It's Sacramento's largest group exercise event, a chance for thousands to take to the streets for a charitable cause before piling on the calories.
A crowd estimated at more than 27,000 runners, walkers and stroller-pushers traveled the streets of east Sacramento on Thursday for the 19th annual Run to Feed the Hungry. The race – perhaps the largest Thanksgiving run in the country – raised close to $900,000 for the Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services.
As usual, the race field included a colorful mix of serious athletes in skimpy racing attire, mothers and fathers lugging strollers and more than a couple guys dressed as turkeys. Many said they have turned the race into an annual family tradition.
Probably the fittest family on the course this day was the Mickle clan. Olivia Mickle, 21, was the top female runner in the 10-kilometer race, finishing just a shade above 35 minutes. She ran most of the race with her dad, Iain, who eased off near the finish to let his daughter break the tape alone in the spotlight.
A Loretto High School grad, Olivia Mickle is a senior on the cross country and track teams at Brown University, where she holds the school's record in the 10K. But she said the Run to Feed the Hungry was particularly memorable because of the company.
"I don't get to run in Sacramento much, and to come here and run with my dad was special," she said.
And her dad, a local attorney and top masters runner?
"What a thrill it was to run with my daughter and have her win," he said. "What a great way to start Thanksgiving."
The Skarpaas family of Redwood City made the trip for the first time. They weren't quite as competitive, stopping at one point along the course for a doughnut given to them by a spectator. Then, with about 100 yards to go, little Knut Skarpaas, 3, hopped out of his stroller and ran the rest of the way.
"This is such a nice thing for families," said his dad, whose name is also Knut.
Blake Young, the president and chief executive officer of the food bank, said most of the race participants competed in the shorter 5-kilometer course – and most of those are walkers.
The overall field also included large organized groups – 500 from a Wells Fargo team and 500 parents, teachers and students from St. Francis High School – and was guided by an army of 650 volunteers.
The event is by far the food bank's largest fundraiser, accounting for about 18 percent of the organization's budget. The money helps provide food, workforce development programs and healthy eating classes for 20,000 families every month.
The race started in 1994 with about 700 runners. It has grown steadily over the years into one of the region's biggest traditions.
"The sense of community and the compassion you see out here is humbling," Young said.
That compassion is often sprinkled with humor. Take Jake Kelly-Strong and his buddy, Alex Nelson. Kelly-Strong was in a full turkey costume, and Nelson played the part of a running Pilgrim.
"There are so many people out here having a good time," Nelson said. "We just wanted to add a little something."