For 42 years, Siesta Beach Park has been the place to be for runners who are getting a jump on the holiday spirit with an amazing backdrop and beach scenery.  The Sandy Claws Beach Run 5K and 1-Mile Fun Run not only provides a good dose of exercise, it's a light-hearted, fun event where runners can come dressed as their favorite Christmas characters - if they wish. "The excitement surrounding the event has definitely grown over the years," said Sarasota County Parks and Recreation Supervisor Diana Finnegan. "When it first started, it was more about the race, but now the emphasis is on the overall experience." The race is scheduled for Saturday, December 8. 
And that experience includes a course littered with some familiar characters such as Santa Claus, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and assorted elves. Plus, the official race mascot, Sandy Claws. Toss in some "snow" machines, several inflatables, the always-important beads (hey, what's an event without beads?) and a costume contest and you have a race that is far more about fun than finishing first.
"There's holiday music on the beach as the runners complete the course," said Finnegan. "We also give a trophy to the group with the largest team participation and a $150 cash prize to the best group costume. A lot of the schools also have runners clubs, so it's a lot of fun."
All of the 5K finishers receive custom medals and the 1-mile finishers receive custom ribbons. In addition, there are raffle prizes and photo ops and with food and beverages. The Sandy Claws Beach Run normally attracts around 500 runners but had 600 last year and that total could reach 700 for this year's event. The proceeds benefit the Adopt-A-Camper Scholarship Fund for Summer Camps, which helps provide for Sarasota County families to send their children to Day Camp, Adventure Camp or Therapeutic Camp for those with special needs.
The Sandy Claws Beach Run 5K and 1 Mile Fun Run is co-sponsored by Sarasota County Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources and Dr. Heidi K. Anderson-DOCS and sanctioned by the Manasota Track Club. For more information, call 941-861-PARK (7275) or 941-861-5000. Register at through Nov. 29.