Friday, November 24, 2000

The St. Pete Times Turkey Trot 10K

The St. Pete Times Turkey Trot 10K was my first 10K race. The first year I ran it was in 1982. My older brother Jim had gotten me into running some road races. It was around this time that I read Jim Fixx's The Complete Book of Running, and got into road racing. My brother was competitive and he and his buddies ran this race for time. His efforts got me to try to run this race the best that I could.

The St. Pete Times Turkey Trot has a 1 mile walking event, a 5K run and a 10K run. When I was first running this event, 10K events were all the rage. Today, 5K races are the most common racing events and the 5K crowd has eclipsed the 10K crowd at the Turkey Trot. But for me, the 10K event was and always will be the main event. Part of the charm of this event is that it is staged from Jack Russell Stadium, my old high school football stadium where I once played football and did the pole vault during track season. The races start a half mile away on Keene Road, a large 5 lane road that has plenty of room for a large race start. The 5 lane straight road goes for almost 3 miles before turning off smaller 2 lane side streets through neighborhoods for the second half of the race as runners space out according to their pace. The race then finished back at Clearwater High School, with the last stretch of around a 100 yards on the staduim track.

The Keene Road stretch was exciting in part because the road has some early rolling hills. Thus, as the large crowd of several thousand runners takes off, you can see the leaders take off down the road ahead of you and watch the crowd of slightly faster runners funnel back to the main body of runners. A cool look and one that gets your dogs running. It is on this course that I learned my tendancy to go out too hard early in a race.

The other nice thing about the Keene Road section of the course is that it goes right by the old neighborhood where I grew up. Every year until recently, my parents would walk out to the corner of Keene road and Nursery Road and cheer us on as my brothers and I ran by. They would take our pictures and we would wave and shout greetings to each other.

My parents take a picture of me and brother Dave at the 2004 Turkey Trot

While there is a super large turn out for this race and the Keene Road section is eye catching from a runners perspective, this is not what I consider a pretty course. It is run through typical Florida neighborhoods lined with fences and ficus hedges. In fact it is from comparisons of this mundane "anywhere in the world" neighborhood look from which I adopted my motto/advice regarding running: Run in Beautiful Places. While I will always cherish this race the way you might cherish your first kiss, it is not a beautiful course. Not ugly, but nothing to write home about either.

The tee shirts for this event fall in a similar category. We would always proudly wear our Turkey Trot Tee shirts that afternoon wherever my family was gathering for our Thanksgiving meal, usually managing to get an extra shirt to my father. We felt wearing the shirt was a badge of honor. We had run the Turkey Trot that morning and had earned our right to over-eat at Thanksgiving Dinner. The other reason we wore the shirts that day is they were invariably the ugliest running shirts you ever saw. Being a Thanksgiving race, the logo always involved a picture of a large turkey in some running pose. Invariably, the color was some florescent green, yellow or orange. You had better wear it that day, because you wouldn't be caught dead in the thing any other day of the year. You might wear it to cut the lawn or paint the house, but that was it. It was from these race tees that I judge all other race tee shirts. If they are of the caliber of the Turkey Trot tee shirts, I've sometimes just passed on taking the shirt. However, the Turkey Trot shirts had their place of honor on Thanksgiving day.

I would do the Times Turkey trot on and off over my years in law school and later as I returned with my wife Salome to visit my family for Thanksgiving. During my years after law school, I ran mostly as a fitness runner and would only do the Turkey Trot every other year or so.

When my brother Jim died of esophageal cancer in the summer of 1995, my brother Dave and I decided to run it as a tribute to our fallen brother. Thereafter, we both ran it for the next 10 years. During our annual get togethers, bother Dave and I would talk about how it would be cool to one day run a marathon. However, neither of us took serious steps toward the goal. It was like when we were kids and would have fantasy talks about what we would like to become one day. It would be cool to be a race car driver or an astronaut. The marathon talk fit that same wistful thinking. Yeah, it would be cool to run a marathon some day. Only through other means would I ultimately be coaxed into a serious commitment to the marathon.

Brother Dave would fall out of shape and have to gear up in the fall to get ready for the Turkey Trot. My wife Salome started running the 5K event and eventually worked her way up to the 10K main event. She would typically come in behind both of us, with me coming in first. One year brother Dave got really out of shape and added some real weight. The dude had gotten down right hefty. However, he managed to get into minimal running condition. At about mile 4, Salome passes Dave for the first time ever in a road race. She thought he was clowning around with her, but soon realized he was simply out of shape. This was the low point for my brother.

As he heard I was training for a marathon in 2002, he decided it was time to get in shape. I think he was afraid we would do the marathon experience without him and he would totally miss out. Thus, he started training regularly. He and I ran the Gaspirilla 15K that January and he ran his first marathon on February 2, 2003. After that, both he and his wife, Dianna got into shape and started getting into road racing.

For the next year, I was still faster than Dave. The thing you must know about my younger brother is that whatever I've gotten into as we were growing up, Dave would come along and do that same thing, only better than me. I was a good chess player, he came along and worked so hard at it that he became a near master. I could no longer sit down with the guy. He studied and knew classic moves from reading chess books. I went out for football in high school; he comes along years later to be a much better player than me. Now, with running, he started closing in on me. Dave started running races every weekend. He started running races on the weekend and during the week. His times were getting faster and faster.

I think it was Thanksgiving 2003 that Dave finally beat me in the Turkey Trot. I had gone out hard and had dropped him at the 1 mile mark. He kept at it. With about a half mile to go, he sees me up ahead of him. I have no idea where he is. He keeps reeling me in as we approach the track for the last 100 yards. I guy to my right side tries to kick past me. I turn my head right to keep an eye on him as I pick up pace to keep him from edging me at the line. Dave take that moment to kick hard past me on my left. I never see him pass. As I work my way down the finish shoot, he stands there to greet me. "Where the heck did you come from?" I ask. He smiles a Cheshire Cat smile at me as he tells me about his passing me on the left.

The next year, Dave continues to improve and is the first of us to run sub 45 for the 10K. I get a PR coming in 46 minutes. Dave has surpassed most of my records since, except I still own the marathon record. I'm sure if he reads this post, that record will fall in the next couple of years. But I've come to accept that my records are a mark for a younger brother always trying to prove his worth to me. I love him as a brother and as a running buddy. I don't begrudge his need to try to surpass whatever mark I make. Those markers mean much more to him than they do to me. I run for the joy of running.

P.S. After completing the 10 year streak of running the Turkey Trot in memory of my deceased older brother, I took the family to New York City to see the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. In part, the trip was a planned break of the streak. After 10 years, how many years do you go for? 15? 20? 25? I really don't want to think about it. While this race will always hold a special place in my heart for several reasons, I don't want do running streaks. I've decided that there are just too many beautiful places to run. Running steaks can crowd out your events calender if you let them.

Brother Dave continues the Turkey Trot streak at age 45 with the streak at 14. He had a tough year last year coming off of a divorce. I was not in town and his family who usually ran one of the events with him were absent. I've run an event solo before and I relate to his expression that it was a weird felling to be running in a large group with no one to relate to or gather with at the start or finish. He ran it anyway as an act of redemption and was glad he did. Unlike me, I think he'll keep running the Turkey Trot until he can't run anymore. I hope his streak reaches 50.