Santa Run


So the brief season of that most eccentrically of all British sports, the Santa Run, is now over and the industry that produces thousands upon thousands of cheap Santa suits every year can go back to 11 months of trying their damnedest to diversify into different markets for red and white felt.

Santa Running is, like so many specialist running events, not taken seriously by most of the population. It is seen simply as a matter of several hundred Santas creating an opportunity for a seasonal centre spread in the local rag, mild amusement in local dog walkers and complete bemusement in young children who still believe in the one true Santa who knows your address, whether you have been naughty or nice and will be coming down your blocked up the chimney with a sack full of goodies from the list you posted him in a few days time.

Santa Running is however, to the true exponents, the zenith of sporting activities.

Unfortunately, like all sporting spectacles, Santa Run does attract killjoy participants who just want to do it their way. They find it impossible to see beyond the distance and the fact that Santa Runs tend to be on flat and therefore potentially PB courses. They may not even turn up wearing their Santa suit. Strangely it is not actually compulsory to wear one. Instead they will be dressed in top of the range 'Go Faster' lycra, have an economy pack of running gells, top of the range sports watch and generous helping of nipple cream in place. They are of course shunned by the true competitors.

Others avoid social embarrassment and start out in authentic Santa Running kit, only to quickly discard it, leaving Santa parts strewn like some much debris from a feeding frenzy by whatever mythical creature would prey on a shoal* of several hundred Santas.

A true exponent of the sport knows that the costume, including the irritating beard, wig and the pathetic black belt that doesn't come close to performing the actual function of a belt or even manage to stay in place for more than 10 paces, are central to the sport. It is not about speed. It is about looking like a buffoon, feeling like a trump, and doing it all at a pace so slow that the passers by can appreciate the full lunacy of the whole thing. Most important of all, for those wishing to truly get into the high echelons of the sport and compete for the medals you have to find yourself a 'sack' of similarly paced Santas to chew the reindeer cud over some randomly selected aspect of the coming season. Now that is what I call Santa Running. There is no room for Humbug in this sport!

"Pant. Have you done all your Christmas shopping? Gasp."

"Wheeze. Still haven't got anything for Auntie Gertrude, pant, but I'm not sure if she's coming on the day, gasp, her lumbago in playing up again, pant."

"Got all the food in, sharp in take of breath?"

"Pant. Picking up the turkey on Christmas Eve form, gasp, the local butcher, pant. It is a bit more, puff, expensive but it is one over on the neighbours, huff, who are having a frozen one from Lidel, blow, again this year, pant."

And so it started with a saunter round the lake before heading off into the country. We were surrounded by other 'clauses' of Santas doing similar high performance run/seminars on various seasonal subjects like when to put the sprouts on, "... you don't want to, pant, leave it too, puff, late but I think an hour before, huff, you serve is perhaps a little too, in take of breath, early don't you, pant?"

We slipped into a more basic form of communication as we encountered the only thing remotely like a hill on the course, "Pant, huff, intake of breath, puff, gasp, wheeze."

With the hard bit over the 'delivery' of Santas that I have found myself in, settled down to our subject of this years Santa run

How do you stop young children, and that is what Christmas is about after all, from taking over the day and spoiling it for everyone else. Specifically, how do you stop them from getting up at God knows what hour, turning on all the lights and bouncing Charlie's new football - and who's bright idea was it to get Charlie a football may I ask - down the stairs and hitting the glass front door which just manages not to break, at 4 a.m. on Christmas morning. Discuss.

Solution 1 was offered as we came to the fork in the path where you take the extra loop, to make up the distance. "... did they say 1 or, pant, 2 times round the loop before taking the, wheeze, final outer loop, huff?"

Solution 1
"Pant. Having a grumpy father who, wheeze, growls if disturbed any time before, puff, having had something that he can pretend has been a lie in, gasp, helps at lot with keeping the little, in take of breath, cherubs at least out of your actual bedroom. Pant."

