Brian Nicholson, Deseret News
PROVO — Even though it didn't snow, the weather outside was indeed frightful in downtown Provo last Friday — a scary sub-20 degrees to be exact.
But that didn't seem to bother some 330 runners from showing up for a 5K race to kick off the holiday season.
It could have been the soothing Christmas music that brought them. Or maybe it was the need to burn off a few extra leftover-turkey sandwiches. However, most of them will tell you it was the chance to run with their family and friends in bright red Santa Claus suits. Unless your name is Garrett Tillman, a young runner from Saratoga Springs who "only came for the milk and cookies."
That's right, with each paid entry to the annual Santa Run, hosted by On Hill Events, the runner receives — instead of the often discarded T-shirt — a Santa suit, complete with pants, hat, belt and, yep, even a beard.
And as a bonus, instead of the hydrating goodness of Gatorade, runners were treated at aid stations with cookies, milk and candy canes — oh, and water, too, if needed — which were appropriately doled out by volunteers dressed as Santa's helpers.
According to race organizer and founder Joe Coles, the sport of recreational running is growing rapidly. And themed runs, where costumes are encouraged — like the Santa Run, Wasatch Back Relay and the Dirty Dash — are no exception.
"I do 11 races a year, and since I love Christmas, I thought this would be a fun take," says Coles. "For some, it's their only 5K of the year."
That's certainly true for the Davis and Tillman families, who participated for the fun of it. Only the wives, Elena Tillman and Amy Davis, consider themselves runners. The remaining family members just came out for the experience. It was Elena's son Ben Tillman's first 5K, and he signed up so he could dress like Santa.
Tim Pickett and his sister Lexie, from Austin, Texas, came to spend time with each other after being away from family for the holiday.
However, Lexie admits, "I might not have run if not for the (Santa) suit."
Finishing in third place overall was Bryan Hardy, a BYU student from Albuquerque, N.M., who brought his whole family to the race.
"It was such a silly idea, we thought it would be fun," he said. "I just ran it for the comedic aspect of running in a Santa suit."
Hardy's sister Erin, who runs cross country in high school, thought it was a pretty bad race, as far as her running time went. For her, it was mostly about the fun.
The following night, a similar race was held in Ogden, just prior to the lighting of Christmas Village and the Santa Claus parade. This year, the number of running Santas doubled from the year before, up to about 700.
"People love it," said Carolyn Brierley, Ogden's community and events coordinator. "It's a great crowd-pleaser because people love to dress up in costume."
Ogden's race included eggnog at the finish line, a very suitable recovery drink, and had a runner dressed as The Grinch, complete with furry green legs and face.
Stephanie Taylor, who had never before run a 5K, signed up to run after hearing her friend talk about it.
"It was a lot of fun," she said, adding that the only trouble she had was getting the complimentary white beard to stay on. "After having so much fun running this one, I think I'll do more."
Whatever the motivation, runners who are in it to win it, out to dress up with friends, or simply there for the milk and cookies, the Santa Run is a great way to kick off the holiday season — in Christmas style and elfish fashion.
By Brian Nicholson
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