Running With Santa Claus For A Great Cause

MOB Traffic suits up for a spirited holiday run.  

Las Vegas loves to do things big. It's home to the biggest hotels. It built the world's largest observation wheel. It boasts the largest mechanical neon sign. It's even known for the biggest fire hydrant, chandelier, pint glass, and bottle of Coke (among other things).

So it's no surprise that when Santa Claus comes to town, he comes by the thousands. Now in its 17th year, the Las Vegas Great Santa Run is always a contender with Liverpool, England, for the most Santas in a 5K run anywhere. That's pretty big.

"The growth has been remarkable," says Tim Kelly, event organizer and owner of the Las Vegas Running Company. "We've outgrown all our original venues, which is why we've chosen to stay Downtown, where there are plenty of parking areas and post-event attractions. There's room to grow."

The in-person races, which take place on the first Saturday in December, gather at 9:30 a.m. for a 10 a.m. start at the corner of Carson Ave. and Las Vegas Blvd. Formats include a 5k (3.1 miles) run, 1-mile run/walk, and special children 3 and under category.

Event festivities begin around 8 a.m. at the Fremont Street Experience's 3rd Street Stage, with Fox 5 newscasters and crew acting as emcees. They'll introduce dozens of special guests, typically Mayor Carolyn Goodman, Mr. Las Vegas Wayne Newton, Grand Marshals like Shania Twain and Terry Fator, and a squad of Elvi from event benefactors Opportunity Village. Every year is different and full of surprises.

Opportunity Village operates four employment training center campuses and a thrift store in Southern Nevada, helping people with disabilities find the very best version of themselves. Along with the Great Santa Run, it also hosts a festive, all-ages holiday theme park in Las Vegas.

"I love what Opportunity Village represents in southern Nevada. Their good works provide opportunities for our friends with intellectual disabilities to live more meaningful lives through their work and art," said Kelly. "To be able to support them, even in a small way, is rewarding to me. I only wish I had time to do more."

Kelly, who has been staging events since the 1980s in Las Vegas and elsewhere, likes to say that running races isn't too tricky. Whether organizing a charity event like the Las Vegas Great Santa Run or convention races and runs, his main goal is to send people home after having had one of the most joyful and memorable experiences of their lives.

"Maybe they'll remember the world-class performers or running the race of their lives or putting on a feedbag to sample all those food trucks and vendors who turn out for the run. It's really up to them," said Kelly. "The secret to making an event spectacular is to give all the participants a reason to celebrate life and their lives through the event. Walking, jogging, and running can be done anytime, but enjoying this camaraderie, music, food, and charity only comes around once a year. For some, it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience. For others, they become emotionally invested and come back year after year."

Part of making the experience memorable is coordinating dozens of details leading up to the event, approving applications, and managing one of the world's largest Santa Claus suit distribution efforts. Once registered, racing teams are invited to pick up Santa suits at three locations: ERA Brokers Consolidated (1735 Village Center Circle and 2855 Saint Rose Pkwy.) or Opportunity Village (6300 W. Oakey Blvd.) from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Dec. 1 or 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 2. There are also a limited number of five-piece Santa suits, finisher medals, and swag bags at the event.

"Every year, we have people who wear their own costumes, even a few light-hearted grinches," Kelly said. "One of my favorites is a squad of wheelchair athletes who bring their ambulatory partners. We introduce them and then send them off with a full-throated, rousing cheer that gives them something to look forward to every year."

Kelly says they also encourage participants to bring their four-footed furry friends along for the run. It's not uncommon to see critters and pets dressed in their holiday finest. Sometimes it becomes a sketch unto itself — wagging tails poking out of Santa suits, floppy ears with reindeer antlers, and candy canes looking to share a lick.

"All in all, getting permits is the biggest challenge because blocking Las Vegas Boulevard for a few hours is never popular," says Kelly. "We block some of the same streets that other downtown events block, which is why we work hard to keep everyone from getting cranky. We're fortunate, so many of our Santas duck into the casinos and restaurants to refresh themselves during the run. Otherwise, we're just glad to have MOB Traffic on our side."

Masters of Barricades (MOB Traffic) has been working the Las Vegas Great Santa Run for years, with some of its partners working it even before they founded MOB. For this event, after planning and helping with the permits, MOB Traffic sets up 150 traffic drums, 250 42-inch delineators, 600 28-inch cones, 150 signs and stands, and eight arrow boards to direct traffic, pedestrians, and race participants.

"Without being obsequious, MOB Traffic is simply the best barricade company in southern Nevada. They put customer service at the front of their deliverables, with planning second to none and their execution on event day beyond reproach," says Kelly. "When I work with MOB Traffic, I have no worries at all. Everything will be there, on time, and set up properly."

The feeling of a great collaboration is mutual. Special Events Manager Paul Ames says the Las Vegas Great Santa Run makes the first Saturday in December one of those days when you love going to work. This year, MOB Traffic will also be sporting Santa suits.

"It's very exciting to be part of this event," said Ames. "Downtown Las Vegas and 5k events are a staple of our service. We work hard to provide a safe running route and minimize the impact on the Downtown casinos and businesses by getting those roads back open as quickly as possible."

And while there may be a time limit to reopen Las Vegas Blvd., there is no time limit to support Opportunity Village and the Las Vegas Great Santa Run. Donations may be made on the event page or directly to Opportunity Village. Every year, the Las Vegas Great Santa Run is always looking for new teams, volunteers, and sponsors. Reach out to the Las Vegas Running Company anytime you want to be part of something big.

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