My work as your “special tanned elf” — and my memorable time as a Vancouver fun run blogger — is done. Let me just say I’m not doing fist-pumps today about either.
Whether it was mugging for fun photos in my elf-fit with smiling strangers in humid downtown Bangkok and all the wonderful women at Kalavin Thai Massage in toasty Phuket, Thailand earlier this month, or standing with 525-plus costumed characters Saturday afternoon in chilly Stanley Park at the fourth annual Big Elf Run, it struck me that being surrounded by happy people in a sometimes troubled world should never be seen as a bad thing.
Esteemed Elf BaxterBayer, the brains and thin wallet behind the Vancouver-based Running Tours Inc. that never fails to put smiles on faces, was at his very best Saturday pumping up the kids and later the adults with his enthusiastic (and very original) warmups, hospitality and festive ambience at Lumberman’s Arch. You’d never know that seven days earlier, after the City of Vancouver revoked his event permit at the 11th hour, he was reeling and worried sick this superb show might not go on.
And while the turnout took a bit of a hit by the one-week delay, there was a lot to be said Saturday afternoon about quality over quantity. To those who couldn’t make it, for whatever reason, you missed a sweet upbeat Christmas party that included dogs and strollers — and lots of colour and imagination. If I had to pick one event to say goodbye, this was the perfect one to drop the microphone at.
One little girl told me she was going to kick her brother’s butt in the 1K Wee Elf kids’ race, and did just that. One teenaged girl told me she was going to kick my butt in the 5K, and then did (showoff!). One much older gal (smile) said my wedgie-tight elf suit wouldn’t last the 5K without a “wardrobe malfunction.” Thank gawd she was wrong!
The Big Elf Run, which checks all the boxes for having a good time, also raised awareness and funds for Canuck Place Children’s Hospice, a place where courage really lives. For the serious runners, and there were some real Dashers, Startline Timing ensured those “racing” in the 5K and 10K had accurate times to send to the North Pole, or wherever Garmin’s elves hang out! To check out all the finishing times, click HERE.
“Was a bit bummed out we had to delay this run a week,” admitted Bayer moments before the entertaining kids’ race wrapped up. “You try to avoid holding events this time of year what with last-minute shopping, vacations, the weather and traffic, but the schedule change was totally out of our control. My objective today was to put the best show on for those who could still make it, and hope everyone liked it!”
Well, mission more than accomplished. Judging by comments at the event, and later on social media, Bayer’s crew crushed another one out of the park. There were several who took advantage of the virtual run component, too.
This year Bayer’s small company launched a Big Fun Run Series that included the spanking-new La Gran Fiesta Run (Burnaby) and Big Superhero Run (Richmond), along with the established Big Easter Run (Jericho Beach). And if you took part in all four events, which my family did, you received a sweet Big Fun Run Series Go Big medal. And speaking of medals, this series had must-have bling that far exceeded expectations.
Tricia Barker, a new commissioner for the Vancouver Park Board and participant in Saturday’s run, said she had a ton of fun taking part in the fourth annual event, which American Express ranks in the top 14 worldwide as “seasonal events with a twist.”
“Great crowd, lots of spirit, great costumes and love the big medal,” she said, while joking out after inspecting my way too tight elf-fit that she’s also a personal trainer for getting people in shape. No problem, I get that a lot Santa!
One of my final official duties for the Big Elf Run was naming a new Mr. or Mrs. Santa Claus, having won the prestigious ambassador title at this event last year. This year’s winner is Shelley Hatfield of Aldergrove, the brains and beauty behind the Over The Top Fitness crew that dressed up as reindeer (along with Santa’s musical sleigh) on Saturday. Hatfield and her motley crew, who take the fun to every run, also raises funds throughout the year for a cat shelter in Richmond.
A couple of the Sole Girls leaders in Saturday’s run, who said they loved my pirate outfit at the Moustache Miler last month, made me promise that I won’t stop running or wearing new costumes in the new year. Told them my budget-wise wife now has full say on the wardrobe expense account after discovering additional hidden gems in my man cave! But I promised to keep running and surrounding myself with positive people.
Here are some other festive gems from Saturday’s Big Elf Run:
Folks do the festive thing, again!
My work colleagues gasped out loud after mentioning I just spent 2½ weeks in toasty Thailand with the in-laws.
“Did you lose a bet?” was the most common reaction, followed closely by “was it your choice?” and “wife forced you to play along?” (No, yes and no are the politically correct answers to those questions, by the way! And I refuse to take a lie detector test.)
Linda and Dennis Hill, great people to call family, really got into Bayer’s Big Fun Run Series. Initially it was because my father-in-law wanted a La Gran Fiesta Run bottle opener medal, and then it was to try out new costumes, a thing most in the family found shocking.
“You’ll never ever catch me wearing a run costume,” said Deadpool Dennis one short year ago. “Who does that stupid stuff?”
Not sure what changed his mind, but he dressed up for the La Gran Fiesta Run, then the Superhero Run, then the Big Elf Run, plus the Moustache Miler and a few other events along the way. In fact, he began calling from costume shops asking if I or his daughter needed anything for upcoming runs!
