This past summer we had some friends host a triathlon on a family farm with an after party to follow. It was as much fun as we ever had at any organized event. When Thanksgiving was drawing near and we had no Turkey Trot to sign up for, my wife and I decided to host our own. Why not? The tri was a blast. Who needs all the pomp and circumstance (and registration fee) of a planned, sponsored run? I enjoy the fancy runs well enough, but we wanted something with a smaller feel - kind of like being tired of eating out and you really crave a home cooked meal.
What I love about running is the support and fellowship of the other Idiots (whether they know they're Idiots or not) putting themselves out there. Medals are fine. Bibs and chip timing are cool. Still, you don't need them to have an amazing running experience. In fact, maybe all of that is a distraction from what this stupid sport is really all about.
At first it seemed our entire run might be made up of just the two of us and one of our close friends. Still, we were so excited that we immediately started texting friends who run at any level. Delusions of grandeur quickly filled our dreams with visions of dozens of people signing up for this thing. Texts became Facebook status posts and those became an official Facebook event. The theme was simply to come join us for a run - nothing serious - let's just do this for the hell of it.
To make the route more inviting, we offered a 5k and 10k option with the entire crew running the initial 5k together. Then, the 10k runners would continue past the finish line to pick up the extra distance. Rather than repeat the 5k route a second time, the second half of the 10k was a completely new section of road. To build excitement for the run, I ran the entire course ahead of time and posted Google Earth maps with the vertical profile. At a runner's suggestion, I even gave various portions of the run goofy nicknames so we could discuss them later. I created a simple turkey logo, posted it online and asked for name suggestions.
Basically, I was trying to keep it fresh in people's minds, get them fired up, and hoped they'd invite even more people to come. To our amazement, there were people really signing up for this sucker!
The afternoon before the run I hopped on my bike and chalked the entire route. Every cross street was marked with arrows, and I put the turkey logo on all mile markers. Occasionally, the nicknamed course sections were called out or maybe some encouraging words were here and there. The point was to keep the race light and fun with no one getting lost. That night my kids got to be a part of it by coloring their own giant turkeys to hang in front of the house on race day.
Throughout the process we stressed that this was a run and not a race. It was meant to feel accessible to runners of all levels. Nothing hard core, but simply a chance to hang out and get moving on Thanksgiving Day.
On race day we set out some bananas, water, coffee, snacks and cheap beer. Temps were going to be in the 20's at the gun so we got the fire pit rolling early. We actually had around 30 people signed up for this crazy thing!
Right before we started I had everybody take an oath that stole heavily from the IRC membership oath. We swore to have fun and not take it too seriously. And just like that, we were off. There were runners that have completed Iron Man races. There were runners that were just getting started, and there was everything in between. People settled into little groups that were full of smiles and conversation. Let me be clear that not everyone was best friends here, but it didn't matter. The run gave us all something in common to get excited about.
In the end, some runners did the full 10k. Some did the 5k, and some took an occasional short cut. It was great. No one cared. No one stressed about PR's, having to wait for traffic, inadequate water stations, etc. We all just hung out together afterward, basking in the camaraderie that this dumb sport can really bring out of us.
As the PBR and Busch ran low, I just couldn't get the smile off my face. There was a new appreciation for what this running thing can do. I got a nice 10k run in the books. I saw some of my best friends and got to know a bunch of other people a whole lot more. My kids got to see their mom and dad and a crew of lunatics take off for a run in the freezing cold for no good reason at all. All of this thanks to a silly, home grown, off the record Thanksgiving Day run in a small town. There are days for PR's and leaving your guts on the road, but this wasn't one of those days. I wouldn't have had it any other way.