Four years ago, a group of mountain bikers called the Catonsville Klunkers rode in Patapsco State Park on Wednesday nights, and they always encountered a running group called the Full Moon Crazies.
The two groups decided to get together around the holidays, recalled Scott Westcoat, owner of The Hub/C’ville Bikes, a Catonsville bicycle shop.
“The idea became, ‘let’s run and ride through Catonsville, sing Christmas carols and come back for a party,’” Westcoat said.
Around 50 people showed up for their first joint run. But as word spread, more people came each year. Last year, Westcoat said, the Holiday Light Run drew more than 300 people.
“In Catonsville, word travels fast,” Westcoat said. “People would see people running around and say, ‘What the heck is that?’”
The event was so loosely organized that it is hard to determine when exactly it started — Westcoat said this is the fourth year, but organizer Kristen Miller said it is the sixth.
Regardless of its origins, organizers agree that what started as a casual private holiday celebration has become a communitywide event, the Holiday Light Run.
This year on Dec. 19, joggers and walkers will get decked out in their Christmas best and travel through the streets of Catonsville, singing holiday songs and spreading Christmas spirit for the event.
The event is not a race, Westcoat said, but a free, family-friendly event where people can travel at their own pace. Westcoat said organizers expect as many as 400 people to show up to the Hub’s parking lot on Frederick Road.
From there, participants can run, walk, bike — or, Westcoat suggested, skip — through Catonsville, where houses glitter with Christmas lights in December.
The route, Miller said, is slightly less than four miles. The group used to do seven miles, she said, but shortened it to be inclusive to a wider range of ages and abilities.
The event now draws everyone from children in strollers to people in their 60s and 70s, Miller said.
The group will stop at designated spots, usually highly decorated houses, to sing Christmas carols, Westcoat said. Favorites include “Jingle Bells” and “Silent Night,” he said.
“We are runners, we’re not carolers,” Miller said. “So when we stop and sing it’s actually very comical.” Nobody, however, has ever complained about the noise, she said.
Before the run, people can drop off items in boxes in the Hub’s parking lot that will be donated to the Westside Men’s Shelter, Westcoat said.
Miller said the shelter is looking for travel toiletries, hand soap, brushes and coffee supplies.
People are also encouraged to bring food and drinks to share in a potluck after the run. Many people order trays of food from local restaurants, Westcoat said. Miller said many people also bring champagne.
The Hub provides a fire pit, and Westcoat said in his experience, people “hang out until after midnight.”
The event has no budget, Westcoat said, though people and organizations volunteer their time or goods. The Hub is donating a bicycle, which everyone who participates in the run has a chance to win in a raffle.
They used to just “put the music on and let it go,” Westcoat said, but last year a local DJ, Jason Schwinabart, “kind of jumped in.”
Schwinabart will return this year and volunteer as a DJ, Westcoat said, saying there will also be an open-mic for anyone who wants to bring an instrument or sing.
No roads will be closed off, though Westcoat said he will be informing the police department that the event is happening.
“It’s just kind of taken on a life of its own,” Westcoat said of the seasonal event.