35th annual Turkey Trot a Thanksgiving tradition

Although New York has the Macy’s parade as its Thanksgiving tradition, Rockford held its 35th annual Rockford Road Runners’ Turkey Trot Nov. 24.

Temperatures in the teens and windy conditions didn’t deter more than 200 runners from participating in one of Rockford’s longest and least-known Thanksgiving traditions—the “guess your time,” cross country run through the fields and woods at Aldeen Park.

Race Director Phil Best said turnout this year was down a bit due to the weather, but: “We always get a great turnout for this race. Kids come home from college, and a lot of people are back in town. It’s a lot of fun!”

Best, who has been race director for the last 10 Turkey Trots, said the race usually attracts between 200 to 300 participants. Adults of all ages, and children, run and walk the difficult course, which is usually between 3 to 4 miles.

However, one year the course was as short as 2.5 miles, and another it was more than 5 miles. No one but the race planners know the exact course or distance, which changes each year. Some participants wonder if even the race planners know the length of the course.

Noted for its challenging hills and ever-changing course, the run is designed so everyone has the opportunity to win a frozen turkey prize, despite their ability level. Participants estimate their finish time before the race, with only an approximate distance given as a guide. Watches and other time-keeping devices are prohibited under threat of scorn from fellow runners.

Steve Jaycox, veteran of “many” Turkey Trots and owner of retail outlet Runner’s Image in downtown Rockford, said: “I was cold at first, before the race. But once you got going, it wasn’t too bad. Although, I could have done without the wind on top of the dam.”

Larry Swanson, another Turkey Trot veteran and Loves Park resident, estimated he completed 33 of the 35 Turkey Trots. Swanson said the two he didn’t run were years when he was race director in the early 1980s.

Swanson said of the race: “What a great way to start your Thanksgiving. I really liked this year’s course.”

Jaycox agreed with Swanson’s quality assessment of this year’s course, which didn’t have as many loops and turns as courses in previous years. However, Jaycox thought the approximate 3-mile course was slightly short of that distance. Swanson disagreed. He thought the course was long.

Turkey Trot newcomer Rhonda White said before the race: “This is my first time. I’m out here because I’m trying to exercise more and eat less.”

She was last seen completing the first of two loops through the park. Like many other participants, she planned to run and walk the course. No word on if she plans to participate next year.

However, Swanson and Jaycox look forward to running in next year’s Turkey Trot.

From the Nov. 30-Dec. 6, 2005, issue

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