By now the sweat was building up inside our Santa suits and the less adept at the sport have taken off their hoods and moved their breads to the side allowing the fresh air to do what fresh air does in such circumstances. Wigs may even have been discarded. There is a school of thought that the National Santa Running Board should take a firm view of this sort of thing and that it should, certainly in the championship races, lead to immediate disqualification if not a life time ban.

Solution 2 was delivered just as another 'grotto' of Santas sailed passed deep in the nutty subject of Christmas dinner table conversation.

"... gasp for air, just need to keep Uncle Sidney off politics, pant, till at least the Christmas pudding, huff. It's been one of those years, pant, and you can guarantee which side of the fence, wheeze, he'll be sitting on this year, puff ..."

Solution 2
"Making sure that they have, pant, access to some presents in the their actual bedroom will, blow, keeps them away from the main stuff, gasp, until time specified by family tradition, wheeze."

"Pant, a torch, with batteries in, gasp, at the top of the stocking, huff, will keep the main lights off, pant, for an extra hour or so, puff."

We reached the end of the first lap of the extra loop and are assured that Santas must go round again.

It was at this point that I broke my silence and offered my two penneth for consideration on the matter.

You will notice that my lines are delivered very much not out of breath. There are several reasons. Firstly, I wish to convey the idea that I am much fitter than my fellow Santas. This is of course completely untrue but makes me feel good. Secondly, it will make it easier to read and I feel that you have got the idea by now. Thirdly, it makes the writing of it much simpler. I am after all nothing if not very lazy.

"I don't have children," I panted through my still in place bread.

I was shot a look that lay somewhere between pity at never having fulfilled the true destiny of manhood, especially at this time of year, and undisguised jealousy. The expense, the arguments, the feeling of inadequacy, the desire to just have sometime to yourself and when did you and your other half last just go out when you wanted to, especially at this time of year, crossed their minds in an instant of pure unrestrained envy.

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"But I remember what my parents did one year and it worked a treat," I continued, ignoring the looks.

"It was the night before Christmas. I lay awake for what seemed like the whole night. Straining to hear the clip and clop of a Rudolf, the jingle of bells and the "Ho, ho, ho," of a fat interloper as he clattered over the roof tiles. I was very much of that age, though to look at me now, that might take some believing.

"After the long year of being good, which largely consisted of taking all the credit for anything that went right, blaming my younger brother for everything that went wrong and working very hard on my 'innocent honest' look in the mirror, I was ready to receive my just deserts. I tried my very best to stay awake in the hope of catching the red face old fellow as he crept into my room."

We jogged passed the play area and delivered a hearty, "Ho, ho, ho" in unison to a gaggle of kids who were by now quite bored with all this Santa nonsense having seen us all for what we really were. I cheap and blasphemous mockery of the one true Stocking filler, who would never torment children by running around for so long without delivering so much as a token pressie in the form of a badly wrapped selection box.

"I had the vaguest recollection," I continued panting out my story, "just as a I finally did slip into that 10 minutes of slumber, when all the magic happens, that something in a red and a white suit did creep in through the door, and noticing that I was still sort of awake, put his finger to his lips and tip toed into the room with 2 great sacks of presents before placing one on my bed and one on my brother's. Then silently opening the window, slipped out onto his waiting sleigh and off into the night on a trail of glittering magic stuff to the gentle soporific sound of reindeer hooves softened in the deep Christmas snow.

"I woke with a start. Something was amiss. No weight of a fun filled sack on the bed. No inexplicable tingle in the air. No smell of freshly used sellotape and wrapping paper. Nothing.

"Santa had not been."

My running companions stopped in their tracks and three other Santas sailed passed deep in their own Christmas conversation about the recipes for making your own mincemeat and how bought pies just aren't the same. "I use that Delia, pant, Smith book. Gasp. You can't go wrong, in take of breath, with Delia, huff, Smith ..." And off they trotted leaving my 'stocking' of jolly red faced gift givers still frozen in the chilling moment.

"What, pant, No Santa?" one said, eyes popping out on stalks and condemning my parents as mean scrooges both, in a single cutting glance.

