Beat the bear, and runners got free footwear

A bear got loose in Grant Park on Saturday, followed by ladybugs, Eeyore, and a man wearing a faceless red bodysuit and extra-large wrestler's championship belt in Centennial Olympic Park on Sunday.

All were runners participating in weekend events associated with the Publix Georgia Marathon and Half Marathon.

The bear was part of a promotion for Karhu running shoes, with a runner dressed in a costume depicting that animal competing against 841 others in a 5-kilometer race at Grant Park. Any runner who beat the bear received a voucher for a free pair of Karhu shoes, and nine were faster than the bear's time of 20:02.

The shoes have a retail value of more than $100. President Jay Duke said his company, which was founded in Finland and has a name that means bear in the Finnish language, has given away more than 130 pairs of shoes in four races.

"The first quarter mile was weird and uncomfortable, but I figured out how to navigate it by getting some air into the face by angling the helmet upwards as I ran," said the brown bear, which ran with a short but quick stride. "I now totally understand why bears are built for the cold."

The ladybugs, Eeyore (the Winnie-the-Pooh character) and the gender-less red blob were other noticeable figures who competed in Sunday's half marathon at Olympic Park.

"Pray for Japan"

Several runners wore T-shirts that said "Pray for Japan" on the back, including Seeichi Saito, who carried a flag identifying his native country as he ran the 13.2-mile half marathon.

Saito is from Yokohama and has many friends and family who live there. He said all of them survived the earthquake and tsunami that devastated the country more than a week ago.

His flag featured positive notes written in black ink from many of his colleagues and co-workers. He was worked in Atlanta for the past two years.

Running for a cause

The Brown family was another group of competitors running for a cause. Jeffrey Brown and cousin Hilary Ritter competed in the half marathon. Brown's son, Derek, competed in the marathon as part of his quest to run 50 marathons in 50 states to raise awareness of neurofibromatosis, one of the most common genetic disorders. Neurofibromatosis, also known as NF, can cause tumors to grow on the nerves anywhere at any time.

Brown's younger brother, Austin, was diagnosed with the disorder when Austin was 4 and living in their native New Hampshire.

With Sunday's event, Derek Brown has competed in 14 marathons in 11 states. His first was Chicago in 2005. Jeffrey Brown has run in 20 and Ritter four.

"When I'm out there running the only thing on my mind is my brother," Derek Brown said.

Austin Brown attends the University of Southern Maine, where he is on the golf team. He hasn't had any serious complications from NF.

"We just want to spread the word," Jeffrey Brown said.

Fun facts

The breakdown of entrants:

-- 54 percent of the runners were female.

-- 20 percent were registered for the marathon, the rest for the half-marathon.

-- Runners from all 50 states participated.

The regional dispersal of runners went like this: Georgia, 1,250; Florida, 345; Alabama, 332; North Carolina, 303; South Carolina, 259, and Tennessee, 217.

The six Southeast states were responsible for 91 percent of the registration. In addition to the U.S., runners from 30 countries registered.

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