How to make a running costume

Here is a quick and handy guide on building yourself a fun and maybe even an award winning running costume that should help you enjoy the sport of costume running, get some laughs and end up a picture or two.

Things to keep in mind when designing a potential award winning running costume. Make it: large, funny, original, topical, brightly colored, thought provoking, lightweight & cool, runner friendly. Objectives: encourage others, press coverage, photo opportunities, enjoyment, get interviewed, win a prize, have lots of fun, make people laugh.

Costume etiquette

  • It is important to be a good sport at all times.

  • It is ok to not talk, you are in costume after all.

  • People want pictures so be ready to pose.

  • Some people can ask silly questions over and over again so be prepared to have silly answers.

  • Be ready for people who want to know, "What are you supposed to be?" Just answer the best you can if you are not sure and keep going.

The basics

In order to catch the attention of the crowd and photographers, the first requirement of a good running costume is it has to be big. You want everyone to see you so you need to stand out amoung the crowd. People need to see you coming so they are ready to take a picture when you get there. And it helps to be colorful and funny too! The more outrageous, the better. In the "Examiner Bay to Breakers" anything absurd can get a laugh, but in the "Run to the Far Side", you have to be a Gary Larson inspired character. There are now many costumed runs throughout the world, for example the "Run for Arthritis" is held in dozens of cities every Christmas and they have a costume contest.

The point you want to keep in mind is that the first rule of costume running is to have as much fun as possible. You will throughly enjoy seeing children laugh in surprise - it is the greatest reward of all. Then after that, come the people who just have to have their picture taken with you. You will like being in the lime-light for a few hours during the year and so that brings up the last but not least topic, media. What about the paparazzi? You may have no comment at this time ;-)

Be big!

Being as big as you can without the use of wheels should be your goal. "In 1994 I tried using helium in four 5-foot balloons to achieve this goal but one by one they exploded. I had them inside ripstop nylon made to look like the Hubble Space Telescope. It was supposed to float above me and make me stick out like in a Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Luckily I had an ace in the hole when I got to the judges stand and won the competition anyway. The previous year I ran as the hulapede with 13 blow up party dolls but some lost their air and so you can see I am a very slow learner. But keep in mind that you do not have to be big to win, it is just what I like to do."

Another way to get big without weighing too much is by the use of chicken wire and tubing. This makes a good frame from which you can build onto using other materials. You can cover your frames with paper mache, cloth, foam and you use plain ol' masking tape. You can make frames from PVC tubing and cardboard as well. These frames require lots of muscle to haul them without wheels so do not get carried away with the pun. "I put wheels on one just so I could work on it and move it around the yard. Then I caught the flu and come race day, I just had to keep the wheels on it. Well how handy that worked out!"

Be wacky, be topical or be both

Every year you will find that fact is funnier than fiction so every year there will be something to make fun of. You can make your costumes with current topics, wackiness as a theme or just being big and outrageous. Look at the local paper or television or go to a Halloween party for ideas. You should always looking for ideas and materials to work on. "I have a notebook to scribble down ideas when I get them. One of my costumes was drawn on a napkin with crayolas while waiting for pizza. I then pasted it in my book with all my other costume ideas when I got home."


Which materials you use is the trickiest part of a good lightweight costume. "Anybody can design and make a space-age technological get-up with enough money. But if the materials are not cheap and available at the hardware store, I for one, can't make it. I try to get whatever I can from the trash containers. Things like tubing and wire and foam (if it is clean) can be found in trash bins because buying it can get expensive. I can spend a day in Home Depot just looking at lightweight materials and get ideas."

The costume not only needs to be light but it needs to be waterproof as well. "I used watercolor paints once and luckily it only came off if you rubbed up against it. It poured like crazy before, during and after the race. Considering it was newspaper underneath I was lucky the whole thing did not disintegrate. I won though as Tyrannosaurus Mex, an 18 foot long and 12-foot tall Far Side character."

"The most fun for me is working with new materials all the time. I have worked with lots of materials just to see what would happen. When you are a pioneer and the first one to blaze the trail, you do not have anyone to say you can't do that. So that's the fun; doing the impossible because no-one said you couldn't. What is the limit for size of a costume? What materials can you not use? So I've become an inventor. I have successfully found out 100 things that won't make a ... [fill in the blank]. How else I did find out that waterbased finger paint, newspaper and flour on chicken wire can last over a year outdoors in rain and sun. Surely many would say it would never last, but now I know first hand it did."

How do you carry it?

Use a basic backpack rack for most all your costumes, they are fastened either directly or by using tethers made of rubber or nylon, depending on the stress. The important thing to remember is that the center of gravity needs to be as low and centered as possible. Sometimes if it seems it is going to be top-heavy, you can use a brick to balance it so you do not end up with back troubles. The extra weight offsets the imbalance and makes it easier to carry.

Transporting it

Transporting a costume can be almost as much fun as running in it. If you are lucky you can stick it in the trunk of a car, but often they have to go on top. "I have walked three miles with one because it was so big. Recently I built a trailer for my mountain bike. Now that was funny! Luckily the race was on a Sunday morning and nobody was on the road. Because I live in the city and only have a small yard to work with, I have to make my costumes so they can be taken apart or lifted up and over my fenced in yard. So these are points to keep in mind when I'm making large costumes." The most satisfying costumes are large and that can be broken down into very small pieces for moving.


If having fun is the number one objective, then staying safe is number two. Be careful and remember that large costumes that are heavy and can absorb water or blow with the wind can cause serious injury. It is also real important to make sure the costume is cool enough to run in. One man wore a wetsuit one year and did not realize heat exhaustion is life threatening. Others have died from heart attacks during road races. Distances from three miles and further is a long way, so be sure to train with your rig before you carry it on race day.

The future

"I foresee more races and organizations that need increased participation and publicity will look to the costumed runners contest to fill their needs. Nothing beats good publicity like a fun time for all ages and costumed running can provide that. I dream of a day when the all major road races have costumed runners and the prize money equals and in certain cases, surpasses that of the lead runners. It will become a second chance at winning, for the middle of the packers. It will help those who need to add some spice in their running. It was personally satisfying to see the 1998 Run to the Far Side offer money prizes to the top ten places. They also gave airlines tickets and autographed memorabilia. In the future I hope to see at least one costume run during the year in every major city."

Credits - would like to thank the website ( for the authorization to reprint the article "How to make a running costume" by Chris Davis.

Since September 7, 2007 - © Aerostato, Seattle - All Rights Reserved.

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