Monday, October 6, 2014

How I Became Cheetah Man

I never intended to have a signature look, but increasingly, I’m becoming known as “Cheetah Man.”  This all started in September of 2011 at the Tahoe Triple.  First, some background.

When it’s cold at the start of a race – generally anything below 40 – I wear tights.  I used to wear a fairly nondescript pair of tights that were solid black.  At the 2011 Tahoe Triple, I was recovering from a pulled hamstring.  I was running three marathons in three days, and it was going to be cold in the morning for at least two of them.  Not wanting to wash clothes between races when they would take overnight to dry, I packed two pairs of tights.  Besides the black pair, the only other pair I had that fit was a pair of tights with a cheetah print.

I can’t recall when or where I bought them, but they had been sitting in a dresser drawer for years.  When I wore them to the start of one of the races, my friend Tony (a.k.a. Endorphin Dude), asked me to pose with him for a picture.  Tony is a flamboyant guy.  He races as “Endorphin Dude,” a running superhero of his own creation.  Here’s the pic.

Tony later said that was the first time anyone ever upstaged him in a race photo.

After that, I still preferred to wear the solid black tights, but I was more willing to wear the cheetah tights.  I’ve never been one to run races in costume, but now that I was warming up to the idea of wearing flashier outfits, I started making exceptions for certain races.  For example, the next time I ran the Fly Pig Marathon in Cincinnati, I dressed like this.

I’ve also run the Rock N Roll New Orleans Marathon dressed like this.

My friend “Kino” often travels to Boston to watch the Boston Marathon.  I saw him around mile 15 when I did the race in 2012.  In 2013, Kino posted on Facebook that he was going to be watching the race from the same spot.  He wanted his friends to let him know what they’d be wearing, so he could spot them easily.  I initially commented that I would be wearing a yellow Marathon Maniacs T-shirt.  I later added that if it was cold enough, I might also be wearing cheetah tights.

I did, in fact, wear the cheetah tights that day.  When I got to 15 miles, I looked for Kino, but didn’t see him.  He was on the opposite side of the street taking a picture of another friend.  Then he ran past me, saying, “I thought you were kidding.”  He later posted this picture, referring to me as “Cheetah Man.”  I’ve been known as Cheetah Man ever since.

My cheetah tights eventually started showing signs of wear.  Now that I was getting used to racing as Cheetah Man, I decided to look for a new pair.  It had been a long time since I last bought a pair of tights.  Fewer people wear them for running these days.  I could no longer find them at expos, nor could I find them in running stores.  I could find tights online, but the selection was limited.  I couldn’t find anything as specific as a cheetah print.

Last February, I traveled to Japan for the Tokyo Marathon.  The day before the race, I went shopping in Harajuku with my friends Diane and Michelle.  There are lots of shops in Harajuku with tights.  You can also find almost anything with cat prints.  Cats are big in Japan.  Within a few blocks of each other I found a new pair of cheetah tights and a cheetah hat.  It was cold, so I wore them both in the Tokyo Marathon the next morning.  Cheetah Man has now done two of the World Marathon Majors.

Online, I found arm warmers and gaiters with a similar print.  They weren’t quite a match, but they were in the ballpark.  In March, I wore the whole ensemble in the Antelope Island Buffalo Run.  I discovered that even in a trail run, you get a lot of shout-outs from other runners when you wear cheetah gear.

In April, I wore the cheetah gear for the Yakima River Canyon Marathon.  Kathrine Switzer and Roger Robinson were speakers at the pre-race dinner.  Kathrine was talking about the 261 races for women.  At one point, she mentioned that men were allowed to run, but they didn’t want men to be competing with the women.  She said that if men raced the women the men would win, just as cheetahs would win if cheetahs raced with men.  Knowing what I was wearing in the morning, I smiled inside.

The next morning, Kathrine and Roger were the official starters for the marathon.  They also stayed to watch the runners in the early miles.  I saw them cheering two miles into the race.  I slowed down briefly and told Kathrine, “I remember what you said about cheetahs racing men.”  Seeing me in the cheetah tights and hat, she laughed.

Now if it’s cold enough to wear tights, I always wear my new cheetah tights.  When I do, I also wear the hat.  This photo is from the Rockies Marathon.

More recently, I wore them in the Twin Cities Marathon.  In addition to getting lots of reactions from spectators, it also attracted the attention of a writer and photographer at the finish line, and they interviewed me.  Cheetah Man may be making an appearance on their Facebook page.

When I race, I almost always have a time goal.  I try to run as fast as I can, but I also like to have fun.  I’ll do anything for a laugh or a smile, as long as it doesn’t slow me down.  Wearing cheetah gear doesn’t slow me down.

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