The first question I get when people see me lined up in a red, one-piece polyester jumpsuit at the start line of the Door County Half Marathon is, “How do you breathe in that thing?”
“With difficulty,” I respond.
The Flying Tomato character is the alter-ego to my competitive racing nature. I’ve raced in running, cycling and triathlon events for more than six years, often performing in the top echelon of non-professional athletes in the country.
I quickly learned that if I toed the line of any event, my competitive instincts would take over and I had no choice but to give my full effort. I trained for fun and raced to win.
That posed a problem at the Door County Half Marathon in 2014.
By that time, I had become a full-fledged triathlete and events such as the Door County Triathlon and the Age Group National Championship in Milwaukee were priorities of my racing schedule. All of my training focused on my success in those events.
But the Door County Half Marathon is one of the best events I’ve ever participated in. Peninsula State Park is my training playground and I had become involved enough in the community to see the event as a cornerstone of the year. It’s as though the organizers bypassed Memorial Day to create their own holiday that would be the start to the summer season.
I knew I couldn’t line up for the half marathon without racing it hard, but I also knew that if I raced hard, the recovery would set back my triathlon training. I had to come up with an idea that would force me to take it easy and treat the run like a long training session instead of a race.
My first red jumpsuit arrived in the mail a few days after talking it over with my boss, Sara Unkefer at Wild Tomato in Fish Creek. Failing to heed the warnings of buying two sizes bigger, I was forced to cut the feet off to pull the stretchy material further up my body.
I never trained in the suit. I simply arrived on race morning curious as anyone else about whether I’d be able to breathe, getting overheated, and what kind of chafing I might be in for.
The truth is, it makes the run a little bit harder and a lot more fun. Breathing through the material isn’t difficult as long as the intensity doesn’t rise to the point where I’m gasping for breath. Wearing little more than a green wool Wild Tomato cap on my head and white compression shorts (quickly turned pink) beneath, the cool bayside air in May prevented me from getting too warm.
The costume is both a nod to Wild Tomato, a business that has bent over backwards to accommodate my training and racing, and a thanks to those who line the course, because I know that running is not the easiest sport to spectate.
After my most successful year of racing in 2016, I’ve decided to step back from the world of competitive endurance sports to reconnect with the reason I got involved in the activity years ago.
When I retired from my job at Wild Tomato earlier this year, I also retired the Flying Tomato. It didn’t take long to think of a new costume for the race, and this one is a little more breathable.
Here’s a hint: “Mama always said life was like a box of chocolates…”