Running a 5K as a fireplace


Post-race with my running costume

This year marked my fifth year running the Reindeer Romp 5K in Jamestown, NC. What makes this race particularly enjoyable is not the course or the post-race bananas. No, this race is my favorite because I get to run it dressed up in some ridiculous holiday-themed costume.

I’ve run as a Christmas present, the Grinch and his sleigh, a Christmas tree, and as a conductor pushing the Polar Express. Each year it has become increasingly more difficult to top the previous, which is further complicated by the increasing number of costumed runners who are vying for the top prize. If I was going to compete I was going to have to dig a little deeper this year.

To aid in the creative process, I called up my 100 song Christmas playlist and broke out my sketch book. After almost an hour and a half of scribbling to the tune of Christmas classics, Nat King Cole came on. At that point I knew exactly what I was going to create.

The Design

My initial concept included a big fireplace with a fire, stockings, garland, and pictures on the mantle.

Initial fireplace design

Initial fireplace design

From the above sketch I made a prototype.

fireplace prototype

fireplace prototype

Not bad, but something was off. The picture frame that my face was going to look through looked more like an old boob tube than a picture frame. I thought for a short time and came up with the following alternative.

The evolution of a fireplace continues

The evolution of a fireplace continues

Instead of my face in a photo frame I’d put it inside a chimney looking through a wreath. And instead of family photos on the mantle I’d use photos of past race costumes.

Finally, I agreed to agree with myself and moved on to the next step, making a list of craft supplies.

The Supplies

Using knowledge of previous costumes I jotted down a list of supplies:

  • White foam board (30″ x 20″) x 8
  • Black foam board (30″ x 20″) x 2
  • Heavy black presentation board (30″ x 20″) x 1
  • Duct tape (white, brown, and black)
  • Spray glue
  • Packs of construction paper (multicolor, red, and brown) x 1 each
  • Wood supports (at least 24″ in length) x 4
  • Cardboard photo frames
  • Garland and berries
  • Wreath and bow
  • Stocking
  • Permanent markers

The list changed slightly when I made it to Hobby Lobby and discovered 36″ x 48″ white foam board (perfect for the fireplace). Also not on the list above, zip ties and battery-powered lights, both of which I already had on hand.

As far as tools go, I used a utility knife, pair of heavy duty scissors, paper trimmer, Swiss Army Knife, ruler, yard stick, pencil, pliers, wire cutters, and a piece of wood to use as a straight edge when cutting the foam board.


The Build

The first step involved duct taping three sheets of white foam board together. These would form the sides and back.


Next, I measured off 8″ between the front (where’d I’d attach the fireplace) and the back of the fireplace, and taped a sheet of black foam board on the inside between the two sides.


I wanted my fireplace to have a rounded top so I cut out a piece from the 3’x 4′ white foam board to use as a guide for the inside of the fireplace. Then, I cut two 8″ strips of the heavy black presentation board (using the cut out) and bent them to form the top and sides of the fireplace. Next, I used a piece of black foam board for the inside bottom of the fireplace. Lastly, I used black duct tape to secure everything to the inside of the frame.


With the inside secure I attached the large sheet of white foam board to serve as the front of the fireplace.


The frame now complete I turned my efforts to the andirons. Using pieces of black foam board and a lot of black duct tape I created these two little fellas.


For the chimney I needed a 12″ square to provide enough room for my head, and enough real estate to affix the wreath. The chimney measured 12″ x 30″ with a 2″ by 14″ top. Prior to taping the sides together I taped down basswood on the inside (where my face would go) to provide extra support for the wreath (that I would later zip tie to the chimney).

For the face hole I rummaged through the kitchen cabinets for a plate that was about 10″ in diameter yet would still cover my face. With plate in hand I traced out a circle on the chimney and cut the hole. A bunch of white duct tape later and the chimney’s structure was complete. While I had the plate handy I traced two holes on the side of the fireplace where my arms would go. Some cutting and white duct tape later and things were looking pretty good.


The wood logs were made of pieces of white foam board wrapped in brown duct tape. The logs varied in length, and fit snugly between the andirons and the back of the fireplace. The fire took a sheet of yellow, red, and orange construction paper. To provide depth, I separated each piece of the “fire” by taping a strip of foam board to the bottom of the red and orange construction cut outs. I then taped the fire to the back log to keep it in place. To secure the logs and andirons I used, shocker, black duct tape.


Having started at 8PM, I was now about 4.5 hours into the first day of building. To wind down the evening/morning, I started working on two details: photos and bricks. The photos were printed on card stock, taped to the back of the cardboard frame I got at Hobby Lobby, and glued to a piece of heavy presentation board to stiffen the photo frames. For a frame stand I used a strip of black foam board and more black duct tape.

