to see the bruises! Bad-ass!
c
o
m
m
e
n
t
jsstylos (174-31-139-192.tukw.qwest.net) – 05.03.10 11:44:35
The mental image of attacking the slow runners sounds like good inspiration for another Flash game to me. "You Keep on Swimming".
c
o
m
m
e
n
t
mike (173-9-8-20-busname-boston.ma.boston.hfc.comcastbusiness.net) – 05.03.10 11:46:55
Dude i'm LOLzing-out-loud over here. It just occurred to me that there should be a shorthand for that phrase.

Live every week like it's shark week!
c
o
m
m
e
n
t
jcreed (158.130.12.22) – 05.03.10 13:20:13
"Land Shark" as a meme really has legs, I guess. I had heard the phrase, and internalized the dangerousness and hilariousness of a land-roaming shark, but had no idea that it came from SNL until just now.
c
o
m
m
e
n
t
Anonymous (63.161.156.65.customer.sprintlink.com) – 05.03.10 14:31:56
Haha, yes, it really has legs...
c
o
m
m
e
n
t
Neal (128.244.9.7) – 05.03.10 15:13:48
I'm going to bet that "Sharky" is a reference to Sharky the sharkdog from saturday morning cartoon Eek the Cat. When you mentioned the shark costume to me, that is immediately what came to mind. But I didn't mention it because the reference is too obscure. It would be like referencing "Damn Gina!" from the TV-series Martin starring Martin Lawrence which coincidentally was aired contemporaneously with Eek.
c
o
m
m
e
n
t
Anonymous (mail.diopitt.org) – 05.03.10 16:46:23
Dude, I saw you running yesterday. That was the coolest thing I've ever seen.
c
o
m
m
e
n
t
Hock (c-24-4-177-165.hsd1.ca.comcast.net) – 05.24.10 02:48:40
Fess up, you wrote Pacman, right?
p
o
s
t

a

c
o
m
m
e
n
t
[ Tom 7 Radar  •  Tom 7 on Google+  •  on Twitter  •  on Facebook ]