"I lay there in the dark wondering what could have happened to him. Maybe it was still a little early for the chubby sneak thief and he would be creeping in with Christmas goodies any moment now and I would get to actually see the real Santa, rather than just dreaming him. But in my heart of heart I knew there would be no distance sound of soot falling down the chimney, no gentle creaking of the floor boards on the stairs, no telltale squeaking of the door hinge. Nothing."

We were running again though at a slower pace. The mood had become darker. Christmas without Santa? Well that would remove the problem of over excited children on Christmas morning. But it is Christmas.

"Eventually, I rolled over to see if my brother had yet woken to the tragic news only to discover the true and terrifying nature of that Christmas Morning starring back at me. Not only had Santa (which is an anogram of Satan, not that we should read too much into that) not graced us with his presents, but he had been and left one of his little helpers to do his dirty work. Sat on the chair by my bed was a hideous gargoyle of an elf. It wore a dark cloak with a hood, had a hunched back, gruesome talons on the end of stumpy little arms and a green almost featureless face that was staring back at me.

"I froze. Then rolled back and hid my head under the covers breathing shallow and fast, pretending not to be there, a trick that I suspect has never actually worked since the dawn of story telling. I contemplated all the bad things that I had done that year working out to the minutest detail why it was that Santa had taken me off the good list and sent his most evil elf to claim me as it's own.

"I remembered putting chewing gum in Jane Gould's hair and blaming Martin Green. I cringed at the though of peeling off the foil on Martin's milk bottle for break and emptying the entire contents of a bottle of pepper in it before carefully, with a skill well beyond my years, replacing the foil and waiting behind a cheeky grin to witness the consequences. And I felt myself going red with shame as I remembered sneaking under the desk and tying his shoe laces together, without him noticing, just before the bell went for morning play.

"In the darkness under my covers I quietly made a vow to become Martin Green's very bestist friend and share my sweets with him, if he'll share his with me and let me play with his Supercar whenever I wanted to.

"As far as I know the gargoyle didn't move.

"Though I could hear it breathing in a rhythm deep and slow and I swear that I heard it whisper my name once, "Guy," twice, "Guy," three times. "Guy," in a deep, heavy breathy voice.

"It sat there waiting for the inevitable. Sooner or later I would have to get out of bed and then it would pounce, scoop me up and drag me off to the Bogyman, who would in turn sell me on to the Highestbidder, who would then deliver me, post hast, into the arms of Jimmy Greenteeth and a fate not dissimilar to that experience by the Christmas Turkey.

"I didn't move a muscle.

"My brother didn't move either.

"Slowly the sky out side began to get lighter. There was even the sounds of other kids already up and about playing with bikes and stuff, outside in the street, turfed out by parents trying very hard not to lose it this early in the day."

My running companions began to see the wisdom of this. Christmas morning. Kids in the house. And not so much as a sound!

"Eventually, I allowed myself the courage to face my demon of a year of misbehaving and like an infantile Ebenezer, plead with it to be given another chance. I poked my head out from under the covers only to find that the morning sunlight had done what it always does to the demons of the night. It had turned my evil elf into what it had always been. A sack of presents wrapped in a brand new winter coat, woollen mittens tucked in the sleeves, with a green balloon stuffed in the hood to give it shape, perched on the chair by my bed. My heavily breathing younger brother for the 4th time that morning, quietly whispered my name lest the pink faced gargoyle on the chair by his bed should hear him."

As full realisation dawned on my running companion's faces, I put in a bit of a kick and was off having clearly won my personal Santa Run and in my over excitement set off on a completely unnecessary third lap of the extra loop, to the bemusement of the marshal and the other Santas, thereby significantly lengthening my time behind an itchy sweaty beard in a cheap, itchy, sweaty, red and white felt Santa suit..

*Shoal is not a good or even imaginative collective noun for Santas. It does however help to firm up the image of some mythical and terrifying shark like creature grazing on the flesh of several hundred Santalings. Alternative collective nouns could include: a sack, a cluase, a fat belly , a mythology, a visitation, or a nicholas of Santas.

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