Forty one Years of History; The 25th on Thanksgiving this Year
“The Turkey Trot.” At 40 years old, it’s achieved the status of “household name” in the Tallahassee area. It seems like everyone knows about the race held on Thanksgiving morning every year in SouthWood. And, in fact, it has become a community-wide mega-event, with individuals, multi-generational families, groups of neighbors, and teams of office workers totaling upwards of 6,000 bodies and souls giving thanks and working up their appetites for their holiday dinners.
But for many years, it wasn’t actually on Thanksgiving Day and it was not even called the Turkey Trot. The earliest races, in 1976 and 1977, were called simply “10 milers” at the time. In 1978, the event was named the Turkey Trot, but that name stuck for only four years. It was changed to the “Dean Chenoweth Classic” and then the “Chenoweth/Budweiser” from 1982 through 1989. It was the “First Union Bank 15K/5K” in 1990 and 1991. In 1992, the race, traditionally held on the second or third Saturday in November, moved to Thanksgiving Day, and it’s been the Tallahassee Turkey Trot ever since!
2017 marks the Turkey Trot’s 16th year at SouthWood, and it feels very much like home! But the race took a rather circuitous route getting there. The 10 mile events in 1976 and 1977 were held at Natural Bridge in Woodville, the setting for many of the Gulf Winds Track Club’s (GWTC) early races. From 1978-1983, the Turkey Trot employed three or four different courses, but all started and finished on the Florida State University (FSU) campus. Then the event adopted a hilly, two-loop route from the Civic Center through FSU and back, that lasted through 1991. In 1992, the Turkey Trot moved south to the Leon County Fairgrounds area, running out-and-back along Tram Road and Gaile Avenue. Finally, in 2002, the Turkey Trot arrived in “the Promised Land” around Central Park Lake in SouthWood, with no plans to move again!
Of course, the heart of every race lies with the runners. And over the years, the Turkey Trot has seen a veritable parade of Tallahassee’s all-time greatest: on the men’s stage – Ken Misner, George West, Larry Greene, and Herb Wills; and on the women’s side – Janice Gage/Hochstein, Carla Borovicka, Margaret Coomber, Breeda Dennehy-Willis, and Sarah Docter-Williams.
But two names stand above all others in Turkey Trot running lore: Jessie Close and Jane Johnson. Over a 20 year span, Jessie won six 15K Open and two Masters Titles! And since 1998, Jane has been victorious four times in the 15K Open division and nine times in the Masters…plus once in the Open 10K! Talk about quality AND quantity.
Two “newcomers” have also been staking their claims to “Hall of Fame” status: Sheryl Rosen has won six of the last nine 15K’s, and Chris Lake, six of the last seven. Both will run this year as defending champions and could, by the end of the day, own the most open titles of anyone.
One particular performance deserves special mention: in 1996, 41 year old Phillip Rowan ran 31:49, the second fastest 10K ever at TT, and the highest age-graded performance over any distance in the event’s history!
The runners may be the heart of a race, but there are various support systems crucial to its life and sustenance. The Turkey Trot has been helped greatly by several sponsors over the years. The Tallahassee Democrat originally put the race on the map in 1978, and Chenoweth Distributors carried the event through the eighties. And since 2002, Capital Health Plan (CHP) has provided the perfect fit for an event that promotes healthy living through exercise. CHP, which also supports the Springtime 10K, is the longest running sponsor of Turkey Trot…or any other GWTC event!
Throughout Turkey Trot history, race volunteers have provided its backbone….people like the late Jere Moore, whose Northside Kiwanis have been in charge of Turkey Trot parking for over 20 years, and GWTC’s incomparable Bill Lott and Ray Hanlon, who direct the largest and busiest finish line in Big Bend history! Mary Register first got involved with Turkey Trot in the early 1980’s, through her close ties with the Chenoweth family and business. She played a crucial role in maintaining the Chenoweth connection through the deaths of both Dean and Jenny, and has kept the family’s name alive by helping to develop the Chenoweth Memorial Fund, which has distributed more than $121,000 to local youth running since 1988! And of course the race would come to a stop without the FSU wonder women who support the Refuge House by supporting the race – Cecile Reynaud, Joanne Graf, Alicia Crew, Janet Stoner and Sara Hendry.
For many years, Judy Alexander and Brian Corbin loaded and sorted an entire U-Haul filled with food and clothing donations bound for the Refuge House and The Shelter! These two organizations, along with the Boys & Girls Club of the Big Bend, are also crucial to the event. The help and service they provide to those in need is what inspires the spirit of giving that provides the Turkey Trot with its unique spirit.
