It almost seemed too perfect. A Guinness World Record for the fastest half marathon in a suit?
“We were joking around, ‘Gihan, go ahead for this. This record was made for us,'” Gihan Amarasiriwardena said.
You see, Amarasiriwardena is the co-founder of Ministry of Supply, a three-year-old fashion apparel company that offers clothes combining the comforts of athletic gear with styles suitable for business. It also just so happens that Amarasiriwardena is a former collegiate runner at MIT who is training for next April’s Boston Marathon. So of course that half-marathon record seemed tailor-made for a runner who designs suits made from performance gear.
Amarasiriwardena, 27, ran his first half marathon in early November in 1 hour 22 minutes 15 seconds. It was then that he realized the record was within reach. And as an added motivation, Nicholas Mizera of Canada had run 1:35:47 to set the record in a fully-tailored suit by Indochino, a rival apparel startup.
“We had a 13-minute buffer on the record, and I believed the suit wouldn’t hold me back that much,” Amarasiriwardena said Monday in a phone interview with The Washington Post. “So we said, ‘Let’s give it a shot.'”
On a sunny and unseasonably warm day at the Half MerryThon in Gloucester, Mass., earlier this month, Amarasiriwardena ran in his company’s Aviator suit, complete with sunglasses and a tie, to finish ninth overall in 1:24:41 – a 6:29 per mile pace. The record is pending verification, but Amarasiriwardena is confident that he has met all the requirements. He provided video and drone footage of the race to Guinness World Records.
“The certificate will definitely be going up in the office,” Amarasiriwardena said.
Born and raised in Amherst, Mass., Amarasiriwardena started running in middle school and competed in cross-country and track through college. He remembers wearing heavy cotton T-shirts when he first started running in the early 2000s and how he would be completely soaked in sweat after workouts. It was around the same time that Under Armour, launched in 1996, began popularizing performance material in athletic clothes.
To save money, Amarasiriwardena started experimenting with his own athletic apparel.
“Growing up in New England, the weather changed so much that I became very aware of how performance apparel made a big difference,” he said. “I started kind of hacking my own materials. I would go to construction sites and dumpster diving to get Tyvek … to make my own waterproof rain jackets, sleeping bags out of shredded up space blankets.”
That curiosity brought him to MIT, his dream school, where he majored in chemical and biological engineering and had the opportunity to conduct research for the Sports Technology Institute at Loughborough University in England. After graduating from MIT in 2011, where he ran on the cross-country and track teams all four years, Amarasiriwardena wanted to bring the same level of performance in athletic clothing to those in a business setting.
“You want to look sharp and you don’t want to wear running clothes all the time,” he said. “If you’re leading an active, urban life, it’s always a compromise.”
To prepare for the half marathon in a suit, Amarasiriwardena did some training runs in his company’s Apollo shirt and several different garments to anticipate his race experience. He said it didn’t feel much different than wearing running pants and a running jacket.
During the out-and-back race course, Amarasiriwardena’s dapper appearance confused some fellow runners. With his race bib pinned ever so discretely on the left jacket pocket, Amarasiriwardena would hear fellow racers yell, “Looking sharp!” or asking him if he was late to work on the way to the finish line.
As mentioned in Runner’s World, there are already runners aiming to take down Amarasiriwardena’s unofficial Guinness World Record. But don’t think that Amarasiriwardena, who is also considering running a full marathon in a suit sometime after the Boston Marathon, will just let this record easily slip away.
“If it comes up, I might give it a shot again,” he said. “In case I need to take the record back.”