Why you should care
Where else can you run a race with leg lamps and pink bunnies?
As runners toe the start line in Cleveland’s Public Square, giddy chatter and palpable anticipation fill the crisp air. Unlike most race mornings though, these runners aren’t nervous — or competitive. This swarm of thousands of pink-bunny and leg-lamp costumed racers has one goal in mind: Reach Ralphie’s house to win a coveted A Christmas Story medal. This year, it’s a golden “Oh Fudge” Ralphie with soap in his mouth. Last year, it was a medallion with that pack of crazy Bumpus dogs.
Cleveland’s annual A Christmas Story 5K and 10K Run is not your average race — although one look at the starting line’s sea of elaborate costumes makes this obvious. This offbeat competition is a holiday celebration centered on the 36-year-old A Christmas Story movie that was filmed in Cleveland. And it’s a great way to run off that Thanksgiving dinner and get an ornament for your Christmas tree.
In its seventh year, the race takes almost 10,000 runners from the former Higbee’s department store, where Ralphie first saw that Red Ryder BB Gun, across Cleveland and up through Tremont, where Ralphie’s home — now the popular A Christmas Story house museum — sits almost exactly 5 kilometers away. (Participants in the 10K race turn around and cross the finish back in Public Square.)
In 2016, a flock of “I can’t put my arms down!” runners and walkers traversed the 3-mile course in overstuffed snowsuits.
Americans love the holiday comedy — case in point: Every year since 1997, TBS has aired a 24-hour marathon of A Christmas Story. But there’s also big love for the goofy race, something that continues to surprise race director Amy Kentner. It drew 7,000 runners in the first year (2012). The race, which also has a virtual participation option, now grows by about 300 runners, walkers and fans of the movie annually. Each participant’s bib has a built-in chip for timing; results are posted live online come race day, with a holiday-themed awards ceremony for the top three men and women in each age group.
“This race is different because probably one-third of participants aren’t actually runners, they’re just fans of the movie,” Kentner says. “They walk the course, and many love the medals so much they put them on their Christmas trees.”
While the movie location course is the A Christmas Story Run’s allure, the hilarious yearly themes are perhaps the biggest draw. In 2016, a flock of “I can’t put my arms down!” runners and walkers traversed the 3-mile course in overstuffed snowsuits. For last year’s “Bumpus dogs” theme, organizers allowed 400 pups in the race. Kentner anticipates quite a few soap bar costumes with this year’s “Oh Fudge!” celebration.
The hysterical rotation of over-the-top costumes is one reason four-time runner Jackey Deschamps of Buffalo, New York, turned the run into a family tradition. “Just walking around prerace checking out everyone’s costumes is so much fun,” she says. One of her favorites? “Someone with a table built around them, wearing a bib like Randy does, and having a plate full of mashed potatoes in front of them.”
But attire is only part of the run fun. The spot-on details — another draw for the Deschamps family — are Kentner’s pride and joy. The run is “all about the experience,” Kentner says. There’s a Jumbotron playing the movie at the start line, and 30 trivia facts about the movie displayed via signs along the course, she explains, adding, “And because you have to have your Ovaltine, we heat up 600 gallons of it at the finish.”
Which is something you’re going to have to make for yourself if you’re doing the race remotely — an option for those who want to race like Ralphie but can’t make it to his hometown (it’s been available each year since the run began). Virtual participants get their T-shirt, running bib and medals beforehand to join the race-day fun, although nothing beats physically running alongside a sea of leg lamps and pink bunnies.
All of the race’s net proceeds go toward A Christmas Story Foundation, a nonprofit that maintains the neighborhood surrounding the museum. So far the race raised over $500,000 in six years. Pair this with the opportunity for people from all walks of life to let loose and bond over silly attire and holiday cheer, and the A Christmas Story Run is a feel-good race all around.
Deschamps recalls when her friend Tim, a police sergeant for downtown Cleveland, dressed up for the race in a pink bunny costume. “Fellow officers did a double take after they recognized him and said, very seriously, ‘Hello Sergeant.’ It was quite comical.”
Go There: A Christmas Story Run
- Location: The A Christmas Story Run starts in Cleveland’s Public Square (50 Public Square, Suite 1700) before heading across town to Ralphie’s actual house in Tremont. The 5K finishes in front of Ralphie’s residence (3159 W. 11th St.), with 10K runners looping back to the finish line in Public Square.
- Race date: The race starts at 9 am ET on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019.
- Entry fees: The 5K, 10K and virtual race registration cost $55 (Note: Fee for the virtual race increases mid-November).
- Pro tip: For the full holiday experience, budget extra time to explore the A Christmas Story house. Race participants get free admittance to this quirky, movie-themed museum in the real-life filming location.