With kooky turkey hats, feathered headdresses and even canines running in tandem with their masters, the 35th annual Pequot Runners Thanksgiving Day "Turkey Trot" Road Race once again served as a great way to work up a holiday appetite early Thursday.
From elite runners to casual walkers, there was an overall field of more than 5,500 entrants, according to Jeff Palmer, the race director, of which 4,800 signed up to run the Turkey Trot's 5-mile course while the rest chose the 2.7-mile fitness walk.
Palmer suggested, with a grin, that all who registered may not have reported for the 8:15 a.m. race as, the previous night, Thanksgiving Eve, is a popular night for celebrating on the town. But the field was still one of the largest in the race's history, in large part due to the spectacular weather, which was "about as best as we can hope," said Palmer.
Indeed, skies Thursday morning were bright blue, temperatures topped 50 degrees and the road was dry.
"We're blessed in terms of what we've been through," added Palmer, with reference to Hurricane Sandy, which tore through coastal areas Oct. 29, leaving many local neighborhoods in ruins and scores of residents still struggling to get back on their feet.
But entire families turned out for the festive event, along with college students home on break, school running club teammates, Pequot Runners Club members, packs of friends, office pals and others. Among them were top area runners Henry Wynne, from Staples High School, who just won the New England Regionals a couple of weeks ago; Kyle Smitts from Seattle, and Master's runner and five-time Turkey Trot winner Tom Harding.
"Cameron Marantz, who won last year and two years ago, was hoping to run," said Palmer, "but he ran a race a few weeks ago and developed a stress fracture."
While Palmer was sorry to Marantz was not in the field, he was pleased to see many other familiar faces, especially those who participated as youngsters and are now parents who brought along their own children. "It's amazing how many keep coming back. This is really a great tradition and race for families," he said.
Elite women's runner Anne Johnston of Darien was an example of Palmer's point about the family appeal of the different generations of a family. She ran in the race with her father, Bob, who had encouraged her to join him. "This is really exciting, with a lot of energy," she said, "and what a great way to celebrate the holiday."
The Turkey Trot had its share of notable personalities joining in, too. Westport artist Miggs Burroughs was in the field, while Westport Historical Society Executive Director Susan Gold was "cheerleading" with Mike Falkenstein. Perhaps the most colorful character in the crowd though, was "Mulligan Flynn," the canine companion to Police Commissioner Walter Flynn. The bulldog had a plush turkey toy riding on its back.
"He's happy to be making his annual appearance," said Flynn, leading Mulligan to the start line.
Ultimately, it was Fairfield's Matthew Kane, 22, who "broke the tape" first, with a time of 25:23 minutes, while Kristen Henehan, 33, of Kensington, Md., took top honors among women, with a time of 29:50.