CLEARWATER — In the darkness of a chilly Thanksgiving morning, thousands walked or jogged from nearby parking spaces to converge on Jack White Stadium for the 35th annual Tampa Bay Times Turkey Trot.
The four-race event has become an annual affair for many, the perfect start to Thanksgiving, even when hoodies and gloves are needed to stay warm at the starting line. In fact, the temperature was dropping as the 5K Wingding and 5K Fun Run went off at 7 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. The overnight low — 40 degrees at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport — wasn't reached until 7:45 a.m., according to the National Weather Service at Ruskin.
"It's a reunion time," said Wendy Burgasser. "It's a reunion for families and it's a reunion for runners" who don't get to see each other much. But, they do know they'll see each other at the Turkey Trot, she said.
For the Burgassers, the event is a family tradition now spanning three generations.
Burgasser and her husband, Joe, have volunteered and run in Turkey Trot events since the mid 1980s. She helps with sign-ups and occasionally runs in an event. He rides in the truck that follows runners, feeding information about who's in the lead and times to the announcer who passes the information on to the crowd.
Until a couple of years ago, he did so for both the 5K and 10K races.
Then he decided he wanted to run the 10K again. So Joe Burgasser asked his son, Jim, if he'd like to ride in the truck for the 10K (6.2 miles). Now he rides in the truck for the 5K (3.1 miles) and runs the 10K.
"Of course, I jumped at it," Jim Burgasser said of his father's offer. "It's the best seat in the house."
A couple of years ago, Jim's son Jake, now 8, joined him. Now Jake is talking about running in next year's event. That would clear the way for sister Mia, 6, to ride in the truck.
Jim Burgasser echoed his mother in explaining the appeal of the Turkey Trot as a chance for people to do something fun with their families. Even though all the Burgassers live in St. Petersburg, schedules prevent them from getting together as much as they'd like.
It's also a chance for the extended family of the running world to get together. Joe Burgasser, 75, is the founder of the Forerunners Track Club in St. Petersburg. Although many runners have moved away, they come back for the Turkey Trot. And they tend to gravitate to the same gathering spots.
"It's great that we have a chance to see (old friends) and catch up and see how people's lives are going," Jim Burgasser said.
The race was founded in 1979 by Skip Rogers, who still directs it, and a group of avid runners, including former Times editor and columnist Bob Henderson.
It began as just a 10K and has grown into one of the most popular holiday events in the county, expanding to include the 5K competitive Wingding, the 5K Fun Run and the 1-mile Gobbler.
The first year it attracted about 1,000 participants and spectators. On Thursday, more than 15,000 runners participated, a number that forces the closure of roads around Clearwater High, where the stadium is located.
That's generally not a problem, but this year Clearwater police arrested a driver they stopped on Arcturas Avenue. They charged him with disorderly conduct and possession of cocaine, Clearwater police and fire spokesman Rob Shaw said. The man was not connected with the race, and other details were not available.
Shaw said Clearwater Fire & Rescue treated five from the races — two for respiratory issues and three who fell. None of the injuries was serious and all refused to be taken to the hospital, Shaw said.
Anne Lindberg can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8450.