Perhaps the best way to describe the annual Turkey Trot in Buffalo is this: Part Halloween. Part. Mardi Gras. Part 8K road race.
The event which bills itself as the longest continuously run road race in North America (and who am I to challenge such a title) has grown enormously over the last few years. This Thanksgiving morning, 14,000 registered runners lined up on Delaware Avenue in North Buffalo to run nearly five miles into the heart of downtown. It is chaos. It is spectacle. It is something every Western New Yorker should experience at least once in his or her lifetime. I’m a firm believer in that.
In past years, the Turkey Trot has been a fun training race for me. I’ve usually started working toward my next goal race in the early spring and the 8K has served as a great training base to see where I’m at or to the push the envelope a little bit. I’ve had had my best running buddy, Sue, to guide me through the start and cheer for me at the finish.
This year, things were different.
Sue was in New York City with her new job. The pocket of friends I normally join on Thanksgiving morning has been dispersed. And my training has been consistent but not intense. I was not prepared to run fast at the Turkey Trot or attempt to challenge my PR. But then again, that was not my intention for this particular Turkey Trot. I wanted to take in the spectacle. I wanted to run in gratitude on this day — for my friends, for my family, for my health. In gratitude for all the things which make my life, well, uniquely my own and pretty darn fantastic, at least on most days of the week.
I hitched a ride to the start with my friend Tom who was running with a pair of women in their first-ever Turkey Trot. Tom had helped them prepare for the 8K and I started with them in the middle of the pack of thousands, but lost them in the first mile as I ran easy and free and attempted not to trip over and into anyone. That, my friends, is a feat worthy of celebration on its own. With my camera in hand, I tried to snap a few photos while running. I soaked in the sites. I eavesdropped on conversations. (Apparently people weren’t as hungover this year. I wonder if the NHL lockout and lack of the traditional Buffalo Sabres home game on Thanksgiving Eve was a primary contributing factor.) I moved to the side of the road up Delaware and gave out high-fives to the kids who were spectating. (Note to spectators: You can cheer for runners you do not know. It is allowed.) And I thanked every volunteer I saw for giving up their holiday morning so that I could run. (They all wished me a Happy Thanksgiving except for one volunteer who might have been Ebenezer Scrooge doing mandated community services.) Quite frankly, I had a ball.
As I turned the corner for the final quarter mile down Franklin Street, I picked up my pace and pushed. Sprinting across the finish line, I caught a glimpse of the race time. Subtract the over three minutes it took me to get to the starting line in the first place, and I was rather pleased with my result. Mostly I was pleased with my effort. There will be days when I work harder, days when I leave my comfort zone. And those are coming soon enough. But this day? Well this day was a chance to run in gratitude, to enjoy the scene, to take in the spectacle. This was a day to celebrate where I am right now and to know that this is exactly where I need to be.