Vinny and pals grin and bear it for Mini-Marathon

Five amigos don bear outfits and pink singlets for a great cause

Runners, joggers and walkers of  all sorts were part of  the  40,000 people who took to  the streets of Dublin for the annual  Women’s Mini-Marathon. Photograph:  Niall Carson/PA Wire

Runners, joggers and walkers of all sorts were part of the 40,000 people who took to the streets of Dublin for the annual Women’s Mini-Marathon. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Wed, Jun 4, 2014, 12:00

There were five bears in the Baggot Street throng on Monday morning; a Grizzly, a Panda, a Polar Bear, a Koala and a giant Teddy Bear.

They each wore bright pink singlets and shorts above their costumes, which were already encouraging perspiration, as Vinny Fitzpatrick, the Teddy Bear, could confirm.

The idea to “bear all” and sign up for the women’s Mini-Marathon had been the Grizzly’s idea, or rather Charlie Vernon’s.

Charlie had argued over a pint in Foley’s a few weeks earlier the Central Remedial Clinic had taken a PR battering for too long and it was time for a recovery mission.

Using the CRC’s “Buy A Bear” fund-raising theme as their cue, Charlie suggested they dress up as bears, do the mini-marathon and raise a few bob for their local charity.

The idea took flight as five Clontarf businesses, including Foley’s, each stumped up €500 while the Clontarf Thespians, of which Charlie was a leading light, had sourced the costumes for free.

“We’re a right Hair Bear Bunch,” giggled Vinny as the pals alighted the 130 in Abbey Street on a sultry Bank Holiday morning and headed towards the start line.

They each carried a bucket, full of tiny teddies carrying the message CRC – Care For You And Me which they would hand out along the route.

Bearded ladies

At Merrion Row, things were jammers. There were serious runners, club joggers and walkers, of all shapes, sizes and ages. Vinny clocked plenty of bearded ladies and was agog at the number of women wearing high heels.

The five bears picked up their pink numbers and were shuffling to the starting grid when Charlie, the Grizzly, piped up: “Lads, should we put something on it? How about a tenner a head for the first bear home?”

While he loved a bet, Vinny felt the day was about spreading the CRC message. Scurrying around the streets to try and win beer money would defeat the purpose. He was about to object when the Panda (Fran) spoke up: “Brilliant idea, Charlie. Let’s make it a score a man, to keep everyone focused, okay?”

The Grizzly (Charlie), Polar Bear (Macker) and the Koala (Brennie) were also in favour and began to stretch their hamstrings. Vinny shrugged. He’d pay up with a smile and enjoy the walk.

A few minutes later, as a great sea of folk flooded towards Ballsbridge, Vinny was left behind as his pals, started to weave through traffic, spilling little teddy bears from their buckets, much to Vinny’s annoyance.

Past the RDS and out along the Merrion Road, Vinny enjoyed his ramble. He took time to notice the bus stops and how they were spaced out. The real time timetables, which he helped devise with the late, much-missed, Shanghai, were blacked out for the duration of the race.

By late afternoon, they would be glowing orange again, informing passengers the number 4 bus would be along in eight minutes, and the number 7 in 13 minutes. “At least I did something right in this job,” he said to himself.

He crossed from one side of the road to the other, handing out his teddy bears and asking people to think kindly of the CRC. The response was positive.

At the Ailesbury Road junction, an elderly woman thrust €20 into his bucket. “What the CRC did for my late husband was second to none,” she said.

Vinny protested he wasn’t collecting and tried to give the money back but the woman wouldn’t hear of it. Vinny glanced at the note in among the teddies and the thought struck him that at least his bet was covered.

Approaching Morehampton Road, Vinny’s mood was sunny despite the moistness in his armpits and lower back. Rupert the bear He was a happy Teddy Bear, so much so he was reminded of a TV series he liked as a kid and suddenly burst into song. “Oh Rupert, Rupert the bear every one sing his name. Rupert, Rupert the bear every one come and join, in all of his games”.

Entering the final kilometre, his bucket empty, Vinny felt he had better make an effort, lest the lads send out a search party. He began to trot, not every quickly, for he was a heavy bear, but enough to bend his knees and lift his feet off the pavement.

Crossing Leeson Street Bridge, Vinny was uplifted by the roar of the crowd. Looking towards the finish line, he could see the Grizzly, Panda, Polar Bear and Koala, all beckoning him on.

Breaking into a gallop, Vinny put his head down and charged for the line, exhilarated at the response he was getting.

With sweat flowing from every pore, a gasping Vinny opened his fleshy trotters inside the final 100 metres and made a burst for the tape.

He could hear the commentator call out; was aware of the tumult around him, the sea of faces, and he felt uplifted.

Suddenly, he was Eamonn Coghlan, John Treacy and Marcus O’Sullivan rolled into one. He wasn’t a fat middle-aged bus driver man wearing a costume, and he would not fail.

As he crossed the line, arms raised in triumph to receive the acclaim, Vinny was aware of a white-haired figure ducking past him on the inside.

“Beaten on the bloody bob,” he puffed, before collapsing to the tarmac, bucket clutched to hand.

As he lay on the tarmac, on the flat of his back, he looked up to see four bears staring at him. “What about that reception, lads? It was like winning the Olympics,” he grinned.

His fellow bears shook their hairy heads. “That wasn’t for you, Vinny. It was for that lady over there,” said Grizzly Charlie, pointing to a woman surrounded by a battery of photographers. “She’s the oldest runner in the race; she’s 89.”

Vinny gulped. He had been mugged by a woman more than 30 years his senior.

As he propped himself up on his elbows, a banner above the finish line caught his eye. It read: “Tasty goodness for all the family”.

So much for margarine, thought Vinny. His idea of “tasty goodness” came served with batter, vinegar and tomato sauce.

It was time for a Teddy Bear’s picnic.

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