Have you spotted Santa running the streets of the city lately? Yes, Christmas is still over a month away, but Fairmount's Brian Lang has taken on Santa's mantle so to speak in his effort to break the world record for the fastest marathon run as Santa at the Philadelphia Marathon.
The current record is 2 hours, 55 minutes, 50 seconds, held by Paul Simons of the United Kingdom since 2009. In order to break the record, Lang has to beat Simons' time while wearing a Santa hat, false white beard and a full Santa Suit. He said luckily though he can wear sneakers instead of Santa's clunky boots.
However, Lang's mission is much more than just to run looking like Santa, but to be a gift giver like him as well. He decided that he wanted to use this platform to help a nonprofit organization in the city.
"If you have gifts, you have to use them to make a difference," he said, "It felt selfish to go for the record just for myself."
His criteria for choosing a charity were that it was a local non-profit dedicated to children and that it was one with which he could truly make a difference with his fundraising and advocacy.
After much research, he came across the perfect organization, Mighty Writers, a South Philadelphia-based charity with a simple but powerful mission: Teach kids how to write well so they can succeed at whatever they do. They do this with a daily, free after-school program for grade-schoolers through teenagers.
On what drew Lang to Mighty Writers, he explained, "I'm really passionate about self-expression and communication, and think it's so important for kids and people to be able to effectively communicate with the world around them. It's the most important skill I learned growing up, and Mighty Writers clearly shares my enthusiasm because its mission is to teach Philly kids to think and write with clarity so they can achieve success at school, at work, and in life."
Philadelphia's literacy crisis is well-documented, according to Lang:
Just 14% of 4th graders and 16% of 8th graders scored proficient or above on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the only test that compares students across the entire country. Only four major U.S. cities ranked lower than Philadelphia in reading proficiency.
Over half of the adult population -- an estimated 550,000 individuals -- are considered "low literate," meaning they would struggle to fill out a form such as a job application or follow written instructions.
"These are stats that Mighty Writers — and now Marathon Santa — are out to change. I can't think of a more important skill for kids to learn and master than reading/writing. I have a hard time imagining how difficult it must be to interview for a job without being able to communicate clearly — yet that's exactly what hundreds of thousands of Philadelphia residents are faced with every day!" Lang wrote on his website.
Running has been a lifelong passion
Born and raised in Dumont, NJ, Lang first discovered his love of distance running in high school at St. Peter's Prep and continued to compete in college at the University of Pennsylvania. Even after graduating and starting work as a management consultant, he continued training and racing competitively. He has completed 5 marathons and other races including Philadelphia Marathon, New York Marathon, the Baltimore Marathon and the Rock-n-Roll Half. His personal best was 2:31:23 in the 2011 Philadelphia Marathon.
Then, he took some time off from running while getting his MBA at Duke's Fuqua School of Business and working full-time, but once he graduated, the itch to run again returned full force.
So how you do you train to run as Santa?
Good Question. Lang said that the first part is getting in shape to beat the record independent of the suit. Then in September, he began training in his Santa hat and has been spotted all over the world training in the hat as he traveled for work.
About a month ago, he dressed in a sweatshirt and sweatpants for his runs. When he finally donned the full suit, he was surprised to find that the Santa suit was actually lighter.
To gauge his time running for the Philadelphia Marathon, Lang ran last month's Rock-n-Roll Half Marathon in full regalia. He planned on a target pace of 6:30/mile because that was what he'll need to run the full marathon on November 22 to break the record of 2:55:50.
"I was really scared going in, afraid I was underestimating my goal. I would have felt like it was over before I began," he admitted.
He was very excited when he did even better than he expected, crossing the finish line at 1:20:27 (6.09/mile average). With this pace, he predicts he could finish the Philly Marathon as fast as 2:51, about 5 minutes under current record, although "a half marathon is much different from a full marathon so anything can happen," he added.
Not taking anything for granted, last week he decided he needed one last big workout, so he ran 13 miles on the treadmill at Planet Fitness in full suit in a temperature of 68 degrees.
"It was stifling even with a hydration belt. I really struggled, but that was the point," he said.
The big X factor for Lang on race day is the weather, but he said that no matter if he defeats the record or not, good will come from this. "Although I am still very committed to breaking the record," he reassured us.
Want to help Lang with his mission of raising funds and awareness for the works of Might Writers?
Here is how you can be Santa's helper:
Donate @marathonsanta.org. He is trying to raise $26,200 for Mighty Writers
Share. Spread the word of Lang's mission on social media
Cheer. Come out in your favorite Christmas sweater or costume on Nov. 22 and cheer him on!
Follow his story here.
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