Crossing the finish line with a “good time” took on new meaning for many participants at the Rosy Cheeks 5K and Kids Jingle Bell Half-Mile Jog on Saturday.
“It’s more of a fun run than competitive,” said Doug Brunner, of Claudeville, a 70-year-old racer dressed as a shorts-wearing Santa Claus.
“It’s fabulous because you know everyone’s out there for the same reason, because it’s a good cause.”
The eighth-annual Rosy Cheeks 5K, hosted by the Mount Airy Police Department and Mount Airy Parks and Recreation, serves to benefit the police department’s annual toy drive.
Instead of paying a fee, participants in the run donate an unwrapped gift to gain entrance.
Despite temperatures in the low-20s throughout the morning, about 700 people ended up running.
Event organizer Darren Lewis, assistant director of parks and rec for the city, said there were some concerns that the cold might scare some folks away.
It might have had the opposite effect.
“It was our largest turnout ever,” he said. “It’s amazing a town our size always seems to come together to help our local charities.”
The number of runners kept Police Chief Dale Watston busy handing out candy canes to those who crossed the finish line.
“It just shows we have a community who cares,” he said. “I think the motto today should be ‘Freezin’ for a Reason’.”
Brunner, who teaches Weight Watchers at Reeves Community Center and is known as “The Ol’ Runner” among the running community, wasn’t the only one to participate in costume.
Dressing up has become one of the most popular features of the annual race, Lewis said.
“They just started doing it,” he said, and eventually, Food Lion started sponsoring a costume contest.
Paul Denny dressed as an Elf on the Shelf character whose arms were tied with tinsel and wearing a sign that read: “snitches get stitches.”
The costume was inspired by his children, Denny said.
“The kids were tired of the Elf on the Shelf tattling on them,” and enacted revenge upon the stuffed spy for Santa.
“It’s a product of my wife’s fantastic imagination and my lack of modesty,” he said.
Eight-year-old Benjamin Branch wore Christmas-colored pajama pants, Rudolph’s red nose and lots of layers to keep warm.
He betrayed a slightly better relationship with the Elf on the Shelf, holding out a set of reindeer antler headband.
“My elf gave me these,” he said.
Many runners were able to juggle competition with holiday spirit.
Mike Jones, of Wytheville, was first across the finish line and earned the fastest overall time.
“It always makes you feel good to win a race, especially for a cause like this,” which helps put everything in perspective, he said. “It lets you know a race is just for fun.”
Jones also came in first in the city’s half-marathon. “Mount Airy has been very good to me,” he said. “It might be my favorite city.”
Eli Riggs, a Surry Central student who runs cross country and track, came in right behind Jones and earned the second-fastest overall time.
“It’s pretty fun, especially with everyone cheering you on. It makes you want to go faster,” he said.
Surry County Schools’ students made a strong showing at the event, with all 11 elementary schools sending a racing team from the Go Run Our World (GROW) Strong program.
The program began at Rockford and Flat Rock elementary schools and has been implemented at elementary schools throughout the system, said DeAnne Danley, director of elective education.
The running clubs aim to help kids be healthy and active but also emphasize character development.
The Rosy Cheeks 5K was the first sanctioned race for the program.
“We chose it because we believe in service learning,” Danley said. “It’s a great race, great atmosphere and keeps students involved with the community.”
Reach Terri Flagg at 415-4734.