Veterans and newcomers converge for annual Santa Run in Arlington Heights
In the sea of red-suited Santas who converged upon downtown Arlington Heights Saturday for the Rotary Club's Santa Run, two runners stood out.
Carla and Mark Spanier of Mount Prospect forwent the traditional pointed red hat, fur-trimmed red jacket and red pants ensemble favored by most of the approximately 1,300 race participants and opted instead for matching reindeer costumes.
"We always wore the Santa suits, but we were cold last year," explained Carla Spanier, 52.
"Somebody needs to pull the sleigh," joked her husband Mark Spanier, 53, who with his wife has participated in five previous Santa Runs.
"It's a great way to kick off the holiday season," he said.
For Derek and Becky Kwong of Arlington Heights, the Santa Run has been a family tradition since their oldest daughter Elli, now 4½, was four months old. Elli and sister Charlotte, 2½, rode in a double stroller while their parents -- sporting Santa outfits and beards -- ran.
"It's impossible to not have fun when you're surrounded by Santas," said Becky Kwong.
Popular with families and pets (as evidenced by a number of canine competitors), the race also attracts competitive runners who wear bibs with an electronic chip that records their start and finish times, said race director Jon Ridler.
Among them was John Hersey High School student Thomas Bleasdale, 17, of Arlington Heights, a 10-year Santa Run veteran. The teen, who runs cross-country, placed 8th overall with a time of 19 minutes, 44 seconds.
"I hope more people come out and do this," he said.
Saturday's event marked Larry Madison's first 5K.
"I'm just happy I finished the race," said Madison, 36, of Arlington Heights, who trained by riding a recumbent bike.
He wasn't the only first-timer. Emerson, a catahoula leopard dog, ran his first 5K alongside owner Colleen Conway, 33, of Arlington Heights.
"It went great," said Conway, who ran with members of Inspyr Gym, an Arlington Heights fitness studio. "It was a good excuse to get us both out."
Since its inception, the Santa Run has generated more than $250,000 for Rotary's national organization -- dedicated to eradicating polio around the world -- as well as local community groups, including Clearbrook, the Northwest Special Recreation Association and Northwest Suburban High School District 214 continuing education among other organizations, Ridler said.
For Judi Miko, 62, of Arlington Heights, the Santa Run is all about community.
"I stopped and talked to six or seven neighbors," said the Busse Woods Running Club member, who participates every year.
"I'll be back next year," she said with a grin. "It's hard to pass up."