'A family event': Annual Santa Run attracts all ages in Arlington Heights
When the Rotary Club of Arlington Heights launched its Santa Run 15 years ago, there were plenty of runners trotting up and down village streets dressed as the jolly old elf, but it was a smaller and more local crowd.
Now, when race Chairman Gary Silha checks his computer every morning for the latest registration numbers, he can see how the club's marquee fundraiser has grown.
"I've been really pleasantly surprised. We're seeing people from Chicago. We're seeing people from Joliet," Silha said. "People who live in Arlington Heights have friends outside Arlington Heights. They say, 'Come on over, this is a lot of fun.'"
As of Thursday morning, 1,417 runners had registered for Saturday's event, which includes the main 5K run, a 1-mile route for those who want to walk, and a Reindeer Run for kids ages 10 and younger. That figure would eclipse the attendance of 1,137 last year, which marked an in-person return after a virtual event in 2020.
Turnout and same-day registrations Saturday morning depend a lot on weather, Silha admits, but he's expecting some 1,600 to don Santa suits for the run this weekend.
As many as 2,000 have run the race in years past.
Not only has the reach of the event grown geographically, but the age of participants is increasingly diverse. To date, 385 people under age 18 have registered, 129 people ages 18-29, 209 in their 30s, 236 in their 40s, 361 ages 50-64, and 97 over age 65, organizers said.
"It's a family event. It kicks off the holiday season. You can tell just by looking at the crowd," Silha said.
The day begins with the one-block Reindeer Dash for kids at 9:30 a.m. Antlers and a red nose come with every $10 registration.
At 10 a.m., the 5K run and 1-mile walk start from the corner of Campbell Street and Highland Avenue. Online registration at rotarysantarun.org is $45 for individual runners or $50 on the day of the race. The Rotary Club is offering family rates ranging from $125 to 140, depending on the day of registration and either four or five participants.
Each attendee gets a fitted Santa suit, a swag bag from a dozen event sponsors, a commemorative medal, and hot chocolate after the race.
"We have so much swag in that bag that in fact we cannot fit the Santa suit in the bag this year," Silha said.
The Santa suit and registration packet pickup started Thursday afternoon and continues from 3 to 7 p.m. today at the Arlington Ridge Center, 660 N. Ridge Ave. Day-of-race pickup is also available from 8 to 10 a.m. at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre.
Organizers say the Santa Run has raised more than $300,000 over the years to support the club's charitable causes.