What happens when a 5K run merges with a Christmas variety show boasting a who’s who of characters? Mount Airy’s annual Rosy Cheeks event, which mixes athleticism and entertainment.
The Rosy Cheeks 5K and Kids Jingle Bell Half-Mile Jog will be held for the ninth year this Saturday at Riverside Park along the Ararat River Greenway. The 5K (3.1-mile) run is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. and the half-mile jog at 9:45.
It is a community-outreach event sponsored by Mount Airy Parks and Recreation which is held in conjunction with an annual Christmas toy drive of the Mount Airy Police Department.
While most races require runners to pay money to register, an unwrapped toy (appropriate for elementary or middle school ages), a high school-age gift or a gift card for the police drive is the only entry fee for Saturday’s event. This typically results in a stockpile of toys that are delivered to children who might not otherwise receive presents.
The toys are not the only fun element of the Rosy Cheeks gathering — there is also the mode of dress adopted by both runners and spectators alike which goes beyond the standard shorts, shirts and shoes.
Make no mistake, the 5K run is a competitive, chip-timed event that participants will be going all out to win as they would any other race, said its chief organizer, Darren Lewis, assistant city parks and recreation director.
At the same time, added Lewis, himself a seasoned runner, a festive element pervades the proceedings due to many competitors choosing to don holiday attire for the occasion.
“And the costumes have just become more and more (plentiful) each year,” Lewis said Thursday. “We have more people that are coming dressed in their favorite holiday costume or as a character.”
This might be something as simple as wearing a Santa hat, to a full-scale Grinch outfit or dressing as elves, snowmen and even wrapped presents for the run, which can’t help but lighten up the hard-core competition.
The 5K route begins at Riverside Park, enter the Ararat River Greenway, travel 1.5 miles and make a turnaround before returning to Riverside Park and the finish line.
As part of the emphasis on costumes, the best holiday running outfits will be judged and awarded.
While some Santa Claus impersonators are likely to be on hand Saturday, the real Santa will be a special guest after the race.
As far as the competition part of the event, the first-, second- and third-place overall and age group winners are to receive special prizes.
The age divisions are 10 and under, 11-13, 14-19, 20-29, 30-39, 40-49, 50-59, 60-69 and 70-plus.
All 5K finishers will receive a candy cane, with kids to get a special reward for their run.
A large turnout is expected Saturday, based on the attendance of past years and the number of runners signing up so far.
“I have 349 pre-registered,” Lewis said of that figure as of Thursday morning, with more anticipated up until the morning of the event.
“We’re very excited about the pre-registered runners and really encourage everyone to register before race day if they can,” he said. But signups also will occur on-site from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. Saturday.
Registration can be completed beforehand at Reeves Community Center or online (at http://rosycheeks5k.itsyourrace.com).
The weather is expected to cooperate Saturday morning.
“It is supposed to be clear and nice,” Lewis said, although a bit nippy, which he indicated is perfect for the “rosy cheeks” theme.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.