What’s It Like Running The London Marathon In A Costume

Fundraiser Simon with a variety of costumes he’s worn for the London Marathon
(Image credit: Via British Heart Foundation)

If running 26.2 miles has lost its novelty, you might like to try adding a fancy dress costume into the mix and raise some extra cash for charity while you’re at it.

Simon Howarth has run all but one of the last 10 London Marathons for the British Heart Foundation. Simon is running in memory of his father, who passed away in 1992 following a cardiac arrest. He has run it in various fancy dress costumes, from a heart costume and heart-eyes emoji to being tied to 110 heart-shaped helium-filled balloons. The 2022 London Marathon will be his 11th time running, as well as the 30th anniversary of his father’s death.

Tell us about your story and why you’re raising money for the British Heart Foundation.

I run in memory of my father who passed away at 52 years old in 1992, when I was just 12. He had a sudden cardiac arrest which was sadly fatal. That loss had a huge impact on my family and really shaped my life afterwards.

It’s always been important for me to keep fit. I’ve got two young children of my own, Layla and Ruby, and my wife Christine, who have been so supportive over the years. They’re aware of the history of my father passing, and as a family we all try to raise money for the British Heart Foundation, who are the official charity this year for the London Marathon.

I started running the London Marathon in 2009 and as that was my first time, I didn’t wear any costume. I just wanted to see if I could get round and finish!

There’s always a bit of an issue when it comes to raising money for charity – when you have the same core group of friends and work colleagues, asking them to sponsor you every year gets harder. The first time everyone thinks, “You’re running the marathon, that’s amazing!” and for the second one they say, “Wow you’re doing that again, that’s great.” Then when you get to the third or fourth year or, if you’re in the privileged position that I’m in to be able to do your 11th, people start going, “Really? We like you Simon, but not that much!” So over the years, I’ve added a bit more of a challenge by running in fancy dress.

Which costumes have you run in?

I ran with an entourage of 110 heart-shaped helium balloons for two years. I researched some facts and figures with the British Heart Foundation and found out that there were 110 people a day passing away under the age of 75 through a heart or circulatory disease. So, with the number 110 in mind, I asked people to dedicate a balloon to someone who they had lost or who had survived heart disease. Then they would donate to charity and I would run with their balloon around the course.

It was quite humbling, because people really put their heart and soul into a dedication like that and it’s very emotional.

Another time I ran in a heart-eyes emoji outfit which I made at home with my family. My daughter Layla was eight and she suggested a heart-eyes emoji costume, which seemed like a great fit for the British Heart Foundation. I tried to go for a world record but I realised as I was running that I would probably get a record for the slowest rather than the fastest!

The last time I ran dressed in all my outfits!

Fundraiser Simon with a variety of costumes he’s worn for the London Marathon

(Image credit: Via British Heart Foundation)

What are the challenges of running the marathon in fancy dress?

When I ran with the balloons, some people thought it was going to help, like in the film Up! I had a quick Google and realised that with my weight-to-helium ratio I would need about 5,000 balloons to get me off the ground. Dragging 110 was more of a hindrance than a help. The drag was really the biggest issue because the balloons sort of became a sail, so they would blow me backwards or to the right or left as the wind changed. I can laugh about it now, but I probably said a few expletives during the race!

The heart-eyes emoji restricted my knees and was made out of two-inch-thick foam, which was sweaty. It also happened to be the hottest marathon on record. It got to about 24°C that day, so just running it dressed normally would have been difficult.

I also ran in a heart costume made out of felt, which was very warm and very cumbersome.

My top tip would be to try to make anything you’re running in as light, breathable and as accessible as possible.

What’s the best thing about running in fancy dress?

Honestly, the support you get when you’re in fancy dress is phenomenal – it’s very motivating. When you hit that wall at 20 miles and you can’t even think about doing another 10K, hearing spectators shouting your name and seeing kids’ faces lighting up as they see you running past really helps you to keep going to the end.

Did you train in your costumes?

Yes – with the heart costume and the emoji costume I ran the Silverstone Half Marathon in preparation. I’d really recommend that you train in your outfit if possible. You gain valuable insight into what the experience will be like on the day.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t practise with the balloons because helium is so expensive and I would have had to buy everything twice. I wanted to make sure I raised as much money as I could so I just had to wing it on the day. Honestly, I can’t even explain what a challenge it was logistically, even just getting to the start line – I did get some funny looks as I was getting on the DLR on marathon day with 110 balloons all in bags!

How much money have you raised overall?

I’ve raised over £20,000 so far, running the London Marathon and the Great North Run. Fundraising is likely to be more difficult this year with the cost-of-living crisis, but hopefully we will still be able to raise the money that is needed for this vital charity work.

I’m so glad to be able to champion all the amazing research work that the British Heart Foundation does, and all the support they offer to grieving families and children. It’s a very worthy cause. When you’re in the costume and facing all the challenges of marathon day, it really helps to tap into that emotion and the reason why you’re running.

I couldn’t do this without the support of Christine, Layla and Ruby, as well as my mum Christine and the rest of the family, who have always come to cheer me on at all my runs.

You can donate to the British Heart Foundation on Simon’s JustGiving page

The British Heart Foundation is the official Charity of the Year for the 2022 TCS London Marathon. It aims to help heal hearts across the UK by aiming to raise over £3 million for research into regenerative medicine that could one day find a cure for heart conditions.

This year, Team BHF runners will be running to help fund cutting-edge research into regenerative medicine. The BHF has identified nine regenerative medicine research projects to benefit from the money raised at this year’s London Marathon. These projects aim to find ways to regrow, repair and replace damaged heart muscle and blood vessels – and could one day find a cure for heart failure.  

Among this year’s BHF marathon runners is Professor Sanjay Sinha from the University of Cambridge, who is leading the groundbreaking research behind the Heart Healing Patch.

Made of stem cells, the patch could be applied to the heart to help repair damage caused by a heart attack and could help save and improve the lives of millions worldwide affected by heart failure. This year the BHF wants the nation to rally behind Sanjay and help get the Heart Healing Patch over the finish line. To find out more and to support Sanjay, visit gosanjay.bhf.org.uk

Sarah Lienard

Sarah is an experienced health, fitness, nutrition and beauty writer, and was previously health editor at BBC Good Food. She has contributed reviews, interviews and features to Coach since 2019, covering exercise bikes, fitness trackers and apps, among other topics. In her free time, she can be found hiking, swimming, cycling or trying (and failing) to do a headstand on a yoga mat.