CLEARWATER — For many, Thanksgiving Day means a host of wonderful aromas emanating from the oven, chatting with loved ones who have come from far away, parades and football games on the flat screen TV, and sharing what we're thankful for.
For others, it's all that and the Turkey Trot, too.
Thursday, about 16,000 will flock to Clearwater High School for the 33rd annual St. Petersburg Times Turkey Trot. All races begin at Keene Road just south of Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard (except the 5K Fun Run, which starts on Druid Road at Keene). They end at the high school's Jack White Stadium, 540 S Hercules Ave.
The quest to get up with the birds and move one's thighs on Thanksgiving morn is a tradition that runs in many families.
"We're seeing third- and fourth-generation runners and walkers," said Skip Rogers, race director for the past 22 years. "The T-shirts are becoming collectible. Lay one down and it's gone."
The race was founded in 1979 by Rogers and a group of avid runners, including former Times editor and columnist Bob Henderson. That year, it was solely a 10K race with fewer than 1,000 participating, Rogers said. Registration fees were $4.
Today it costs between $12 and $20 to enter. Proceeds are donated to a variety of charities.
There are four race categories: a competitive 5K Wingding beginning at 7 a.m.; a 5K Fun Run for walkers, joggers and strollers at 7:30 a.m.; a 1-mile Gobbler for walkers and joggers at 8:30 a.m., and the 10K (6.2-mile) Turkey Trot beginning at 8:45 a.m.
A Turkey Trot Kickoff Party takes place from 5 to 7:30 p.m. today in Clearwater High's stadium. Enjoy free music, snacks and games and purchase official Turkey Trot merchandise. It's the last chance to preregister and pick up a T-shirt before race day. The registration fees are $12 (for the 1-mile Gobbler) and $15 for the other races; only exact cash and checks are accepted.
Patsy Stills, 49, will be there, along with about two dozen family members, many from out of town or other states. The marathoner has run in the event for the past 16 years. She shared the family's routine:
"We get up at 6 a.m. and put on our running clothes," Stills said. "Then we drive to Clearwater High School and drop off our donations of canned goods. Grandma (JoAnn Stills) sits in the bleachers and watches while the others run or walk. We all cheer each other on."
Her brother, Tim Doran, and his family from Winston-Salem, N.C., are devoted trotters. Because he placed in the master's division last year, he'll have a free run this year.
"He jokes that he doesn't care how much it costs for them to fly down, as long as he gets a free race," Stills said. "This year, he wants to break a record. He wants to place in the Grand Masters for both the 5 and 10K."
Patsy and Tim were introduced to the race by her sister-in-law, Joni Stills Haenel, who started running in the event in 1990. Her husband, Gary Haenel — boyfriend back then — has been trotting since the second annual race. The Haenels' home on Eastfield Drive will host a water station on the 5K route.
"We've walked and run through dating, marriage, pregnancies and pushing strollers," said Joni, 54, of Clearwater.
After the race, the family typically caravans over to the Village Inn on Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard, where they gobble down a hearty breakfast. Then they nap, chat or play games.
Later, they'll reunite at the Stills' Clearwater home for Thanksgiving dinner — everyone bringing a dish for a potluck surprise.
"Thanksgiving Day is my most favorite holiday of the year," Patsy Stills said. "I love the tradition of getting the family together, going to the Turkey Trot and then having a big meal."
Reach Terri Bryce Reeves at firstname.lastname@example.org