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Paramedic Mark Hawley runs Great West Run dressed as a helicopter

Mark with Jennie the Helicopter costume

Mark with Jennie the Helicopter costume

By Mark Hawley, Aircrew/Paramedic

On Sunday 13 October I survived (and finished!) the Great West Run (half marathon) with “Jennie” the helicopter as my running companion in a time of 2 hours 27 minutes and in just over 2 weeks I have managed to raise just over £300!

I have to say due to the extra weight I was carrying, the fact I couldn’t see further than 3 feet in front of me, it was boiling hot inside the costume, and I had less than 3 weeks training in my legs, it was one of the hardest things I have ever done!

Here is my story of the run. I hope it is of some interest and amusement……..

My alarm went off at 6am on the morning of the race and it wasn’t long before everything was ready; running kit on and “Jennie” in the boot of the car. Just getting to the start line was a bit of a feat in itself as the roads in Exeter were closed very early so I had to walk a little way with “Jennie” just to get there. A friend of mine named Keeley Fletcher had kindly agreed to stay with me during the race and keep me safe and as it was her first go at a half marathon I was very grateful of the company.

When I arrived at the start I had the suit already on and straight away I realised my vision was much less than I had first anticipated. I felt sure I was going to swipe a few runners with my bulk or my tail!!

As the gun went off and the runners started to funnel towards the start/finish line there was no turning back and as I broke into my first few strides. The thud, thud, thud of the rotorss on top were like running inside a big base drum! If people didn’t spot me they could certainly hear me!! Within a few hundred metres the enormity of the challenge started to dawn as the weight and heat immediately started to build at which point I thought ” I’m never going to get all the way round in this thing!” However, cheered on by the great crowds and the continued support by my friend Keeley who poor thing I wouldn’t let drift more than a foot or two away from me in case I came a cropper, I eventually managed to get into some kind of rhythm and kept plodding on.

Drink stations became my new best friends as hydration and cooling down became an important factor very early on. One or two of the drink station helpers must have wondered what on earth this idiot was doing as suddenly they were presented with an arm shooting out from the side of a helicopter and shooting back in just as quickly.

Out through Exwick, Cowley Bridge and beyond, I could hear great encouragement from spectators and fellow runners alike but I have to admit I saw very few faces, just a few legs and the shoulders of my guardian angel. As we came back into Exeter and headed up the hill towards the University we came across an elderly gentleman runner who had collapsed and was being attended by a St John’s ambulance crew. Much to their amazement (more like their amusement) suddenly swooping in from the streets of Exeter came “Jennie” the helicopter in the true spirit of the Air Ambulance offering assistance if required! “No we’re ok thank you Mr Helicopter” came the reply, so off I went again wishing I had been needed so that I might have had an excuse for a break.

Next came the hill into the University surrounding area and suddenly my legs started to feel very heavy and I began to struggle to keep up with Keeley. What I would have given for a bacon butty and a bus at this point! My stride began to shorten and slow and no amount of self chastising could encourage my legs to speed up. Not wanting to spoil my guardian angel’s first half marathon I told her to go ahead. Feeling better I had released her from my burden I suddenly realised I had no legs or shoulder to focus on to find my way. So road lines became my new best friend. However, every so often I had to lift the suit up high so I could see my track ahead thus avoiding any embarrassing encounters with cars or road bollards.

The last few miles began to drag, but buoyed from encouraging cries from none other than Nigel Hare (Devon Air Ambulance Trust’s Operations Director) and family I stumbled up Pinhoe Road, down Blackboy road and into the finishing straight in Sidwell Street. I had not an ounce of energy left, not even to lift my head to search for my cheering family whose voices in the crowd I missed as I passed right in front of them. As I crossed the finish line I raised my arms in jubilation and thought “Yes!”

As I peeled myself out of the costume I was greeted with a loud cheer from the on looking crowd and at last I made eye contact with my family who were making their way toward me. It was at this point I realised I had had a catastrophic tail rota failure at some point during the run and the tail was hanging on by a thread. “Poor Jennie had taken a bit of a battering – not sure how pleased the Charity will be!”

As hard as it had been it had been a well worth challenge and I was proud of my accomplishment. You can imagine my reply though when suggested by one of the crowd at the finish line – ” London Marathon next?” …….. no blimmin’ chance!!!!

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colin clowes says: January 6th, 2016 at 9:34 am

Hello Mark and well done a great inspiration...I am writing to you as this year the company i work for (Screwfix) has chosen the air ambulance for the charity of the year. I have had a meeting and decided to do a few runs with a your self i would like to run 2 half marathons and a full one (potters Marathon) in a costume and a helicopter seems to look like a good one plus challenge myself. But were did you get your costume from seems quite had to find. Any information would be great full and thanks in advance. PS London Marathon sounds good :) Colin

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