Running a 5K as a barefoot Christmas Tree

rr2012 start lineThere aren’t many runs I look forward to more than the Reindeer Romp 5K in Jamestown, NC. Not just because it’s close to home, but because I get to run it in a homemade holiday-themed running costume.

The first year I ran as a gift. Last year I went as the Grinch pushing my son in a sleigh. This year I went as a tree.

The tree idea came to me as I nearly suffocated in my Grinch mask last year. I didn’t just want a tree. I wanted one with lights, garland, ornaments, and a real moving-around-the-tree train.

Over the next 51 weeks I planned my costume in my head. And like a kid who’s had all year to put together his science project I finally made it to Hobby Lobby to get materials for my tree the Monday before the race.

Making the Costume

christmas tree costume frame

click to enlarge

I knew I wanted cloth for the tree so I mosied on over to the fabric center, and had the lady cut me a 2 yard by 1 yard piece of green felt.  I picked up a needle and some green thread, and continued to walk through the aisles looking for inspiration.

As noted above, I wanted a moving train. I was going to use a hula hoop for the base and cut a slit in it to run the train on, but hula hoops are big and heavy. So, I started thinking of something else. Then I remembered that my mom used to have a big hoop for sewing. Surely this place would have something like that.

Sure enough, a few moments later I was “trying on” embroidery hoops and settled on a 23″ hoop for the base and a 10″ hoop for the top. Needing a way to connect the two hoops and provide stability for the costume frame I hit up the dowel/wood strip section and grabbed four basswood 24″ x 1/2″ x 1/8″ strips.

christmas tree costume frame

click to enlarge

Having everything I needed to start the project I went home and sketched out a design. Yeah, uh, kind of backwards, but whatever.

I measured off random equal distances for the basswood and duct taped them to the hoops (using the gold tape from last year’s sleigh project).

I then wrapped felt around the frame, cut it down to size, and sewed the top and bottom around the hoops by hand. A couple slits later and I was sewing the sleeves. Day 1, complete.

On Tuesday I found myself back at Hobby Lobby. This time in search of elastic, 2D ornaments, garland, a star, and lights. I found the first two.

Back at the house I took a piece of poster board and made a cone, wrapped felt around it,  and made a hood. Originally I was going to sew the back of the hood and use Velcro to secure it to the front, but I chose to sew the base around a length of elastic and use that to secure my hood to the frame. Day 2 was in the books.

Day 3 took me to meet my friend who was kind enough to lend me lights. Afterwards I hit up Michael’s where I abandoned the loan and purchased a 9′ strand of battery-powered lights, as well as two 3′ strands of garland, a couple 1 foot squares of yellow felt, yellow thread, and silver and gold glitter.

inside of tree costume

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In the craft shop (i.e. dining room) I made a yellow star, stuffed it with pieces of yellow felt, and sewed it to the top of the hood. Using safety pins my wife marked the top and bottom of my face hole. I then stuck a ruler against my face to get measurements and measured off 3″ to the right and left of my nose. I punched a hole in the center of the oval and cut a strip up, down, left and right (not to be confused with up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A). I cut off the excess and sewed the loose flap back on itself.

I strung the garland and the lights using safety pins (until I had time to sew them down), and “hung” the ornaments (gift tags) using duct tape.

On the inside, I made a poster board/duct tape housing for the battery pack, and fastened it to the frame using zip ties and more duct tape. I then ran duct tape between the strips of basswood to keep the frame from jostling as I ran.

tree costume complete

click to enlarge

The night before the race I sewed everything that could move or potentially fall off during the race (btw, sewing by hand blows), and removed any unnecessary safety pins (mainly because getting stuck 1,000 times by a loose safety pin would also blow).

Still longing for a train, I came to the realization that a motorized one was out of the question. As I stared at the tree, the ornaments gave me an idea.

A couple of Google searches later I found the perfect cartoon train which I downloaded, printed, and glued to poster board. I carefully cut out the train cars, covered the back with duct tape so I could sew them later, punched holes through both ends using my needle, and secured it with thread.

Finally, after four days of work, my tree was done. All that was left was a 5 kilometer run.

Race Day

The next morning I showed up with my wife and son, met my sister and niece, some friends, registered, and began my pre-race ritual which includes 386 bathroom breaks and a 10-minute warm-up.

With a few minutes to go I slipped on my costume, had my niece throw glitter at me, and made my way to the start line.

The race course is a familiar one. The first mile is basically all down hill. The second is mostly uphill. The third returns the favor with some rolling hills. And, the last tenth of a mile is a straight shot to the finish line.

I was pleased with how the costume performed. It held up well and didn’t bother me much. On occasion the duct tape braces I “installed” to prevent jostling stuck to my shirt just enough that it would pull it up. Whenever it did, I’d have to pull my shirt back down and readjust the frame. A mild nuisance.

The glass ornaments on the strings of garland didn’t bother me, neither did the plastic lights. The tree sleeves were plenty loose and the hoops never rubbed me the wrong way. What nearly brought me to a crawl was the hood.

You see, to give the hood shape I stuffed paper in it. In doing so I took away the felt’s ability to breathe. No ventilation meant that as I ran, the heat circulated where it was— above my noggin. Needless to say, by mile 1 my head was sweltering. By mile three it was closing in on unbearable. Eventually I crossed the finish line in 21:12.

Overall, I was pleased with my costume-adjusted time, happy with the way my costume turned out, and super stoked with the prize for Best Costume (a two-person whitewater rafting and zip-lining adventure).

Stay tuned for next year’s costume. I already have a few ideas.