A Toast to the Turkey Trotters

Sharing Reflections on the 86th running of the Manchester Road Race

Well, Thanksgiving came and went, and the running community celebrated another round of the fabled Turkey Trot – a short Thanksgiving morning frippery designed for family fun, usually with some costume silliness.

Now I’m sure that a lot of non-runner folks assume that this is a great way to “pre-burn” off the Thanksgiving feast, but lets be real here. Most of us won’t burn more than 500-800 calories and a typical Thankgiving dinner clocks in at a baseline 1,500 calories and goes up from there. Anyway, it’s the thought that counts. If you’re lucky enough to be able to get away on Thanksgiving morning, what a great way to start off the day.

Credit: John Leonard

I am extra lucky, because I live in a town that hosts one of the biggest Thanksgiving Day races in the country. A bit more than your typical Turkey Trot, the Manchester (CT) Road Race is a 4.748 mile spectacle / tailgate party / costume ball that has been running for 86 years and had more than 10,000 registered runners this year.

It’s a sacred tradition in this town that starts at 10:00 sharp to the cry of “This is Thanksgiving in Manchester!” Main Street is lined with spectators and restaurants open early for take-out sandwiches and beverages. Although there are police everywhere, they look the other way when people are walking down the street with a beer, mimosa, or bloody Mary at 9:00 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning. It’s all part of the atmosphere.

It feels like a big deal – the race is televised and there’s a fairly competitive costume contest. Thanksgiving and Christmas-themed costumes are pretty common, but we can also count on the local body builders to show up in body paint in ANY weather contitions – and everyone is excited to catch a glimpse of the golden gods running in a pack. I did see them but wan’t quick enough to grab a pic. Maybe next year.

There are lots of serious runners, too. We are often joined by Olympians and Olympic hopefuls. There’s prize money for the winners and the “King and Queen of the Hill”. What is this hill, you ask? Well on any other day of the year it’s just Charter Oak Street, but on Thanksgiving day, it becomes “Hearbreak Hill”. It’s the long slow grind between mile 1 and 2 that just never seems to end, and has broken many a spirit. Just when you think you’re done, there’s more, and the steepest little insult is at the very top.

Also at the top of the hill is our local super hero, Safety Man. This secret-identity masked crusader stands at the top of the hill with his whistle, making sure everyone slows down and stays safe. Safety Man maintains his post every year without fail, but who he is, we’ll never know.

I managed to snag a selfie with Safety Man before the race started.

This year it was chilly but not too cold, and we were blessed with bright sunshine. The jolly crowd of runners made its way past the largest group of spectators I’ve ever seen in the 10 or so times I’ve run the course. With the exception of Main Street, the entire race goes through neighborhoods. Everyone who lives along the course shuffles out to the street with coffee or cocktails. Some up the game and set up music or a live band performance in their driveway. This year there was so much music, the bands were frequently overlapping. There’s no hiding from this race if you live along the course — best to just embrace it! The course was typically slow as we passed The Hungry Tiger at the base of Heartbreak Hill. This year the crowd was armed with super soakers full of rum. Lucky runners might have managed a quick shot if the timing was right, but by the smell of things, I suspect most of it ended up on the pavement.

When all is said and done, a good time was had by all. Thousands of dollars were raised for charities, and 364 pints of blood were donated at the race’s blood drive held the next day. Such a worthwhile event for everyone!

I did learn one important lesson, though. DO not attempt an 18-mi long run the day after you donate blood. It won’t be pretty, I promise.

Wine & Dine Weekend 2022 Wrap-Up

Phew! The dust has settled, hopefully all the travelers have made it home safely, so let’s recap the weekend that was Wine & Dine. As with anything, there were highs and lows, I’ll try to cover everything I saw here, but as always, drop a comment if I missed something.


The Best

The start line: For me the best part of any race weekend is the party atmosphere at the start line. It’s a big costume ball with sneakers, and boy were there some great costumes! Carissa and Riley were there, providing the hype and fireworks blasted each wave across the start line. It was so great to be back in person.


The Worst

Half Marathon: The entire Half Marathon experience was pretty much the worst this weekend. It started with really high humidity and some light rain, and just went downhill from there. The new course they tried out was narrow and filled with soul-crushing highway miles towards the end. I got the worst corral placement possible. Stuck in the back, there were more walkers than runners and more bottlenecks than stretches where I could actually run at the pace I wanted. There was also a disappointing lack of etiquette on the course. Walkers spread out across the entire path making passing impossible, but in their defense, there really wasn’t any “right” for them to move to. With humidity climbing and paces slowing, it was pretty much 13.1 miles of prolonged frustration.


The OK-est

Afterparty: The afterparty was the busiest I can remember seeing Epcot. At least at the start of the evening, lines for everything were pretty long. Since party-goers were welcomed to the park at 5 pm and day guests didn’t leave until 9 pm, there was a lot of overlap. I heard that things opened up after 10 pm, but after 3 days of being up at 2:30 am, I didn’t make it that far. I did try a couple of delicious Festival foods – the French fry flight and the pork lettuce wraps, but I called it a night early since I needed to catch a plane in the morning. I was going to try to get on Guardians of the Galaxy, but the line stretched out to the Creations shop when they opened it, and my sore feet weren’t having it.

Virtual Queue: To try to manage crowd flow, runDisney utilized a vitrual queue for race merch shopping. To join the queue, you needed to be geographically within 45 miles of Wide World of Sports. This ended up throwing a monkey wrench in a lot of peoples’ days, especially those who live locally. It wasn’t horrible, but I heard many cases of people waiting at least 2 hours for their groups to be called.


Brushes with Greatness

I was lucky enough to catch up with two of my heroes! Puppet Runner (+Remy) and Jeff Galloway, who inspired me through the last quarter-mile and got me across the finish line.

I also connected with a number of people I know from Facebook groups and Instagram. So much fun to see meet these amazing comerades.


Achievements Unlocked

Going in to the weekend I really had 2 goals:

  1. Don’t get swept
  2. Stop at some character stops to get some pics.

I’ve always been so terrified of the Balloon Ladies that I have never dared stop. I was determined this time to get some pics with characters… but I have to be completely honest, it almost sank me during the 5K! As I mentioned earlier I started in the back. There were 3 character stops in Epcot. Olaf was hanging out in Norway and the line was ridiculous so I kept moving. Remy and Emile were posted in France and I figured it was now or never. If I waited for the perfect moment I would end up empty-handed again so I got in line and waited. And waited. Then the characters went on break. And I waited. Finally they returned and the line started moving again and I got my first treasuered character pic. That’s when I realized ALL the runners had passed. I saw one person hobbling by on crutches, and after that, it looked like the staff was wrapping up. That’s when I kicked it into high gear and went straight for the finish. (Not last!)

I was still struggling with time, but I did manage to grab a few over the course of the weekend:


And Some Final Thoughts on Costumes

So this was the first time I went all-in on costumes. I’m not crafty or rich, so this was a bit of a stretch for me. Running with a friend, we decided to do couples costumes. They worked, although maybe not to the degree I hoped they would. The biggest issue was my selection of a full-body polyester cat costume. Unfortunately it was the longest race, the hottest race, and it was raining at the start line. Mr. Mittens made it 3 miles before I had to start removing pieces. It was a matter of survival. Oh well. I was very cute for the one pic I took in the hotel room.

And in the end, a good time was had by all. I’d love to see your costumes, too! Find me on Instagram @disneyparkrunner and show me what you’ve got!