30-year-old Matt Blume finds himself vying for a world record he’d never heard of
by The Trailer
CHICAGO – Two weeks before the Chicago 13.1 half marathon, a running store employee approached Matt Blume at an evening workout.
Could he run a 5K in a bear suit.
Karhu, a Finnish running shoe company whose mascot is—you guessed it—a bear, sponsored the 5K attached to the September 9 event. They needed somebody fast to race in the suit for a promotional contest. This is how Blume, a former Valparaiso runner, began his quest for a Bear Costume 5K World Record.
“I was told the suit adds three minutes to your time. So, OK, that means I should be around 18 minutes,” says Blume, who set a 15:04 best in 2010. “Then I was told was that the best anybody had done was 18:47. And then I was worried.”
The Bear Costume 5K World Record-holder was Ankur Tarneja, who had an unencumbered best of 15:57 when he ran the record at the Karhu 5K in 2011 in Los Angeles. (He did not, however, know he’d set a world record until he was informed that Blume was planning on breaking it.) Originally bribed by a Karhu rep with free shoes and clothes, he says it would take a lot more to get him to attempt it again.
First off, Tarneja says, wearing the suit is like wearing carpet. Every inch of your skin is covered, including your hands. It weighs around 10 pounds. And then there’s the headpiece, which is 10 pounds itself, and ties to your chin “like a football helmet.”
But the worst part is the tiny, net-covered hole you look out from in the headpiece. You have zero peripheral, and you spend the next 3.1 miles re-breathing your own exhaled air.
“I’m not claustrophobic, but toward the end of both of these races [Tarneja also raced in 2012], I almost freaked out,” he says. “I wanted to rip that headpiece right off. It’s scary.”
Bear-costume-running is not without its dangers; in March 2011, at a 5K event in Miami Beach, the bear overheated mid-race, passing out on the side of the road. Karhu had said it would give any runner who “beat the bear” free shoes, and the bout of heat exhaustion cost the company 117 pair. They quickly amended their policy to the first 10 runners.
The overheated bear refused to speak with The Trailer for this story. (We are not making that up.)
The overheating story is the last thing Blume heard on race day from his bear handler. “I’m like, great, I’m going to die on a street corner dressed as a bear,” he says.
Despite his misgivings, Blume did not die. Led by training partners because of the lack of visibility inside the costume (“If I had to run that course again, I couldn’t do it. I have no idea where we went,” he says), he went through the first mile in 6:30, through the second in just under 6:00, and the final mile around 5:40.
“I was pouring sweat, breathing extremely hot air,” he says. “I just wanted to get done.”
Blume finished in 18:25, a new Bear Costume 5K World Record that betteried the previous mark by 22 seconds.
“If you’d asked me if I’d ever hold a world record, this is probably not the event I would have guessed I’d hold it in,” he says. “It’s maybe not as prestigious as, say, the 5,000-meters on the track. But it is a world record, I suppose, so I’ll take it.”
Karhu Running has sent one Finnish guy and one American guy—and we are absolutely not making this up—in a trailer, traveling the country for the next three months. They have the bear costume with them. Follow their journey on Twitter and on the interweb.