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.