The day I was mistaken for an American Santa in Lo...

The day I was mistaken for an American Santa in London

Santa running in London

Image by Brainwave

Almost exactly three years ago I signed up for a Santa run in Toronto. What is a Santa run, you may ask? Well, this is where people run a 5k or 10k distance dressed like…. you guessed it: Santa Claus!

I wasn’t able to make that run three years ago; not because it was a week before my PhD defence, but rather because just a few days prior to it I had to fly to London for a job interview. Where I thought the run would be a welcome distraction from preparing for my PhD defence, it turned out that the trip to the UK was even more so a welcome distraction.

A second chance at my Santa run

Ever since, I’ve wanted to participate in a Santa run – but each time some sort of travel throughout December has conflicted. This year was the first where I wasn’t traveling past October, and I could actually get organized enough to sign up for a run. Most runs are on the weekend, and there was a big event on Sunday 6 December. Already having committed to hosting my Sinterklaas party on 5 December, running 5k at 10 am sharp the next morning did not seem like a prudent idea to me. Instead, the Brainwave Santa Dash was scheduled for a much better time, and to top it off it was also being held in East London! For those who don’t know yet, that is my area of town, taking away any excuse I might have not to run.

Preparing for the run

maple leaf running socksRun night came along before I knew it. One of the things I had been thinking about was the question; how do you prepare for a Santa run? The idea is that you wear a Santa suit, which you get on the day of the event. So, what to wear underneath on your way to the venue? It has been unseasonably warm for December, so a full outfit of winter running gear, then with a suit on top, seemed overkill. My alternative option was a medium warm green (#festive!) running top, with my capri running tights. The tights would be great once I put the Santa suit over top, but I still had to get there first and collect it. This is how I found myself with a compromise: taking the bus in black and pink capri tights, a green shirt, and my only knee-length socks that so happen to be red and sport a maple leaf on the back.

To top off my outfit, I brought along a string of battery-powered lights bought at Tiger not too long ago. large santa suitI just hoped that the battery pack would not short-circuit due to sweat: Santa suits apparently have no pockets, so the only place to keep the battery pack was wedged under a bra strap. Can you imagine running with a fake beard on your face? I couldn’t, given the unseasonably warm temperatures, and lost the beard right away. The Santa suit itself wasn’t exactly comfortable sports attire already, I had no interest in tying a piece of white fake fur to my mouth to boot. Then again, in a harsh Canadian winter, I would certainly have considered it! Speaking of the Santa suit; it was one-size-fits-all. They were not kidding. It really was made for very tall, round, men. Check out the size of the pants in the picture! In fact, that view makes me feel like a weight loss success story: the kind where people show off their new figure, wearing some old clothes that are now way too big. Sadly, that was not the case here. And while the suit is as comfortable as you would expect from something resembling oversized PJs, these are not typically the types of clothes that you can easily run in. Thankfully, no Christmas-themed wardrobe malfunctions happened along my 5km trot on the streets of  London.

Joining a team by accident, and being mistaken again for being American

As usual, I was running solo and the thing I discovered about this particular Santa run is that many people participate with a friend or in teams. I did not see any other solo runners, but I am sure there must have been at least a few. Inching up to the start, this proved awkward enough when they had a team by team staggered start, after taking every team’s picture first. I found myself a bit off to the side when an entire team turned to me and said: “have you lost your team?”. I told them I am my team, and was going solo. Upon which several friendly Brits waved me in and one of them said “you can join our team! Even though you are an American!”

It is always funny when people think I am an American. I have nothing against it, and I spent much of my childhood admiring the images of America we saw on Dutch television. However, I was mistaken for being American even before I ever set foot on US soil. The very first time I went to Canada was also the very first time I went to North America, and I had never been to the States. Yet, people thought I was one of their southern neighbours. This time around, given the comment carried a bit of a negative undertone, I was quick to correct them with “actually, I am Dutch but lived in Canada for a very long time”, after which I was, not surprisingly, more welcome to join their team than before.

starting line for the london santa dash

The run itself was a tricky route, which required me to actually follow a map of directions whenever I lost track of the Santas ahead of me. Only five minutes into the run, we passed a pub where a number of our fellow runners were standing outside with a pint in their hands. Not sure whether that was a refueling pit stop, or they decided the allure of the pub was too enticing. I continued on instead, following a team of St John’s ambulance volunteers for a while, who were cycling the route. The best part of the run was looping around St Paul’s cathedral, and running back to Spitalfields market via the Royal Exchange. This required a quick stop for a sweaty Santa-selfie.

santa run route by royal exchange london

From the perspective of the route, the trickiest part of the race was now over, I could finally relax and just enjoy the last bit of the run.

A curious thing was that I seemed to be one of the very few people listening to music while running. Not sure if that is a British vs. North American thing in running culture, although I have noticed many runners wearing headphones when running in the park. Perhaps Santa runs and music don’t go together? Or perhaps because people were running in teams. I would think that at the very least some workout inspired version of Jingle Bells would make an appearance on Santa’s playlist! Either way, it made for a funny run because I could see people’s reactions, but not always hear what they were saying as I dashed by. Even when I was on my own, having lost some Santas ahead or behind me, some people are completely aloof to some random woman running through the streets of London dressed up as Santa, decked out with Christmas lights to boot. This shows a concerning level of “anything is normal” for Londoners. Then there were some people who openly cheered us on, stepped aside to let us by, or high-fived us with great enthusiasm. We even met some fellow crazy people dressed in some sort of reindeer costume along the way, giving us high fives. Sadly, this went too fast for me to pull out my camera for a quick picture. And then there were the kids,…walking along holding their mother’s hands when they would suddenly spot us, smile brightly and exclaim while madly pointing at us: “It’s Santa!!!!”

The Santa run finish-line

I am not sure what Santa drinks when he is at home on the North Pole, but ‘fake’ Santas in London apparently sip Caipirinhas at the finish line. After we got back to Spitalfields market, the end of the Santa run was marked with receiving our very own medal, and a free exotic drink at Las Iguanas. While I felt quite in touch with my Brazilian roots, it did seem like a rather tropical touch for a Santa run. Then again, the weather could have turned out much worse than it was, in which case any hint of the tropics would make for a warm welcome back.

end of the santa run

Las Iguanas filled with Santa-clad Londoners after the Brainwave Santa run

after the santa run in London

Enjoying an icy drink after crossing the finish-line

With everyone I saw around me belonging to teams, I was grateful to chat with some of my adopted team members for a little while. It was funny that I had a hard time recognizing them without their beards on. After finishing my drink I decided it was time to go home. Instead of taking the bus, I braved the streets and wandered home leisurely, still dressed as Santa. Still attracting the attention of children, and even a few adults who joyfully wished me “Merry Christmas”.

I am so glad that while London was the reason I wasn’t able to make it to my first Santa run, I was able to get a do-over in London nonetheless. This run is definitely on my agenda for next year, and while Christmas isn’t even over yet, I am already looking forward to it. In the mean time, I am picking up running again. While walking home, I saw a truck with some graffiti on it that put into words how running made, and makes, me feel. As usual, I couldn’t resist taking a picture.

street art on east london truck


Christine Buske is a former academic who left science at the bench, and now considers herself a woman in tech. She is a frequently invited speaker, and enjoys talking about career transformation (particularly leaving academia for the business world), tech, issues around women in tech, product management, agile, and outreach. She is a proud Canadian resident, and qualifies as a "serial expat".


  1. KJ

    13 December

    Beautiful post, and I couldn’t agree more with the ending. The humour throughout had me in stitches though, thanks for that!

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