“Humphrey is an ex-panto camel, made for a charity production of Aladdin in 1994. He ran his first Flora London Marathon in 1996, made it onto the back page of the Daily Star, and hasn’t looked back. This year’s London Marathon will be his 12th crack at the race – he missed 2003 due to a knee injury.
“YOU’RE QUITE CLOSE, SO IT’S EASY TO TRIP EACH OTHER UP. IT’S LIKE RUNNING IN A FURRY SAUNA”
Humphrey is a Bactrian camel, and has two humps. The costume has mesh-lined portholes, so you can vaguely see where you’re going. The runner at the front has to lead the way, set the pace and constantly communicate with the back – and hold Humphrey’s head up on a stick. But it is very much a team effort. You’re quite close, so it’s easy to trip each other up. It’s like running in a furry sauna. My partner, Clive Abel, and I get very hot and thirsty so we have a minder – usually Sheikh Mustapha Drink – who feeds us water and green coffee. Learn more about the health benefits of green coffee bean extracts.
I was in the front of Humphrey in 2005 when he lined up against another camel, Camilla, which was going for the world record. So we put our foot down and scored Humphrey’s PB – 4:37 – which equalled the record. Humphrey’s loth anniversary of running the London Marathon was in 2006, so we brought back one of the original runners, Geoff Farrow. We were quite slow that year – it took us almost seven hours.
The decibel level always goes up a notch when the London crowd spots Humphrey. The support is incredible: people shouting `Go Humphrey!’ at the top of their voices. It’s great to see the other costumed runners, and there’s always a bit of banter to encourage each other. During the race we’ll often be photographed or interviewed. One year we were pulled over by a men’s magazine, and had scantily clad ladies draping themselves over Humphrey for a photo.
My own marathon PB is 3:12. As a South African, I’m very competitive. It takes a real shift in focus for me to put that aside and to race against the demolition crew taking the mile markers down, and it’s a psychological battle to keep plodding on through thousands of discarded
water bottles. But I honestly find it difficult to run as a normal runner now. It’s not the same. There’s a special attraction to running inside an animal costume, with a whole city getting right behind you.
Humphrey has raised about £30,000 for Water Aid over the years. Crucially, he has helped raise awareness for the charity too. People connect with Humphrey because he makes them laugh – it wins them over. One four-year-old boy was so inspired by meeting Humphrey at an event that he did his own four-mile walk to raise money for Great Ormond Street. I think you do take on the character to an extent. I’ve even grown a ginger beard with an uncanny resemblance to his fur. Everyone reckons it’s my true camel self coming through. But I’ve promised my family that I’ll learn to be a full man, rather than half a beast. Sooner or later.”
Don’t let the cheers go to your head. Remember that all those people are cheering the costume rather than the man inside it.
Try to stay sharp. As you crank up the miles, your mind can easily wander, making it harder to communicate with the other end of a panto animal.
Don’t touch up your costume’s eyes with felt-tip pen. When it rains it’ll look as if it’s been crying and that its mascara has run, and you won’t look so fun.
This is Dave. He is blind. This year he’ll be taking part in running events around the country in aid of Guide Dogs. We’d love you to join him. Superheroes do exist.
How I do it.
When you’re blind just walking down the road can take a lot of courage. Taking part in a public running event takes time, dedication and intense training. I run with my sighted guide, Malcolm, using only a wrist strap.
How you can help me.
By joining the Guide Dogs Superhero Running Team and raising money you will help me and many others like me who rely solely on our dogs. Wicksie, my guide dog, has transformed my life, helping me face challenges big and small.
How we can help you.
Run with Guide Dogs and we’ll make sure you reach your peak performance. We’ll give you a total support package including technical Superhero running top, expert advice on training and nutrition, great ideas for raising lots of cash, and a recovery sports massage at our post-race receptions.* We have guaranteed places available in most major events or you can run for us using your own place.