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Thousands of Santa Claus suit clad runners will participate in Saturday's Santa Claus Shuffle race on Elm Street in Manchester. (Bruce Taylor/Union Leader)

Jim Fennell: A race that suits everyone

MANCHESTER -- KEITH SILVA of Derry said he's never run a road race wearing anything other than traditional running gear. That's about to change today.

Unless the snow in the forecast becomes too much of a safety risk, Silva will be joined by about 3,000 others dressed in Santa suits and other festive costumes gathered on Elm Street to take part in the second annual Santa Claus Shuffle. The three-mile race will be followed by the Spirit of New Hampshire Parade.

"A few of our friends were doing it and they talked us into it," Silva said Friday night after he and his wife Paula registered and picked up their Santa suits at the Shaskeen Irish Pub.

This year's field will just about double the 1,560 runners that came out for last year's inaugural event. Such is the attraction of putting on a red suit and ho-ho-hoing your way along Elm Street.

"I watched it last year and it was a lot of fun," said Lauren White of Manchester.

White said she is part of a group of about 20 friends running as Santa's Divas and Dudes. Tutus are apparently involved. You can also expect a fair amount of elves to be in the field and don't be surprised if an Easter bunny or two show up.

"It's about health and wellness, but we want it to be fun," race director John Mortimer of Millennium Running said.

Manchester, it seems, likes fun. Or, maybe, it's the fact the business people in and around downtown appreciate having a few thousand visitors. Either way, the partnership between the city and Millennium Running seems to be a good one; today's race is the sixth Millennium has held in Manchester this year.

"What makes Manchester special is that it's New Hampshire's largest city and it's become a destination," Mortimer said. "The participants enjoy their time here and there's a positive economic impact."

That's one of the reasons Jim Pliakos, owner of the Shaskeen, said he's been happy to have his place serve as race headquarters.

"It's a boost for downtown for one day at least," Pliakos said. "And it's more family oriented."

Mortimer said he expected the race to grow after the positive reception to last year's race, but he said he was "pleasantly surprised," when pre-registration reached 3,118 runners, with more signing up Friday night.

In addition to the 2,500 Santa suits being handed out at Friday night's registration, there were Elf shirts for the 500 or so kids expected to take part in the Elf Race that kicks off the Santa Claus Shuffle. The Elf Race starts at 2:45 p.m., the main race goes off at 3:15 and the Spirit of New Hampshire Parade is expected to start around 4.

Runners start around Veteran's Park, head north along Elm Street, before taking a loop around West Clarke Street and making their way back on Elm Street to the finish line.

Mortimer said he'd welcome some snow to add to the atmosphere.

"We've had pretty good luck weather-wise with our events," Mortimer said. "I think it's the good karma. We try to make our races fun."

Three-thousand Santas and their elves make sure of that.

E-mail staff writer Jim Fennell at

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