CHRISTMAS came early to Coate Water as Brighter Futures launched this year’s Santa versus Rudolph Run.

Elves, reindeer and Santa strolled along the lakeside to announce the return of the popular charity event, which raises money for research, equipment, staff training and ward improvements at Great Western Hospital, and supports the Wiltshire Air Ambulance.

The fun run is organised in partnership with the Swindon Phoenix Rotary Club and returns following a successful first time last year which raised more than £14,000.

Anyone can take part as long as they are dressed in their most festive clothes and pick whether to be in Team Santa or Team Rudolph.

Pandemic precautions have made this year’s event a virtual one, where runners must go solo instead of in teams or groups.

Participants can run, walk or jog either three, five or 10 kilometres while social distancing from passerby on any route and upload it using the Strava app. They must complete the route between November 28 and Boxing Day.

Brighter Futures community and events manager Michelle Leighton said: “We are really pleased to launch the new event and that we have found a safe way for people to take part, have fun and raise some money.

“Since the pandemic began, all charities’ income has been heavily impacted and every single penny raised will help to save lives locally.

“This year we are aware of how much local running club members have been missing races since the pandemic started, so we are offering a bit of local rivalry.

“Make sure you upload your run via the Strava app afterwards and your club could be in with a chance of winning. We will compile and publish a weekly leaderboard, with one club crowned champions of each distance on Boxing Day.

“We hope to see just as many, if not more, of you take part this year and we would like to thank the whole community for their continued support.”

Swindon Phoenix Rotary Club president Darren Crannis said: “I’m absolutely delighted and excited to be part of this great partnership between the club, Brighter Futures and Wiltshire Air Ambulance.

“Our first festive event working together in 2019 was such a great success. I’m extremely proud of the people of Swindon for supporting us and I know this will continue with our Virtual 2020 festive run.

I’ve entered with my family and I look forward to seeing the photos and videos of our virtual runners taking part in a safe way.”