The bricks were the most time consuming part of the project as each one had to be cut individually. Online, I found standard brick dimensions of 8″ x 2.25″. Prior to cutting the whole lot, I opted to cut a dozen bricks and tape them on to see how they looked.  Once satisfied, I cleaned up my mess and turned in for the night.


The next day, after a trip to Wal-Mart for clear packing tape and another roll of black duct tape, I started up again. About that time my son took an interest in what I had created the night before. As the story goes, I spent about two hours helping him build his own fireplace. When he was satisfied with his masterpiece I returned to making the remaining 108 paper bricks.

After about an hour of cutting I was ready to put the bricks on. Instead of tape I went with Elmers spray glue. Spray, stick, repeat. Over and again. Another hour and my mason work was done. To clean up the edges I used black duct tape around the outside of the fireplace, white duct tape around the face hole, and clear packing tape on the edges where the bricks folded over the chimney edges.


The finishing details (wreath, bow, garland, and lights) required punching holes through the foam board, taping over the holes on both sides of the foam board a couple of times to reinforce the board, and affixing the items with zip ties. For the battery pack I created a box out of foam board pieces, placed it near an arm hole (for easy access to the on/off switch), and zip tied it to the frame. The last items to add were reinforcements for the chimney and frame where I would need to attach the two.

Running low on duct tape (I used 7 rolls for this project) I hit up Michaels for a roll of white duct tape and four pieces of 24″ basswood. I taped three pieces of wood at the base of the chimney and three pieces where my shoulders would rest. Then taped a pair of socks to prevent my shoulders from rubbing against the wood. More hole punching and tape and the chimney was ready for race day assembly.


Throughout the process I tried on the costume. Each time I did I kept wondering how in the world I was going to run 10 feet let alone a 5K in this beast. It would be 6 days before I found out.

The Race

My friend, Wes, picked up the costume the night before (there was no way that thing was fitting in my car), and took me to the race the following morning. We arrived with plenty of time to attach the chimney and perform other pre-race tasks (i.e. peeing).

Once ready, I slipped on my costume and made my way to the start line where I met my wife and less than amused son…

Seriously, he was all smiles until picture time.

Seriously, he was all smiles until picture time.

As well as some friends and my now amused son…

At least he's smiling now.

At least he’s smiling now.

And, I got to meet Santa and one of his elves!


Within the first quarter mile I knew I was in for a long race. While I had thought the huge hole in the chimney would provide plenty of space for fresh air I was dead wrong. Instead of fresh oxygen rich air, I was breathing recycled carbon dioxide rich air. To correct the issue I pulled the fireplace against my chest and held it there so I could rest my chin on the chimney opening (which meant my arms couldn’t help me run). I also realized that as a result of me having to hold the fireplace close to my chest, my upper legs wouldn’t be able to contribute. Instead, I’d have to run the race on my toes (sorry and thank you calves).

Apart from the breathing and toe running, Mile 1 went by quickly and fairly well. There were times it got rough due to my inability to see out of my periphery but my friend, Lynn, was there to keep me straight. Seriously, a huge thanks to her for running the entire race with me. If she hadn’t I’d probably be wreath down on the road somewhere. Mile 2 was mostly uphill and required a few breathing breaks. There was one point when Lynn grabbed my costume, jerked me backward, and said,”You’re stopping to catch your breath.” And so I did. Mile 3 was pretty easy. Mostly downhill with a minor uphill near the end. I stopped for a photo op with my buddy John and went on down the road for the last tenth of a mile.

Off in the distance I could see the finish line. And, just like I did when the race started, I was going to have to lower my head to get under the finish line banners. Slowly I dipped my head down and did my best to squat my legs. Baby steps forward and I was in.

That’s right, after thirty two minutes and change, I crossed the finish line. It was a beast of a run but whatever, I ran a 5K dressed in a ridiculous five foot tall fireplace costume (and it was awesome).


Following the race I won best costume. As a prize, my family and I are going to a nearby train theme park. Woohoo! Thanks YMCA!

Talking to my son about the costume prize.

Talking to my son about the costume prize.

The Recap

The conceptualization of the costume was really fun. I think it helped to build a prototype in order to figure out the best way to construct the costume. And the race, as always, was a blast. A big thanks to my wife and son for putting up with me for another year of race preparations, and to my friends Wes and Lynn for their assistance in helping me pull everything together.

The Results

BTW, if you’re wondering where this year’s race time stacks up against the previous four here you go:

  1. Christmas Tree (solo) 21:12 / 6:59 pace
  2. Conductor and Polar Express (baby jogger) 22:39 / 7:23 pace
  3. Grinch and Sleigh (baby jogger) 23:36 / 7:36 pace
  4. Christmas Present (solo) 24:56 / 8:15 pace
  5. Fireplace (solo) 32:22 / 10:21 pace