CLEARWATER — The very idea of getting up at sunrise on Thanksgiving to run or walk in the Times Turkey Trot is enough to send some people diving back under the covers, seeking dreams of turkey and pumpkin pie.
But for thousands of others, the Turkey Trot, now in its 34th year, is a joyful tradition — the best part of Thanksgiving Day, some say — and they wish the race lasted longer.
Now, it can.
For the first time, participants don't have to limit themselves to just one of the Trot's four races. They can run three, one after the other, in an event being called the Clearwater Challenge.
"We've been thinking about it for several years," said race director Skip Rogers, 68, who said organizers had gotten requests for an event that allowed participation in more than one race. This year, they decided, was the year to try it.
The Trot has four races: the competitive 5K Wingding (3.1 miles), the 5K Fun Run, the 1-mile Gobbler and the 10K Turkey Trot (6.2 miles). Those who preregistered online for the Clearwater Challenge will run the 5K Wingding, followed by the Gobbler, followed by the Turkey Trot.
No matter your event, you'll have lots of company on the route, which is on city streets surrounding Clearwater High School. By Monday, almost 8,000 people already had preregistered. At least that many more, Rogers said, were expected to register by the time the first race kicks off at 7 a.m. Thursday. Registrations continue right up to race time, though it costs more to register on the day of the race.
Rogers said preregistrations have come from all but 11 states in the nation. The Trot is an everyman event attracting all kinds — weekend runners, parents pushing strollers, people with disabilities or illnesses, children, and Olympic hopefuls who consider the Turkey Trot part of their training for trials. While the events are highly competitive for some front-of-the-pack runners who set time goals and push for the finish line, for others the Trot offers a pleasant jog or walk with an upbeat crowd on a crisp holiday morning.
"It's just a tradition," said Rogers. "We've got the third generations out there on the course now. Kids come home from college and meet their friends there."
The race was founded in 1979 by Rogers and a group of avid runners, including former Times editor and columnist Bob Henderson. It began as just a 10K race with fewer than 1,000 runners. Today, it is one of the most popular holiday events in Pinellas County, routinely attracting between 15,000 and 20,000 participants and spectators.
However, the Trot is more than just an athletic event or a warm-up for that other race — the one to the Thanksgiving dinner table. All participants are asked to bring canned or other nonperishable food to the race, which is then distributed to the RCS Food Bank. Monetary proceeds from the event fund college scholarships and assist charities. Last year's proceeds, Rogers said, funded 21 $2,000 scholarships for deserving students and $80,000 was distributed to various charities.
The last chance to preregister at lower prices is today during the Times Turkey Trot Kick-Off Party from 5 to 7:30 p.m. in the Clearwater High stadium. The free event offers snacks, live music and games, and official Turkey Trot merchandise can be purchased. Those who want to preregister must bring cash or checks for the exact amount due.
For motorists driving around Clearwater on Thanksgiving morning, the Turkey Trot can present a few challenges. Sections of Keene Road, Druid Road, Lakeview Road, Nursery Road and numerous side streets will be closed for part of Thursday morning.
A list of roadway closures is available at tampabay.com/turkeytrot/traffic_map.pdf.
Diane Steinle can be reached at (727) 445-4152 or firstname.lastname@example.org.