Running With the Reindeer

Running With the Reindeer
Yes, it’s a thing! Each winter, during Anchorage, Alaska’s annual Fur Rendezvous celebration, one of the more unique and wacky events is the “Running with the Reindeer”. There is also an Outhouse Race, Snow-shoe Softball, the Frostbite Footrace and Costume Fun Run, a Native Blanket-Toss, competitive sled dog races through town and much more.

But the Running with the Reindeer event has become one of the highlights of this two-week long, city-wide party. The city is thronged with people on the last Saturday of Fur Rondy, with the Ceremonial Start of the famous Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race kicking things off in the morning and the Running of the Reindeer topping off the afternoon events. Mark your calendars for the first Saturday in March and plan to be busy all day!

You haven’t heard of the Running With the Reindeer? If not, I can pretty much guarantee you haven’t seen anything like it. Based (very much tongue-in-cheek) on the Pamplona, Spain, “Running of the Bulls”, this uniquely Alaskan version is pure fun.

4th Avenue between D St. and G St. in Anchorage is the hot spot for this 3-block snowy dash. The brain-child of a pair of [then] Anchorage morning DJs, Bob Lester & Mark Colavecchio at KWHL 106.5, the idea was originally considered too odd and over the top to pursue. But almost in spite of itself, the now legendary Fur Rondy Running of the Reindeer event was born. It’s been a solid hit ever since.

The race is divided into four heats, or “herds”; one for women, one for men, one for teams or groups and one for tourists. Yes, I said tourists. No one has admitted to it that I’m aware of, but Fur Rondy rumor has it that the tourists were given their own heat just so the locals could laugh at them. 😉 Don’t worry, it’s all in good fun.

There are usually about 14 impressively-antlered reindeer running in each “herd”. The reindeer (all fairly gentle, domesticated caribou) are provided by The Reindeer Farm in Palmer, Alaska. They are vet-checked before and after the race, with their welfare being just as important as the safety of the human runners and spectators.

Between heats, the reindeer are given a bit of a break (and provide photo opportunities for runners and spectators), before being wrangled back up to the starting point for the next heat. Having watched the race year after year, it’s clear that the reindeer are having just as much fun as the people, trotting or cantering down the carefully fenced off, snow-packed roadway with obvious enjoyment. A few might pause for petting by bystanders, but most reindeer are eager for the romp and know they have hay and treats waiting at the end of each run. The animals can be quicker than one might think, too, so it’s a good thing two-legged runners are given a 10-15 second head start before the reindeer are turned loose. The reindeer still win the race most times, running up behind and swerving around and between runners with amazing ease.

To add even more silliness to the occasion, runners are encouraged to dress up in costumes or deck themselves out in feather boas, head-dresses (plush Christmas antlers and Santa hats are popular) and outlandish outer-ware of all sorts. Yukon veterinarian and TV personality, Dr. Michelle Oakley, once ran the race wearing red leggings and a big black and white target pinned to her backside. Photos taken with the reindeer are fun souvenirs of the event.

By the way; over the years, the Running of the Reindeer has raised more than $100,000 in charity contributions for the United States Marine Corps’ Toys for Tots program as well as providing laughter and fun thrills for participants and spectators alike.

(*See also: Anchorage Fur Rondy article)

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