Austin, TX – It was a picture-perfect fall morning at the Long Center, just south of the Colorado River from downtown Austin. The sky was clear, the temperature was chilly and the streets and green areas were filled with throngs of people stretching, pinning on numbered bibs or just observing. An announcer’s voice squawked over loud speakers informing everyone that the Thundercloud Turkey Trot was about to begin.
There’s nothing unusual about a race happening in Austin at this location. The city makes regular appearances in listicles about the most fit cities in the country. It also makes regular appearances on lists of the hardest partying cities but Austinites have figured out a balance.
The difference about this event is that it was the morning of Thanksgiving Day and, while many Americans were either preparing their feasts or sleeping off their “Blackout Wednesday” hangovers, this huge crowd was spending the first part of their holiday running for charity.
The Thundercloud Turkey Trot began 27 years ago and is sponsored by Thundercloud Subs, a popular, locally owned chain of sandwich shops that has famously been keeping struggling musicians employed since the 1970s. The event is held to raise money for Caritas, an organization that does outreach with the city’s homeless population. The race has raised over $3 million for Caritas since its inception.
Anita Shuy is a Caritas volunteer who was working at the information tent near the Long Center. “Caritas is an organization that helps, not only homeless, but transient people and helps them to transition to a home environment,” Anita said. “They also help people from other countries. They have classes for people to learn how to speak english, how to get a job, they have a food pantry, a multitude of things.” She also said that Caritas was estimating that about 22,000 people would be participating in the Turkey Trot.
Caritas wasn’t the only group getting exposure at the event. Rob Hill is the community outreach manager for We Are Blood. He and his dog were occupying a small, silver AirStream trailer trying to raise awareness about the need for blood donations in the area. “We’re the only local source of blood for a ten-county area,” Rob said. “We’re just letting people know who we are and about the importance of blood donation. We have to get 200 donors a day in, every day of the year to meet the area’s needs.”
The race consists of two five mile runs (one timed, one untimed), a one mile walk and a Kids K. The five mile course starts on the South First bridge, winds through downtown, back down MoPac and finishes near where it started, directly in front of the Long Center. The course is similar to the popular Capitol 10K which takes place in the spring.
Another thing that sets the Turkey Trot apart is the costumes. A pair of men were standing on the slope underneath the Long Center plaza, one dressed as a turkey and the other dressed in Native American garb, political correctness be damned. Nearby was participant Diane Borne. She was dressed in traditional runner’s apparel but on her head was a large replica of a turkey in a pilgrim hat. “It’s a big family event,” she said. “You feel all this camaraderie with all these people out here. It’s a beautiful day. Why not?”
Closer to the starting line, Austinite Donna Lagow and her mother Wanda Lagow of Dayton, TX were (respectively) sporting a large slice of pie and a pair of drumsticks on their heads. “I like that it’s going to allow me to trot off my turkey in advance of eating it,” Donna said. “That way I can eat as much as two to three times as I would ordinarily.” When asked if she would be timed Donna said no. The race was going to be a run/walk situation. “It’s a walk/walk situation for me,” her mother Wanda added. “It’s a first for me. So I’m out here just doing it with my kid.”
The race finally got underway at 9:30. Racers dressed as poultry, side dishes and pilgrims held onto their costumes and started to make their way through the course. It wasn’t very long before the first few runners began to approach the finish line.
The first to cross was Allen Sumrall who finished the five mile course in 24 minutes and 32 seconds. More and more runners made their way across the finish line where they were greeted by cheers and hugs from their family. Then people started to disperse into the crystal clear morning. There were hard-earned turkey and carbs to be eaten.
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