We’ve come a long way from that first Thanksgiving Day race
A quick check of the USATF New Jersey website reveals that there are at least eleven races on Thanksgiving morning in the state. Back in 1982, Chester played host to a Turkey Trot and it was not a 5K. Back in the first running boom in the 1980’s, most races were 10K’s. A quick google search reveals that it was not run on Thanksgiving morning. According to my running log it was on November 14th and that was a Sunday. That makes sense since a 10K on Thanksgiving morning would keep the runners away from home for too long.
Who remembers the first turkey trot that was run on Thanksgiving morning in New Jersey?
That was the Turkey Trot in Flemington and I’d have to do some research to find out what year that was. I can tell you this though, it was timed by Woody Geary, and he used the index card system.
The what! Index cards. When you finished a race, you were handed a card with a number on it. If you finished first the card was marked 1, and if you finished second the card was marked 2, and so on and so on. While you were being handed your card, a timing machine, hand operated by an actual human was spitting out times imprinted on a tape.
If you were the first-place finisher and you crossed the finish line in 15:30, let’s say, then your time would match up with your card number 1.
All very simple. And it was easy for Geary to do. Not that many people showed up for the race that first year. People said it was folly to try to put on a road race on Thanksgiving morning. But more runners came the next year and soon Geary had to have a faster system for timing and scoring the finishers. He had to call in the pros, and now the timing company is CompuScore and no more volunteers punching into a timing machine.
Oh, thanks to my research assistant, I can tell you that the first year was in 1994 and there were 350 finishers. My assistant does not have information on 1995 but in 1996 there were 760 finishers and in 1997 there were 846. Information on 1998 is lacking, but in 1999 they had gone over 1,000. It has grown ever since.
It was bitter cold on Thanksgiving morning in 2018 in Flemington and all around the state. In 2018 CompuScore timed 3,194, but the less chilly race in 2017 had over 4,000 racers. We’ve come a long ways Woody.
The CEA/Johanna Foods Turkey Trot 5K – to use its proper name – is probably the largest Thanksgiving Day race in the state. Others draw from their own regions. But still they came, maybe not in the same numbers as a warmer year.
At least 1,459 were at the Morris Township 5K, 689 at Somerville, and 1,779 at Upper Saddle River to showcase just a few of the local races last year.
The Horace Ashenfelter 8K in Glen Ridge draws from outside its locale because it has been the state 8K championship for all divisions for some time now. In that cold of 2018, it saw 2,500 cross the finish line. At the front was Morgan Pearson of New Vernon in 24:36 and Shelby Goose of Englewood I 27:26. Masters runners were led in by Jonathan Frieder in 26:29 and Roberta Groner in 28:10.
Pre-registration deadlines are looming for all the Thanksgiving races. Time to get to it.