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Fresh Start

Costumed racers greet the New Year and celebrate 25 years of first runs


Published December 26, 2012 at 11:04 a.m.


On the first day of 2013, you can contemplate your fitness resolution for the New Year — say, over a mimosa and a croissant — or you can take it to the streets of Burlington, preferably dressed as a Stormtrooper, a gingerbread man, Little Red Riding Hood or whatever disguise suits your mood. Thanks to FirstRun, nearly 1000 revelers will shake off the champagne and mark the changing calendar with a 5K trot. Starting from Memorial Auditorium, this energetic but nonintimidating run is a moving costume party.

“The emphasis is on ‘fun and festive,’ rather than competition,” says Leandre Waldo-Johnson, the director of communications for RunVermont, which has produced FirstRun since 2005. “Although the race still attracts its share of fast runners,” she observes.

Originally staged by the Green Mountain Athletic Association, and supported by Burlington’s Department of Parks and Recreation and the running community over the years, FirstRun marks its 25th anniversary in 2013 — and a surge in participants. In 2012, a record 848 people toed the line for the 11 a.m. start, which led organizers to introduce chip timing — that is, computer chips attached to each participant to measure his or her net running time.

Most FirstRun entrants, however, are more interested in having a good time than in clocking a fast one. Back at Mem Aud postrace, there are awards for top costumes as well as prizes for the first-place male, female and masters runners.

Fairfax’s Rev. Moretti and his son, Johnny (now 17), who registers as “Johnny Rockstar,” have entered FirstRun since 2008, dressing up as penguins, cowboys, shooting stars, and a whoopee pie and whoopee cushion, among other costumes.

“We don’t have a TV and aren’t night owls, so we haven’t stayed up to midnight to usher in the New Year, and wanted to do something celebratory to acknowledge it,” says Moretti, 44. “We look for our friends every year, make new ones, and laugh hysterically at all the funny and punny costumes — it’s a super-fun party.”

For pint-size partiers, there’s a half-mile or mile-long kids’ run. The New Year’s race is part of RunVermont’s growing youth programs, which also include Ready, Set, Run! in schools and the annual YAM Scram.

It was Bob Osmond’s offspring, ages 9 and 12, who helped inspire him to sign up for his debut FirstRun this season. “Doing FirstRun felt like a great way to kick off the year and signal our intention to keep running, on our own and as a family,” says Burlington’s Osmond, who hasn’t yet decided on his outfit.

Since the weather can range from bitterly cold to almost balmy, creativity in costume planning is key. Waldo-Johnson notes that some of her favorites from years past include “a group of runners dressed as fast food — french fries, pizza and pigs in a blanket — a bobsled team that carried sleds while they ran, and guys dressed as Jeff Spicoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High, who carried a surfboard for the duration of the race.”

The possibility of sleds or surfboards in Burlington in January? Sounds about right.

The 25th annual FirstRun 5K and Kids’ Fun Runs are on January 1, 2013, beginning and ending at Memorial Auditorium in Burlington. Race-day registration and packet pickup begins at 9:30 a.m.; kids start at 10:30 a.m.; and the 5K (strollers permitted) begins at 11 a.m. For more information or to register in advance visit