Go slow: it’s not the advice you expect before attempting a Guinness World Record for the fastest half marathon in a suit, but for Hong Kong dad Mike Tozer it was just the ticket to a coveted entry into the history books.
“I was really nervous the night before my attempt and called my coach Sean Williams and he said, ‘Ignore everyone else around and just go slow at the start.’”
In May, Tozer, 35, who works in international development, had made an initial crack at the record – 1 hour 18 minutes 13 seconds, set by Briton Scott Forbes in April 2016 – but fell short by 27 seconds after setting off too quickly and flagging in the final kilometres. He decided to try again, this time at the Blacktown Running Festival on July 31 in Sydney, Australia.
“[William’s] advice was just what I needed to hear,” says Tozer.
He stuck to his pace rigidly – a blistering 3 minutes 40 seconds per kilometre – and at the 16 kilometre mark was two minutes slower than on his first attempt. Then, with two kilometres to go in the 21.1km race, Tozer had plenty left in the tank and picked up his pace.
He crossed the line in 1 hour 18 minutes 10 seconds, breaking the previous record by three seconds. “I was actually able to power past runners at the end,” says Tozer. He finished second overall, moving up from seventh place during his final strides.
The experience was symbolic for Tozer, who took on the challenge to raise research funds for, and awareness of, the rare genetic condition known as Fragile X, the most common genetic cause of autism. His five-year-old son, Josiah, was diagnosed with the condition in 2013.
Tozer says: “Having to ‘go slow’ when all you want to do is race to the finish is, in some ways, exactly what life is like when living with Fragile X. You see friends and family around you going at a faster pace, but we have to go a lot slower. In our household, getting into the car or going on a family outing, we have to make more intentional decisions about pace.”
Tozer, whose half-marathon personal best (without a suit) is 1 hour 16 minutes 26 seconds, says his record attempt was almost foiled by a technical costume glitch days before the race. Informed by Guinness World Records that his original attempt in May was “not accepted” for failure to wear a three-piece suit, he frantically altered his costume in the final hours.
The extra weight was offset, he says, by being able to run without taking selfies this time around (required by officiators for proving completion). “I had friends and family stationed every two kilometres to take photos of me, which really took the pressure off. But it also meant I had something to look forward to and keep me motivated roughly every seven minutes.”
According to the US National Human Genome Research Institute, Fragile X syndrome is the most common form of inherited intellectual disability in males and is also a significant cause of intellectual disability in females. The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention estimate about one in 151 women carry the Fragile X gene and could pass it on to their children.
The event was the most successful awareness-raising event so far for Fragile X Hong Kong, of which Tozer is chairman. “I didn’t quite realise how many people were following my journey the first time around, but this time I was definitely more aware of it. It gave me more focus,” he says.
“My brother-in-law put a photo album on his website and over 5,000 people visited the link in a week. It’s great to see my efforts are getting people in Hong Kong, Australia and around the world learning more about this relatively new condition that has the potential to affect so many.”
Fragile X Hong Kong has just been awarded a funding grant by the American Chamber of Commerce, which will enable the organisation to put on workshops to further educate Hong Kong doctors about the condition and empower affected families.
Tozer is unsure his record will stand for long – it has been broken four times in the last year and he’s been tipped off about another attempt taking place in October.
“I’m always looking for ways to raise awareness, and I do have half an eye on attempting the record for a full marathon in a suit, but the suit is definitely going to get a rest for now.”
Read more about Tozer on his blog: https://medium.com/fastsuitguy