Want to know what it's like to just have fun running... every time you lace up your running shoes?
You don't even have to show up to a race, if you run like Matt Drol.
Meet the Banana Runner.
If you've ever wondered what drives some runners to put such a spin on their running, here's a little insight into how it all started.
Sometimes our relationships with running can feel a lot like the ones we have with family: we love it, but we don’t always like it.
Just like dad’s earthquaking sneezes or Aunt Linda’s overcooked roast beef, there are some aspects of running that just get on our nerves - no matter how much we value running (or dad and Aunt Linda) in the grand scheme of things when all’s said and done.
Plus, running is work.
It may not be work that brings home a paycheck for most of us, but running still demands solid effort and action on a daily basis.
That work might look different for each of us depending on what kinds of goals we set as runners, but there’s no such thing as a truly effortless run.
Sometimes even lacing up our shoes and getting out the door takes a strong dose of willpower. Been there, done that?
The difference between thriving in that work or just grinding through it comes down to mindset.
One runner in particular has discovered his own special way of finding the fun in every single step. Meet Matt Drol, Finance Manager by day and Banana Man by run.
Yes, you read that correctly.
For every single run since April 2020 - besides two measly miles - Matt has taken his running to new heights by doing it all in a banana costume.
And those two miles he missed?
“I was running to and from my grandparents’ house, and I didn’t want to embarrass them too much in front of their neighbors,” Matt explained.
I suppose we can give him a pass for being a thoughtful grandson.
Matt ran in his iconic banana suit for the first time after an especially rough race season.
He first caught the bug to start running on the cross-country team back in middle school, and the sport has remained a part of his life ever since at various intensities.
Sometimes running had simply served as a recreational means to stay active and kill boredom, while other periods revolved around running near the top of his priority list.
He dove into training and racing with the greatest fervor in 2017, and found his stride through unprecedented success in a string of strong half-marathon races.
He views that year as the true beginning of his deeper relationship with running.
But what goes up must come back down, and Matt hit the ground hard the following year.
Living in Ohio, winter weather plays a huge role in maintaining a training schedule.
That winter happened to feature such treacherous conditions that he wasn’t able to keep up with the same level of outdoor training that he had before.
Reluctance to replace the great outdoors with the “dreadmill” combined with painful comparisons to his former fitness left Matt feeling unmotivated and unprepared for his spring races.
Most runners in this situation might either:
a) grin and bear it in hopes that time would turn their situation around
b) take a break from running, or…
c) walk away from the sport altogether.
Matt chose a different path… and so his undercover identity as the Running Banana came to fruition.
Matt knew that he wasn’t ready to race the 2018 Cleveland Half-Marathon to the degree that he wanted.
The solution? Put a whole new spin on the day to turn disappointment into excitement.
Novelty lights up our neural pathways to keep us engaged with life in fresh ways. So it makes sense that a change in perspective would help a burnt-out athlete rekindle some passion.
But Matt’s take on that concept stands on a level of its own.
That day at the Cleveland Half marked his first official outing as the Running Banana.
Matt threw pace goals out the window in favor of the mindset that would kickstart the rest of his running career: “It doesn’t matter how slow I go if I’m a banana!”
Matt went on to complete the Warrior Dash obstacle course race a few months later, which he had run before but his first time in banana attire.
Throughout a few more races over the course of that fateful year, Matt realized that nothing would ever be the same. Once you go banana, there’s no turning back.
Running in character offered Matt the chance to make his own unique mark on the sport.
It allowed him to hold onto that appreciation for running despite the deep winter slump.
“I fell in love with the reaction,” he says, thinking about all the wide grins, hugs, giggles, and high-fives from everyone that he meets along the way. Those reactions give him a purpose that goes beyond merely running.
“I like to make people smile. I get my happiness out there from making other people happy. There’s no way to not smile at a banana running by… I think the only way you could have a negative reaction is if you were allergic to bananas.”
By attracting such attention from others, Matt was ironically able to shift his own attention away from himself and any disappointment he might have otherwise felt about the state of his running.
He realized that he could run for reasons that had absolutely nothing to do with the metrics by which he’d always measured himself in the past, in a way that put running in perspective within a much bigger picture.
Instead, he could focus on the sheer joy that he could help spread through the running community from something as ridiculous and innocent as showing up in costume.
The connections that have grown from those miles of smiles remind him of the value of running at its core, underneath all the expectations.
“I’ve gotten to meet so many people who help me remember to run just because I can,” he reflects, including a woman whose husband lost his own ability to run in light of a battle with MS and a good friend who runs as a celebration of life after barely surviving a near-death experience.
The tradition evolved into the backbone of Matt’s running routine.
Every run - easy or hard, short or long, recreational or race - now features the integral banana suit. Luckily, he has 24 of them to choose from.
He’ll generally wear a couple on rotation until they’re trashed, then throw fresh ones into the mix.
Matt does own a few specialty suits:
Matt’s two young kids each have their own banana suits that they love to wear on walks around the neighborhood together with dad. His oldest, an eager three year old boy, ran his first personal “banana race” this year.
Oddly enough, learning to place these simple pleasures at the forefront has actually led to improvements in the very metrics that Matt has learned to keep in the background.
Half marathon results
He broke two hours in the half-marathon this year, a goal that he “never thought I would manage, let alone in a banana costume,” then went on to break it again by six more minutes on a second go later in the year.
The Chicago Marathon
He also completed the Chicago Marathon in October, his most successful race at that distance to date by a long shot.
“I wouldn’t have trained or worked as hard without being the banana,” Matt understands in hindsight.
“Running can get really boring, really fast. It becomes monotonous when you’re training and running day in and day out. But when something’s fun… it’s not work. I get excited now to get out and run around looking like an idiot.”
If runners can learn anything from Matt, it’s how to simplify the whole experience back down to the basics:
In the end, these are the only metrics truly worth the effort.
Lives in: Ohio
Nickname: Banana Runner
# of Banana Suits: 24+
Longest run: 26.2 miles... in a Banana Suit