A joyful event

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It’s Year 47 for Sandy Claws run/walk on Siesta Beach

By Hannah Wallace

If you could summarize the holidays on Siesta Key with a single event, the Sandy Claws Beach Run might just be it.
In a tradition that dates back to the 1970s, more than 300 festive-dressed athletes of all ages, including dozens of Santa Clauses, elves and reindeer, gather every December on a temperate morning at Siesta Key Beach. To the sound of holiday music and their own jingling costumes, they run a mile and a half down and then back, some in sneakers and others barefoot, treading the hard-packed shoreline between the green Gulf waters and Siesta’s snow-white sand. Some runners even swerve into the wave wash, especially toward the end, to splash a path to the finish.
They will, more often than not, be congratulated there by at least one adult in a bright-red, full-body crab costume.
Dec. 9 of this year will mark the 47th annual Sandy Claws Beach Run. The chip-timed 5K race, sanctioned by the Manasota Track Club (MTC), sets off at 8:20 a.m., with an on-the-beach awards ceremony and general holiday celebration taking place afterward. (There’s also a 1-mile fun run/walk starting at 8 a.m.) Sarasota County organizes the event, with volunteer support from MTC. Proceeds benefit the “Summer in the Parks” Adopt-A-Camper scholarship fund from the Sarasota County Department of Parks, Recreation and National Resources.
Many seasoned participants bring their swimsuits and beach gear to hang around after the festivities and make a day of it. Sandy Claws has been going on for so long that it now serves as an ongoing tradition for longtime friends and multiple generations of families.
“People have been running this race for a long time. Now they come back and bring their kids,” said Siesta Beach manager Jonathan Poyner, who worked his first Sandy Claws event just after he was hired by the county 19 years ago. “It holds a lot of meaning for the community.”
When Siesta Key resident Monica Condon first came to Siesta in the 1960s, she used to jog from Point of Rocks to Avenida Messina, stopping along the way to chat with neighbors. “It was a little village,” she remembered.

The big guy in red welcomes a young participant at the end of the Sandy Claws Beach Run on Siesta Key. This year’s event is Dec. 9. (photo courtesy of Sarasota County)

Beginning in 1977, the Sandy Claws event naturally embodied that same community spirit. When Condon and her husband moved back to Siesta permanently in 2013, she was delighted to see that the annual beach run was thriving. “It’s just bloomed so beautifully,” she said. She began participating in 2014, cheered on by her husband and seeing the same neighbors and fellow runners in her age group year after year.
Trophies are awarded to the top finishers overall and in each age class, though not everyone tackles the course with a competitive mindset. Sandy Claws is more festive than fierce.
And then there are the costumes.
Sandy Claws’ award categories include an official holiday-themed costume contest. But, like the run itself, it seems most people don’t need any extra incentive to up their race-day wardrobe in honor of the season.
“I’ve seen people dress like Santa Claus, definitely some elves. There are people wearing Christmassy shirts, headbands that have snowflakes or ornaments. People wear their Christmas socks,” said Jennifer Gallagher, vice president of the Manasota Track Club. Last year, Gallagher marked off the 5K course in a beach cart decorated like Santa’s sleigh.
Condon, who won’t be able to attend this year’s event, fondly remembered the festive atmosphere from Sandy Claws past. “There were funny hats, a lot of people had bells on. One time, there was a family with all their kids dressed as little reindeer, and one was Rudolph,” she said. “I always made sure that I had some kind of outrageous stretch pants, either the Grinch or Mickey Mouse, in the gaudiest Christmas colors you can think of. If you can imagine an ugly Christmas sweater and put it onto stretch pants, that’s what I wore.”
And that celebratory feeling of togetherness seems to be what always stands out most, year after year.
“It’s a fun race. People are just happy to be there. It’s really joyful,” said MTC’s Gallagher.
“I can’t ever remember it not being a beautiful day,” said Condon. “It fits into the start of the festive season, and it gets everyone thinking about family and being together and community.”
Register for the Sandy Claws Beach Run 5K or 1-miles fun run/walk until 7:45 a.m. the day of the event at runsignup.com/47thannualsandyclawsbeachrun.

A festive look is as much a part of the competition as the race itself each year at the Sandy Claws Beach Run. (photo courtesy of Sarasota County)
Hannah Wallace
Author: Hannah Wallace

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