And then, there is Rayanne Mitchell’s Lincoln High School crew, who annually tackle the very difficult challenge of getting water to 5,000+ runners, less than 2 miles into the race! In addition, the Tallahassee Community College African Drum and Dance Ensemble turns out each year to inject a shot of rhythm and percussive energy to the runners circling Central Park Lake. The Boys & Girls Club’s Stick Patrol Drum Line has also joined in this effort and fires up the runners as they make the turn onto Merchants Row and run to the finish line. And these are just a very few of the folks who have made the Turkey Trot what it is.
Finally, the position of Race Director is where the event starts and the buck stops, and the Turkey Trot has been blessed with the cream of the crop. Over its 40-year span, the event has had seven race directors, and five of them have been both GWTC presidents and Hall of Fame members! These high quality leaders include Jim Stephens, Mike Eakin, Dot Skofronick, along with David and Mary Jean Yon. Of this stellar group, one person’s vision and innovative changes merit special recognition.
David Yon first directed TT from 1986-1989. He stepped back for a couple of years, but stepped back up without hesitation when the race he loved hit hard times after the 1991 edition. In one sweeping move, he changed the event’s name back to Turkey Trot, moved it to Thanksgiving Day (unprecedented in Tallahassee), and shifted the venue away from the congested FSU area of town. The seeds had been sown for the event’s eventual mega-success.
David also added a 10K and a one mile Turkey Gobbler, creating a “smorgasbord” of running options. He also instituted the option of choosing one’s distance during the race! During its ten years around the Leon County Fairgrounds area, David, with Mary Jean as co-conductor, orchestrated the growth of the event and a voluntary food and donations drive was started. The Shelter and, soon thereafter, Refuge House were adopted as race beneficiaries, and the number of participants slowly grew from under 200 to over 800.
The move to SouthWood in 2002, with 5K, 10K, and 15K courses featuring the picturesque Central Park Lake, was David’s ultimate coup. Through the ensuing years, ideas have kept pouring out of him; these include a Music Fest the Sunday prior to the race to attract folks for pre-registration and packet pick-up, the Kent Vann Award to encourage school participation, and the “Turkey Trot Hero” program to bolster charitable donations. Meanwhile, race day participation has approached 7,000!
Of course, David could not have accomplished all this on his own. Mary Jean has been on board since the beginning and has brought her own touches to the race as well. Whenever she’s seen a need, such as in race day registration or recruiting music groups on the course to entertain the runners, she has made it happen, and has served as an invaluable partner to David in all things Turkey Trot.
David sums it up best when he says “What makes Turkey Trot special to me is that at least one morning a year, despite all of our differences and difficulties, we come together and enjoy one of life’s best activities. Some run hard, while others walk, but all seem to leave with a smile on their face and a happy story in their pocket.”
Amen to that. And long live the Turkey Trot!
Remember two years ago? It was a great morning, not very cold. There were still approximately 6200 finishers and a 15K Course Record. Find out who finished and how well they ran on the results page.
Into Every Race a Little Rain Must Fall – But Not too Often
David Yon, November 24, 2017
The FSU football game on December 3, reminded me a bit of Thanksgiving. It was a time to forget what has been another troublesome year and find a safe spot to hide in where people could just enjoy being together with family and friends while running, sometimes very hard and well, sometimes just walking and laughing.
There was something eerily familiar with the Wednesday night scene – a small group huddled together on the Turkey Trot race course discussing whether to mark the course with chalk, given the weather forecast was predicting rain (as high as 90%) through the night and into mid-morning on Thanksgiving Day. In 2007, the heavens really opened up (Into Every Race a Little Rain Must Fall). With crowds the last few years of 5,500 to 6,200 runners and walkers covering four different courses, it has gotten progressively more difficult to make sure they all run the right course with minimal chances to run into each other, or at least have the correct information to do so. Normally, we mark the course with chalk dust, post a directional sign at confusing turns, separate runners with cones and tape and ask volunteers to protect runners at corners.
Unfortunately, none of these aids are foolproof. Rain washes chalk away and is just one of the things that might cause a volunteer to stay home. Arrows and signs disappear and don’t always provide clear direction anyway. So as the rain began to fall steadily, reinforcing the weather predictions of rain through the night and well past the start of the races, it made sense to avoid wasting time and energy chalking the course. Historically, rain has rarely visited on Turkey Day in Tallahassee, but that didn’t matter much while we stood waiting for a down poor.
But Bill Lott, Tom Perkins, Bill McGuire, Jeff Nielsen and I don’t really know what else to do the Wednesday afternoon and evening before Turkey Trot. While Mary Jean and a crew of registration volunteers handle the crush of day before registration we go move equipment and cones setting things up for the next day.
