Henley locals took the run up to Christmas quite literally this weekend with the return of the Santa On The Run race. On Sunday morning, competitors of all ages hurtled around the two mile course in their Santa hats and festive jumpers, spurred on by the promise of warm soup and mince pies. As well as being a joyfully festive event for all the family, the Santa fun run raised approximately £300 for the Mayor’s charities – Henley Music School, Nomad Youth & Community Project, and Mencap.
The race began outside the River & Rowing Museum, looping around Mill Meadows and the perimeter of Invesco to finish back in front of the museum. Once across the line, runners were plied with refreshments: mince pies, Nature Valley bars (courtesy of the Rotary Club), and homemade Christmas spiced carrot soup and freshly baked biscuits from Philippa Ratcliffe of the Eat! Food Festival. Eat! Food Festival, founded by Philippa, sponsored the refreshments for this year’s event, with H Cafe kindly providing cups for the soup. The mouth-watering smell of Philippa’s Christmas spiced soup was more than enough incentive for runners to speed round the course.
First across the finish line was Sophie Whitworth, founder of Henley’s ‘Swim To Live’ group. A former GBR triathlete, Sophie is no stranger to racing, but enjoyed the more relaxed aspect of the fun run. She said on Sunday, “I’ve been exposed to Santa runs by going to the Marlow one, which is a huge event, but I really wanted to support the Henley one as I’m sure it’s got the ambition to grow and grow and do great works for local charities. I do a lot of fast competing, and I knew this would be fun, so I had to have a word with myself to try and make it fun. I made sure I high-fived everybody and chilled out and took my time to go through the fields. It was really nice to do something where I didn’t feel like I was having to absolutely kill myself. What I really enjoyed was that there was a little girl who came third, which made it three ladies on the podium. She’s literally only comes up to my waist, she’s tiny, and she was so supported by her dad. It made my day to see her do so well; she gave it everything.”
The incredible young runner who impressed Sophie was Charlotte Burfitt. Only nine years old, Charlotte managed to come third overall, as well as winning the under 14s category. The young athlete inspired many of the competitors with her determination and resilience, especially after recovering from a dramatic fall across the finish line. Her dad expressed that he felt very proud of his daughter. Just beating her to second place overall was Kate Goodman, completing the line-up of women on the podium.
Prizes were also awarded for the best festive costumes. It was another victory for the Charlottes when Charlotte Groh won Best Dressed Under 10, whilst the Curry family scooped the title of Best Dressed Family. Graeme Gilbert, dressed in a full Santa suit, was awarded the title of Best Dressed Adult after running the course with his three children: Jo, Amber, and Sid. Before the race, he said, “It’s a nice fun thing to get out, get the kids out, and get a bit of exercise and fresh air. I don’t think we’re here to win — we’re just here to run it.”
Santa On The Run was started by Pam Phillips in 2011, and resurrected last year after a hiatus in 2017. The core organising team was composed of Pam and Town Councillors Sarah Miller and Laurence Plant, with support from Stefan Gawrysiak, David Eggleton, Mayor Ken Arlett, Eat! Food Festival, the Rotary Club and the Henley Lions. Sarah Miller said, “It’s very much a joint effort. It was touch and go whether or not we were going to run it this year because we’d left it a bit late and I’d had a bereavement in the family, but we decided we definitely wanted it to go ahead.” She added, “The hardest part was getting sponsorship for the hats because we’d left it so late, but it all came together in the end. It was a joint effort between us three and it’s great that the councillors get on board — Ken, the Mayor, Stefan, Dave, everyone — it’s like our little event every year and it’s like the beginning of Christmas really. And its lovely to see the kids enjoying it.”
Pam Phillips reflect on this year’s race. “I think everyone who took part, as ever, always loves it,” she said. “There’s lots of fun, lots of laughter, everybody makes an effort to dress up and laugh their way round the course. It went well. We could do with a few more, but maybe that’s for next year. It’s a great thing and it raises money for the Mayor’s charities, but it’s more that everybody has fun.”