This Sunday, a hippo and a duck will put on their running shoes and race each other 26.2 miles on the Virgin London Marathon. Both are raising money for Dreams Come True and you should salute their efforts – a marathon is enough to bring most people to their knees under ideal conditions, but it will be considerably more effort for the runners under bulky costumes. Martin Neal will run as the hippo, and Josh Press as the duck. Martin's hippo outfit alone weighs 10kg – yes, that's 10kg of extra weight for 26.2 miles. The suit is also quite restrictive and involves using muscles you wouldn't normally have to test so much in a marathon.
Martin says: "This year I'm celebrating my 20th marathon, so it felt appropriate to really challenge myself. I'm also racing against a duck; both are characters from Dreams Come True's corporate partners, Silentnight." You would imagine the duck might have the weight advantage ...
"Training for a marathon is always tough. I'm not the most disciplined runner in history, but adding a 10kg hippo suit to the mix has certainly given me food for thought," says Martin. "I've generally stuck to my usual training regime, with my favourite run along the coast, from Bournemouth to Sandbanks. The weather has been terrible for marathon training, so that's been an additional hurdle to motivation, but raising money to help seriously and terminally ill children certainly helps.
"It's going to be hot in the hippo suit so I decided to get some hot miles under my belt and went across to Disney World Florida to run the Dopey Challenge. This involved 48.6 miles over four days, in temperatures reaching 27C (81F). Perfect heat training.
"I've also completed a couple of five-mile runs in the suit and plan to do a couple more. It was really hard going, incredibly hot and I used muscles I didn't know I had, but a bit of Wham has got me through the training miles."
So what reaction did those training runs get? "People look at me like I'm a little bit strange," says Martin. "It's certainly a showstopper, but living in England, no one likes to point out the hippo in the corner."
Martin's plans are fairly simple: to get around without passing out. Plus "not to get fed up and kick the hippo head off Tower bridge, and to enjoy my hippo moment (probably never to be repeated). I also want to bring entertainment to as many people as possible, and in return anyone that sees me on the course, feel free to throw out words of encouragement (and jelly babies)."
You can sponsor the hippo and the duck at: www.virginmoneygiving.com/hippoandduck