Crafting in Serpie Colours

Dorothy Boggs and Maureen Seguin after the Berlin Marathon.

Maureen enters the whimsical world of running in costume and discovers some unexpected benefits.

Over the past few years I have occasionally modified Serpie kit for myself and others, or created full-blown Serpie-inspired costumes. Why? you may ask. In my case, these activities were driven by two main objectives:

  1. Procrastinating working on my PhD circa 2011-2016
  2. Lowering expectations on race performance at the outset

Faffing about with race kit was extremely functional for each objective. Below I explore each in detail and end with some ‘top tips’ for those wishing to pursue this sort of thing.

My first foray into Serpie crafting were the Serpie bows I created for Dorothy Boggs, Rachael Eddershaw and myself for the London Marathon in 2014. From my perspective, the bow was strongly correlated with an absolutely terrible marathon experience. Well, it was due either to the bow or the chronic hip issue which emerged sometime after a string of races in late 2013. Really, who’s to say? Surprisingly, producing the poorly-designed and droopy bows somehow led Dorothy to conclude that I was some sort of savant with a sewing machine.

Fast-forward a few months. That summer I entered the ballot for a Berlin Marathon spot (along with a handful of others) on a whim whilst at the pub following a Tuesday track session. Dorothy and I were unexpectedly awarded race spots. I panicked. Who knew that flippantly applying for a race whilst at the pub could lead to such catastrophic consequences? Sadly I have yet to learn this lesson, but I digress (Marathon du Medoc. Seriously?).

I needed to get my excuses in early in order to lower personal and external expectations for this marathon. The now-chronic hip issue showed no signs of abating and, like all stubborn runners, I couldn’t be bothered to get to a physio to sort it out. Nor did I consider not doing the race. I needed a way out to allow me to do the race, but in a non-serious way. Cue the cheery American friend – following on from the success(?) of the Serpie bows, Dorothy suggested we do the race ‘for fun,’ in fancy dress. ‘It’ll be fun!’ She claimed, ‘You can sew us dirndls to wear, we’re there for Octoberfest!’ After establishing what the hell ‘dirndls’ were (google beer wench), I agreed to this plan whilst at the pub following a Wednesday club run session (sensing a theme here).

I was quite successful in ignoring my PhD for at least 2-3 weeks, with all the choosing of fabric and ‘notions,’ let alone piecing it all together. A practice run in the dirndls (the Ealing Eagles 20 miler, if memory serves) several weeks before the marathon confirmed what I suspected as I sewed them – the material was stifling, especially the full skirt complete with Serpie-inspired apron over the top, and the preponderance of seams in the armpit area tempted serious chafing. The idea of attempting a PB marathon in this get-up was unthinkable. It was perfect.

On race day, despite the copious application of body glide (oh, the glamour of running), my armpits were on fire and my skirt was dripping with sweat, whipping my legs. Moreover, Dorothy and I overestimated the support we’d receive from mainly-German spectators, who seemed very blasé about the German-themed outfits. Nonetheless, these impediments lessened any pressure to run quickly, and we did fit right in at the beer gardens at the finish line (after a quick diversion to the medical tent to have our chafed armpits bandaged). Prost!

Following on from this great success, the idea to do the 2015 Frankfurt Marathon was suggested, and to run in fancy dress once again. I agreed to this plan whilst at the pub following a Wednesday club run session. Rather than doing the easy thing and simply wearing our dirndls again, Dorothy and I decided to run in Wonder Woman outfits, suspecting that the German crowd may react more to a non-German outfit. This was more of a Serpie modification to costumes we ordered online, rather than creating outfits from scratch. As I am the committee member responsible for the Serpentine kit, I had access to little odds and ends that suppliers have sent over the years, including samples of fabric with the official ‘Serpentine’ lettering on it. I used these bits and bobs to customise our capes so they had the trademark two-yellow-stripes on a red background. I also tweaked the capes on our socks so they had the right stripes. (Yes, you read correctly: capes on our socks. Genius.)

All of this important prep paid off. I set out running Frankfurt Marathon 2015 with my excuses all ready (I was in fancy dress [therefore I was doing it ‘for fun’], my outfit was uncomfortable to run in, my hip is still messed up, etc.), but I was surprised at how good I felt after deliberately running the first few miles at a very chilled-out pace. I decided to speed up to my normal marathon pace, but only up to the 10 km mark, I told myself. I reached that point and I still felt really good, so I decided to continue at that pace until I hit the halfway mark. At that point, I still felt remarkably good, so I decided to hold the pace until I hit the 20 mile mark. Amazingly, I still felt great at 20 miles and I realised that my PB was within striking distance. Chasing that PB got me through those last 6 miles with relative ease, and I was pleasantly surprised at the spectator response to the outfit – there were plenty of ‘Gooooo Voooondaaaaaaaah Vooooooommmaaaaaahhhhn’ (read: German accent) shout-outs along the course, and many high-fives. So different from Berlin! I ended up not getting a PB, but this marathon remains my second-fastest to date (3:33:33). In retrospect, doing the race in fancy dress allowed me to relax at the beginning of the race, and only pick it up if I felt good. No pacing pressure, no checking my Garmin every few seconds. It’s almost enough to make me consider running in fancy dress again.

Top tips for modifying or making Serpie kit:

  • Shepherd’s Bush market, and the fabric stores nearby, are a great place to find ribbons, fabric, and anything else you would need to create your masterpiece.
  • I strongly suggest going to the pub after Serpie running sessions. This will lead you to sign up for incredibly daft but fun things.

Happy sewing!

Maureen Seguin currently manages Serpie kit, initially joining the club in 2012 to meet other runners interested in running Davos K42. Past achievements include a second-place finish in a hula-hoop competition in 1989 in her native Canada, hula-hooping for 45 minutes and 25 seconds.