BY PETER C.T. ELSWORTH
Journal Staff Writer
NEW BEDFORD, Mass. — There’ll be tall Santas, short Santas, lady Santas, old Santas and kid Santas. But they will all have something in common in addition to those jolly red suits. They just wanna have fun at this year’s New Bedford Santa Sightings 5K Fun Run/Walk.
The fourth annual event steps off at 11 a.m. on Sunday, Dec. 14, in front of New Bedford City Hall. Geoff Smith, a former world class marathoner, is the race organizer and he says the race could attract as many as 7,500 runners dressed as Santa, depending upon the weather.
Smith is also ready with some training trips for would-be runners. Take it easy and have fun!
“The key is the time spent on your feet jogging, not the pace,” Smith said in a statement about the event. “Don’t be afraid to slow it right down. Work at your own pace and you will improve. Don’t feel the need to push hard to keep up with someone else. Fitness comes as the training builds up.”
Certainly Smith, a Brit from the Beatles’ hometown of Liverpool, knows what he is talking about. He won the Boston Marathon twice — in 1984 and ’85 — and represented Great Britain at the 1980 and 1984 Olympics in both the 10,000 meters and the marathon. A running accident in 1990 ended his competitive career. “At the time, I was running 100 miles a week and ranked in the top five in the world,” he said. He began running again in June of last year after having both hips replaced.
He said the goal of the Santa Sightings is for everyone to dress up in a Santa suit and run as slowly as possible so they can enjoy downtown New Bedford. “Be yourself and enjoy it,” he said. “It’s not about going fast. There is no winner, and no times. We do not time; we want it to be as low key as possible.”
“We want people to stay together and have fun,” he said, adding that while races often include “girlfriends and boyfriends, husbands and wives and kids on the line together, once the gun goes off — Boom! — they don’t see each other until the finish line.
“Instead, we want them to see the city together, the downtown all decked out for the holidays like Charles Dickens,” he said. “Run or jog or walk and take in the sights.”
Julie Craig, who co-owns Helping Hands and Hooves, a therapeutic horseback riding program in Mattapoisett, Mass., said she “runs plenty of races” but enjoys the Santa Sightings race for a fun outing.
“The family gets together and we have a good time,” noting everyone stays together through the race. “I train all the time, but anyone can do it. A few go out front, but I don’t look at the time.”
“It was one of the first races I ran,” said Lauriann DeSousa of New Bedford, who in 2009 took herself in hand and lost 165 pounds over the course of two years. Now a competitive runner — she’ll be competing in two marathons this year among other races — she continues to run the Santa Sightings out of tradition.
“I run this for fun. It’s not so serious,” she said, noting she trains all week long.
Dan Nadeau of Bristol said running the three-mile race was just part of his training program in preparation for the Boston Marathon next April. “I run every day.” he said, noting that at the time of the Santa Sightings he will be up to 10 miles a day. He said he’d probably run four miles before the race, run the three miles and then run the course a second time to make his 10 miles for the day.
“A lot of people do that,” he said, referring to running a number of miles before a race to “warm up the body and the muscles and get the breathing to where it should be.”
Smith said Santa suits will be supplied to everyone older than 13; younger participants get a hat and a bronze medallion.
“I have 2,500 Santa suits on hand and access to 7,500. “If we get 10,000 to 15,000 Santas, I will get the extra Santa suits.”
Smith is hoping to get as many Santas as possible in order to compete with the number of “sightings” at such cities as Las Vegas (10,600 last year) and Liverpool (10,300). He said 14,500 Santas registered in Derry, Ireland, two years ago — and the city has a population of only 50,000.
The costumes are lightweight and do not include boots or a bag of toys. “Jacket, hat, pants, beard and belt,” although he added that some runners do turn up in their own costumes, “the whole deal.”
And the costume provides a perfect disguise for anyone nervous about getting involved. “Everybody can walk three miles,” he said, and once they start they begin to run and see how much fun they have.”
The 5K race begins and ends at New Bedford City Hall, 133 William St. Registration will be at the South Coast YMCA at 25 South Water St., New Bedford, Saturday Dec. 13, from 5 to 8 p.m., and on race day from 7 to 10 a.m.
More information and online registration is open now at thesightings.com/event/santa-sightings. The fee is $35, with special pricing for teams of five or more.
There are also youth races: a 100-yard dash for age 6 and under and a half-mile run for those 7 to 12. The dash is free and the half-mile run registration is $10.
Participants are encouraged to bring a gift for Gifts to Give of New Bedford and race organizers will donate $6 from every registration over 1,500 split evenly between the New Bedford Cultural District, Gifts to Give of New Bedford and the South Coast YMCA.
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BY PETER C.T. ELSWORTH