That usual last day registration crush never came though. And that rain? Well, it never fell hard enough to wash away the chalk marks or to keep the volunteers away. But I suspect it kept many of the missing 1,500 runners and walkers away. We had the smallest number of finishers since 2009 when 3,687 crossed the finish line.
There are reasons other than the rain that probably contributed to the smaller crowds. The Leon County public schools were closed the entire week of Thanksgiving and the FSU-Florida game was in Gainesville so for many people it was a perfect time to get out of town. Most years I think we benefit from more people coming to town for Thanksgiving than going away. I worry some that last year’s record size crowd may have scared a few people away this year too. We will be working hard as the year goes by to make sure we can accommodate the needs of all size crowds.
The course volunteers that Sondra Lee, Mike Savage and Charlie Johnson worked so hard to recruit mostly came through. Representatives of the Boys and Girls Club of the Big Bend, The Shelter/Kearney Center and the Refuge House all proved they have a lot to give, hopefully matching what they will receive. There were many other special groups who deserve a big thank you. The Rickards Key Club was there for at least their fourth year.
And perhaps, the most special group this year was the Wakulla High School Cross-Country team, including Greg James and Mike Martin. Not surprisingly, they were willing to go the extra mile just as their coach Paul Hoover taught them to do. We remembered Coach Hoover’s kindness and caring, when his wife, Myrna rang the bell to start the 5K, 10K and 15K races. Paul’s life touched an amazing number of the runners in the Thanksgiving Day crowd.
We also celebrated the first birthday of one GWTC’s newest members, Rhys Scharlepp. His parents, Rachel and Zack, wrote a beautiful piece for this year’s Turkey Trot Magazine about his birth on November 23, 2016. Find it and read it if you get the chance.
That smaller number made everything else run smoother though. We still had 4,500 runners cross the finish line for one of four races. Probably 5,400 people registered. Last year there were approximately 6,200 finishers and 6,700 registered. So instead of running out of things, we had plenty of everything. And most importantly, there were a lot of smiles going around. None of the runners or volunteers who participated complained about rain. And while 4,500 finishers may have been quite a bit fewer than normal, that is still a lot of runners flowing over the finish line and a lot of great big smiles.
The race remains a labor of love from so many volunteers.
Thanks for being part of the 2017 Tallahassee Turkey Trot.
More than 6100 finishers make 2016 largest Turkey Trot ever!
Let’s face it – 2016 has not always been the kindest of years. And yet for each tragedy we have witnessed, someone, no ten someones, have picked up the mantle of kindness and with great determination taken action to make our world a better place.
That is kind of the way Thanksgiving is in Tallahassee. There is no place to check party or religious affiliation on the registration form for Gulf Wind Track Club’s Tallahassee Turkey Trot; just check which race you want to run and even once you have checked, you can change your mind on that at any time.
And you know the routine – The Turkey Gobbler, a 1 mile fun run, the appetizer, starts at 8:00. Thirty minutes later full meals are served as the 5,000, 10,000 and 15,000 meter races start at 8:30. We will have chip timing with a net time and place for everyone.
And you will have a chance to support any of our great causes (Refuge House, Boys and Girls Clubs, the Shelter, the Kent Vann Partners in Excellence Awards for Local Schools, 2nd Harvest and Gulf Winds Track Club.) The U-Haul will be back and we are confident you will fill it with food and clothing for those that need it.
Thanksgiving Day occurs every year (obviously) and this will be the 25th straight year the Turkey Trot has been run on Thanksgiving Day. People are up early and crowding into the parking lots around SouthWood on Thanksgiving morning. They come to race to burn calories so they can eat more and to celebrate our community. Families, two, three maybe even four generations are the heart of this event. We run together and when it is over, we go home with a smile and a stronger belief that our world can be a better place.
The 2015 Tallahassee Turkey Trot is in the books.
With approximately 5,645 official finishers, the 2015 Tallahassee Turkey Trot was successfully run on a beautiful Thanksgiving Day. The star of the day was the Turkey Trot Hoo-Rag.
HERB WILLS RECAP – 5645 Enjoy Turkey Trot; Kaiser and Sherron enjoy it quickly.
Fred Deckert – the Mile
2015 – 40 years of running together
There is no doubt we live in a crazy world, but you can count on the Tallahassee Turkey Trot taking wings on Thanksgiving Day. This is the day we run together – friends, families and competitors. Once again we will have a Mile Fun Run starting at 8:00 on Thanksgiving Morning. The 5K, 10K and 15K will all start at 8:30. You get to choose the race you want to run.