A casual Sunday morning just after 7am, getting on the tube dressed as a pair of giant dogs. Tom stood holding a handle, me with my tail tucked to one side on the last remaining empty seat. Being London, nobody made eye contact. This was the start of the day we ran the Vitality Big Half Marathon, dressed as a pair of giant Guide Dogs!
Over the last eighteen months I’ve been raising money for the Guide Dog’s Association through my running. As many of you will know, this hasn’t been an easy journey – it begun with the aim of running the London Marathon in 2018 but after suffering a miscarriage I had to withdraw. Since then I’ve started my blog (this was my first ever post), run the Yorkshire Marathon, and spoken publicly about my experiences of pregnancy loss and running for my mental health. I was lucky to be able to defer my charity place for the London Marathon, but it is hard to keep up the fundraising momentum going over such a long period of time. So, with a little help from my long-suffering partner Tom, we decided to do something a little bit different – and #thesedogsrun was born!
Whilst we felt a little self-conscious making our way on public transport to the race, it was very cold and windy when we got out of the Tube so we were super glad of our extra thick fur. In fact, it seemed we were some of the only runners who were appropriately dressed for the weather conditions. We warmed up in the starting pen with a few lunges and star jumps and had the chance to chat to lots of other runners who recognised us from Twitter and Instagram – one of the huge benefits of having such a distinctive race outfit! It was so lovely to meet just a few of the many people who have been so supportive on social media.
The gun went off at 9am, and after a lengthy shuffle to the start we put our game faces on (our giant dog heads that is) and began the 13.1 mile challenge. We clung onto each other’s hands as we set off, partly because there isn’t much in life that is cuter than two fluffy dogs running along holding hands, but mostly because we could hardly see anything through our heads and we didn’t want to get lost. You wouldn’t want to get to the end and find you’d been running with the wrong dog! It was a bit scary running with such limited vision (mostly our own trainers and at the last minute another runners foot, or a bollard) but once we got into a rhythm I began to feel more confident and we made a pretty good pace, for a pair of dogs. We even passed Mo Farah (ok, he was going the other way).
I couldn’t write a blog about the race without mentioning the wind. It was super, super windy. So windy that the metal barriers kept blowing over into the path of the runners. A group of poor policemen scrambled around trying to catch them – but then one of their police-hats blew off down the road. Being a conscientious service dog, Tom ran after the flying hat and retrieved it; he does like a good game of fetch. The wind did keep us a little bit cooler (as in, just below absolutely roasting) but it wreaked havoc with our big heads and there were sections where we had to carry them in order to stay upright. I wore my head as much as possible, although from the race photos it appears at one point I managed to have it on on backwards. Let’s blame that on the wind.
Being honest, running in the suits was pretty hard work: they were hot and itchy, heavy and ungainly; we couldn’t see anything and we got large amounts of fluff in our eyes, nose, ears, mouth and lungs. But the support was quite simply amazing. It was like a continuous wave of encouragement, such that any time we were even starting to feel tired another lovely person would pop up with some kind words. There weren’t big enough gaps in between the encouragement to contemplate feeling demoralised! The thing that really blew both of us away (other than the wind) was the unbelievable support not just of the spectators, but the other runners. My experience in races is that once you get going most people are quite focused on their own race, but nearly every person that passed us – and according to race statistics there were a modest 3,141 of them – was full of kind words and encouragement. One guy even ran alongside us and carried our heads!
As always, having your names printed on your front is the best thing you can do in a race. A lot of the time we were wearing our heads, and as strange as it sounds, it’s actually quite lonely in there – you can’t see what’s going on, you’re kind of in your own bubble. So being able to hear people shouting ‘Come on Tom and Nat, you’re doing so well!!’ is really amazing. Even though they are probably strangers, it doesn’t feel like that where they’re saying your name. Both of us found the whole experience pretty emotional – but luckily no-one could see us welling up! I also particularly liked it when people woofed loudly when we went past.
The last two miles were hard going. Running in a heavy suit changes your form quite a bit and I started to get really tired and sore. We had no concept of what it would be like to run a whole half marathon dressed as dogs. We’d done a parkrun to practice which was ‘hard’ so we assumed ‘more hard’ and thought maybe 3 hours would be an achievable time. But when I checked my watch I realised if we pushed on we could get in under 2h30m which felt like a huge achievement. So although we were hot and tired, we had something to aim for now so we pushed on and ran as hard as we could.
As we came into the final straight we held hands super tight, our tails wagging behind us in union. We had to keep our heads angled down to the floor, otherwise the mouth looks scary on the photographs (like the dog is screaming) so visibility was particularly non-existent. But obviously, fashion first. We kept running in a straight line until we saw the rubber mats of the finishing timer appear under our feet and we knew we’d done it. We were delighted to finish in 2 hours, 27 minutes and 13 seconds!
As soon as we’d crossed the line we had a massive hug. It’s a bit like a first kiss, trying to work out which way your noses are going to go, but once we’d got in position it was probably the best hug I’ve ever had.
So far we’ve raised over £600 in our dog suits, to add to my total of over £3,000 for the Guide Dog Association. What’s been particularly amazing about the donations this time is that a lot of that has come from people on social media, many of whom I’ve never met in person, or only met for the first time at the race. I’ve been really blown away by that kindness. As a vet, I’ve seen first hand just how life-changing a guide dog is for a blind or partially sighted person. Like many people, I used to assume receiving a guide dog was just a given or a right, something that maybe you automatically got on the NHS if you were unlucky enough to lose your sight. This isn’t the case at all. They receive no government funding whatsoever and are completely reliant on donations and volunteers. I hope we’ve done a little bit to help.
If you would like to donate, you can find our fundraising page here