A Thanksgiving tradition

Runners numbering over 400 flocked to downtown La Porte on Thanksgiving morning for the annual Turkey Trot 5K run.

The Turkey Trot is a cultural phenomenon situated cozily between the antics of Black Out Wednesday and the gatherings of Thanksgiving.

Last Thursday, Michigan Avenue was filled with life as runners and walkers alike came together to participate in what very well could be the healthiest activity of the day.

An hour before the race, music was blaring between City Hall and the YMCA as early birds began lining up to collect their bibs. Families were pouring in by the droves equipped with plenty of coffee and their dogs. I’m not entirely sure if race organizers had a canine target audience, but that sure seemed to be the case as I counted at least a dozen.

The holidays certainly bring people together, yet I was still pleasantly surprised by the familiar faces that I saw throughout that quintessential Thanksgiving morning, complete with a comfortable chill and an overcast sky. People that I’ve interviewed over the months came up to me exchanging pleasantries, along with more than a few co-workers, acquaintances and longtime friends.

It was The Trot’s most successful year in terms of participants, bringing out nearly 400 people, which is great news for the benefactors of the event. The La Porte Educational Development, which puts on the event, is a community volunteer organization that provides classroom grants to teachers in the La Porte Community School Corporation. The mission is to "Energize Education.”

Moments before the start of the race, I found my buddy Damon Gasaway and asked him to take a picture of something meaningful to capture the essence of the event. A tall order for a professional photographer, let alone a man who was covering for me because my phone was dead. He handed his phone off to his son, Adam, who finished first in the 20-29 age group, and he went with simplicity for the shot.

He held the camera above his head and blindly took a picture which perfectly captured a microcosm of the event. Families decked out in turkey costumes, babies being held by their soon-to-be sweaty fathers, mothers pushing strollers, and the rest of the clientele in running attire breathing out puffs of steam into the festive atmosphere.

The start of the run had participants funneling through the starting arch, and it was off to the races after that. For me, a usual slow start never really evolved into a comfortable stride that was going to win any awards. Maybe it was those antics from the night before bogging me down, or maybe the sense of urgency that drives faster runs was dissipated by the joyous feeling I felt from being around nearly 400 amazing people and their supporters.

Nonetheless, the front of the pack and I didn’t spend much time together. Dakota Merkel, a 21-year old La Porte cross country/track alum, won the race by a comfortable margin finishing a few seconds north of the 17-minute mark. Sarah Caudill from Fishers was the first-place female finisher with a strong sub-seven-minute pace. A load of Slicers athletes were peppered in the mix as well.

Hayden Lowe, a stand-out local athlete and a kid I used to coach, turned to me at the start of the race and told me he was going to run with me. Not even a block in, he left me in the dust to join the top 20, just in front one of my current wrestlers from La Porte Middle School, Jackson Hague, who finished first in the 14-and under age group. Instead of kicking myself for letting these youngsters best me, I will chalk it up to good coaching which allowed them to flourish as runners that day.

It was certainly not a morning where any personal records were set by this guy or any of my companions from the Maple City Milers. In fact, it was one of the slowest races of the year for me personally. But it’s OK though. The axiom holds true that if you run a 5K on Thanksgiving morning, you get the green light to allow feelings of accomplishment to override any lapse in performance or overindulgence the day might throw at you.

Not to mention, I got a pretty sweet T-shirt, too.

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