Death, taxes, and people shoveling in copious portions of food on Thanksgiving. For many Americans, mere mention of the holiday conjures feelings of family, food and seasonal comforts (and football). What may not be included in most of those visceral collages is undertaking strenuous exercise on a cold morning. But for thousands on Long Island, the Garden City Turkey Trot (GCTT) is as integral a Turkey Day staple as the roast bird itself.
On Nov. 28, more than 6,100 runners and walkers participated in the 42nd annual holding of the aforementioned event, which donates all of the roughly $100,000 it raises to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, the Muscular Dystrophy Association and The INN (Interfaith Nutrition Network), which addresses hunger and homelessness on Long Island. What better way to show gratitude, help others and rev up the metabolism.
Held at 285 Stewart Ave. in the shadow of Gothic St. Paul’s School, the GCTT, which is the largest Thanksgiving race on Long Island, is a sprawling display of running regalia, a turkey trot Mecca where people from many different demographics come together in a chorus of triumph and celebration to inject Thanksgiving with a strong communal aspect.
Rain, sleet, snow, no matter—the show goes on. For the second straight year, extreme winds presented some challenges for the race committee. But as race director Ken Aneser noted, it didn’t stop a great time. Unlike last year, the running gods granted mild temperatures and blue skies, ideal for runners and spectators alike. With the sun shining and music blasting, thousands hit the pavement and hundreds doled out refreshments and moral support along the race’s circuitous route.
Trevor Marchhart, 20, Garden City, runs competitively at the University of Virginia, but has been sidelined at each of the past few trots due to a slew of untimely injuries.
“It’s still good to come down here and lazily watch, be a part of the atmosphere,” he said, imbibing the idyllic autumn scene with rapture. “Nice place.”
If you think about it, the turkey trot may be a quintessential Thanksgiving experience: the yin of the morning’s calorie-churning long distance running balances the yang of the evening’s calorie-packed dinner and subsequent lounging. It’s no coincidence, then, that Thanksgiving sees almost a million participants across over a thousand trots across the country, with its 901,753 trot finishers in 2015 marking a more than 30 percent jump from 2011, according to Running USA.
In examining how the turkey trot became a Thanksgiving institution, one must appreciate some historical tidbits. The first five-mile trot took place in 1896 (a year before the Boston Marathon), hosted by a YMCA in Buffalo. The Thanksgiving Day race had only six runners, with four of them finishing, one dropping out after two miles, and another quitting after his breakfast didn’t sit well. Yet, the race was held again the next year and every single year since, and the concept, as well as the tradition, spread: New England’s iconic Manchester Road Race began in 1927 with just a dozen runners, and the Dallas YMCA Turkey Trot, which now usually sees more than 20,000 finishers, began 40 years after that with only 107 runners. Decades passed, and people kept trotting. Perhaps they, much like Forrest Gump, “just felt like running.” Regardless, once the race’s competitive backbone added the indelible fun, family-friendly traits, it soared in popularity, making the pastime what it is today.
And GCTT puts its own spin on it, hosting three races to round out the festivities: the Challenger Division Race (for people with disabilities), which drew 35 people, the 1.4-mile Fun Run, which drew 2,595, and the Five Mile Race, with 3,520 runners. The races kicked off at 9, 9:30 and 10 a.m., respectively, and before the latter’s start gun, Garden City High School students Enzo Cupani, Alex Davidson, Sarah Fetherston and Molly Madigan sang the National Anthem. There was no shortage of flushed cheeks, heaving chests and smiling faces, including that of this editor after finishing the arduous five-miler.
The winner of this year’s Five Mile Race and the Jim Flynn Memorial Trophy was Tom Slattery, 23, Garden City, with a winning time of 24 minutes, 51 seconds. The first female finisher was Rolanda Bell (Queens) with a time of 29 minutes, 11 seconds.
The GCTT race committee thanks to all volunteers, corporate sponsors and first responders, without whom this event would not be possible.