“That was going to be my only marathon”, says Dana Power as he recalls the time he sat in front of the television watching the Great North Run and decided it was time he had a go.
The 62-year-old jokes that it is a case of “once you start, you can’t stop”, as he prepares for his eighth London Marathon this weekend. “Every time I finish I say ‘never again’, but after a week, when you’re sat at home not doing anything with your trainers in the corner, you’ve got to do it!”
Dana is not only a veteran marathon competitor but a recognisable figure in his hometown of Bridgnorth, Shropshire, because he runs in an 8ft tall, 15kg green and purple dragon costume.
“It started because Asthma UK needed someone to run as Puff the Dragon and no-one else came forward and I’ve been doing it ever since. Basically (the dragon) lives here now.”
Dana sporting the dragon look in his hometown in Shropshire. Photo: John Bray.
The extra weight doesn’t make things any easier. “You’ve got to slow your pace down – don’t go off too quick. Your style of running is different as you can’t your get knees up so high. I’ve never had a good style anyway, but I’m 62 so I’m not going to change it now.”
London weather is unpredictable at the best of times, but it looks like it will be mostly sunny this Sunday with a bit of cloud and Dana will be glad to avoid a heatwave. “One year in London it was 22 to 24 degrees. People were squirting water at me and spraying it on my legs to cool me down! I was asking them to.”
All the hard work seems very much worth it as Dana has raised a total of around £37,000 for Asthma UK and his local Severn Hospice since giving marathon running a go in 2011. “It’s not about the money though, I do it because I enjoy running. I really didn’t expect it to get this big when I started dong it. It keeps going up.”
But his efforts have made a real difference to one family in particular. Dana’s specifically involved with Cameron’s Fund, dedicated to a local boy called Cameron, who sadly lost his life after a severe asthma attack aged two years old.
A mid-marathon snap taken on London’s famous Tower Bridge. Photo: Pete Sheffield via Flickr.
Ten years later, Cameron’s mum Gemma has made the story of The Marvellous Marathon Dragon into a children’s book and the sight of a bright green dragon running down the road is a familiar one to many who live in Bridgnorth, even if it catches some by surprise.
“It’s been absolutely amazing the support I get, people tooting their horns on the by-pass, sometimes they try and give me money while I’m out running and the dragon hasn’t got any pockets. I love seeing the smiles on their faces when they see me coming up the road. People often have to do a double-take!
“After a marathon, my phone goes crazy with people saying ‘well done, keep it going, I saw you on the telly’…local businesses, people coming up for selfies…my neighbour Margaret is a seamstress and she sews the tail back on and does a lot of repairs for me. She does a really good job.”
With Dana having taken on the mascot role to its fullest, it may come as a surprise that he lacked a running background. “I was 55 when I started. I have always loved my sport and played football, rugby, and cricket but then I got married and children came along and had other priorities. Then suddenly I wasn’t doing so much overtime and tried something new.
The new look for 2018, ‘Super Puffina’. Photo: Dana Power.
“I was working at Bridgnorth Aluminium in a foundary, working with molten aluminium with temperatures around a thousand, 1100 degrees, but nothing compares to running with Puff in the heat, even working with the furnace!”
In the last couple of years, Puff the Asthma Dragon has evolved somewhat. “A local designer had the idea to make it into a woman; Puffina. Harriet Rogers, who makes a lot of cosplay costumes kitted her out with a big purple wig, earrings, a tutu, necklace and big red lips. This time we’ve even got some purple pants with stars on and some leg warmers!”
The changes prove that Dana – who has a personal best of 4 hours 44 minutes with his costume on and 4 hours 1 minute without – shows no signs of losing motivation. “I used to worry about the time but I just enjoy it more now, maybe stop for a few selfies, but I probably won’t stop too much as I want to finish on the same day!”
“Obviously there is going to be a time when I’ll have to stop, but I hope to do it for as long as possible. I don’t want to end up playing bowls…although I shouldn’t say that because a lot of young people play bowls!”