Yep, welcome to the “who does that stupid stuff” club big guy. And sincere thanks to you and mom for being some of the biggest run/walk boosters out there.
Dora the Explorer was a Blitzen
This year I took part in 45 weekend races, some so serious I actually wore real running clothes!
Along the way you meet people who become familiar faces, people who make race day brighter, better and memorable. One such lady is Dora Velazquez of Surrey who continues to improve, and amaze, and inspire.
She was worried Saturday that some of her speedy friends wouldn’t be at the seawall to push her efforts to crush the 10K. This friendly elf offered to be her pace bunny but when she mentioned shooting for the low 40s, I backed out, citing a need to make sure everyone at the back of the 5K race was safe!
Dora, who said her outfit “became super hot” as she burned up the course, finished in 42:18 — the first female elf across the finish line.
She gave me a quick lesson on proper warmup stretching, then asked what my running plans are for January and February, 2019.
Well, I’m doing the PEN Run Resolution Run 4K trail race on New Year’s Day at Crescent Park in Surrey, the Steveston Icebreaker 8K on Jan. 20, Try Events’ Chilly Chase 10K on Jan. 27 and then my first half-marathon in 25-plus years — the sold-out RUNVAN’s First Half Half in Vancouver on Sunday, Feb. 10.
“Which ones will you be wearing costumes for,” laughed Dora, who rolled her eyes when I told her I’d likely be the Chafing Cowboy for the half marathon!
Francis focuses on running elves
Francis Georgian, a photographer and video guru with my employer —The Vancouver Sun/Province newspapers — spent some time hanging out at at Stanley Park on Saturday.
Besides doing a full-page colourful photo spread in Sunday’s Province about the run, Georgian filed this fun video, too, which features Bayer and a lot of people you might know:
‘Potty animal’ gets ‘er done — with a smile
The good folks at iPOLPOPHOTOS, who were the official photographers at Saturday’s Big Elf Run, have been very supportive of this blogger, and this blog over the years.
Katia Reinhardt of Fort Langley, who I met while taking her photo four years ago before an MEC Vancouver race on the seawall, had this dream to expand the company and its app and has made major gains since. The co-founder and chief marketing officer of the company has been a regular race fixture on the Lower Mainland in the past couple of years.
“You have such an awesome happy and supportive spirit,” Katia said Sunday, before sharing a photo of me finishing the 5K. “The smile says it all about you and running. I don’t think I have ever taken a photo of you not smiling!”
Katia is way too kind. On Saturday, at the 2.5K mark, she missed a non-smiling moment as I had to find a washroom to get rid of the coffee, juice, water and tea intake! Eventually found one, wasted three precious minutes getting in and out of the elf onesie, and then ran like made to make up lost time.
Finished the 5K in 33 minutes, which is not bad given the detour. In fact, my Garmin says I ran 5.10 Ks and actually shows the zig-zags when I began the potty hunt mid-race!
Check out more on iPOLPOHOTOS great service and Apple/Android app by clicking HERE.
End of the blogging road for Uncle Elfie
So, as mentioned, this is the end of the road as a run blogger for yours truly.
Like all fat, out of shape people who work at The Vancouver Sun, you’re approached to be a Sun Run “guinea pig” and blog about your couch-to-starting line experience, which happened to this scribe four years ago.
After crawling through that Sun Run, I was pointed toward the first Big Elf Run as a starting point for this Fun On The Run hobby blog. And some 200-plus events later, and pumping the tires of many a runner, run company, elite and novice athletes and community events on my “spare time and own dime,” I’m back wearing green and calling it a day.
Baxter Bayer has been, without a doubt, my biggest supporter. He totally understood the concept of this fun blog’s intent — trying to push couch potatoes or weekend warriors to races to improve their physical and mental health, to socialize, to have fun, to improve, to appreciate the sport and race-day vibe no matter your skill level, to put down social media devices for a morning, to embrace the West Coast lifestyle and just do it. He also said thanks, which was pure money in my world.
Truth be told, I really suck as an adult runner most days. My feet are sore, my “strict” diet is iffy, my training routines leave plenty to be desired. But I have fun and never, ever have I regretted being at a race, or catching up with people, or hearing their success stories or future plans.
Bayer let me inside the so-called ropes at several of his and other neat events, shared valuable information that helped me do a better job, and always kept a positive attitude that rubbed off.
As mentioned last month, he also stepped up big time when my younger brother died unexpectedly last year and he made sure this writer and my family didn’t curl up and get lost in grief.
Some people asked why I bother to cover “non serious runs” and some mocked me for wearing costumes at “dumb events” or for not running faster. Isn’t social media grand? Good thing I have thick, well-padded skin as some critics pointed out! I wouldn’t have missed this awesome experience, and adventures, for the world.
With love from “Uncle Elfie,” and my forever grateful family, have a great Christmas holiday and super New Year. Keep smiling, keep embracing life and see you all down the road at a race day near you.
And for Star Wars nut Baxter and the lovely Jana, may the force always be with you and thanks for making a huge difference in this crazy world.
Gotta run …