Now in its tenth year, the Rotary Lights Run has entered a new era as a project of the Rotary Club of La Crosse - After Hours. The new run will carry forward the tremendous groundwork laid by the River City Running Club.
The La Crosse Rotary Lights began in 1995 as a cooperative effort between area Rotary Clubs and non-profit organizations as a way to celebrate the holidays and stock local food banks. It has grown to become the largest holiday display in the Midwest with over 2,000,000 lights decorating Riverside Park which overlooks the Mississippi River. While admission is free, the hundreds of thousands of people who visit each year have donated millions of food items and hundreds of thousands of dollars to local charities.
In 2007, the River City Running Club volunteered to stage a race that would help people enjoy the festivities in a different way. The Rotary Lights Run began with the efforts of many club volunteers.
The 10th Annual Ugly Sweater 5k will be held at Riverside Park at 4pm on Sunday, December 14, 2014 with race day registration beginning at 3pm at the Radisson Hotel. The race begins in Myrick Park. Runners will proceed along the La Crosse River trail and finish in Riverside Park under the tunnel of festive lights. The course runs along the Mississippi River where it circles the light display, then heads out onto the torchlit La Crosse River Trail for an out and back run.
The runners return to the park and cross the finish line under a tunnel of festive lights. Radio stations broadcast from along the course and music is heard at numerous points along the run.
The course is flat and fast, but weather is always an unknown. The inaugural race was held in a blizzard with more than 200 hearty souls toeing the starting line. Year two brought sunshine and temperatures in the 20s and drew 350 participants.
A post race award ceremony is held in a heated tent in the middle of the park with hot chocolate and coffee for runners, family and friends. Trophies are given to the overall champions and medals are awarded to the age group winners.
The Rotary Lights Run is meant to be a family friendly event, as well as a competitive race. Entry fees are affordable: $25 per person (if registered early) and free for children under 10 year of age with a canned food donation.