Wearing everything from turkey costumes to race singlets, a record crowd filled the streets of East Sacramento on Thursday morning in the 23rd edition of the Run to Feed the Hungry.
Event organizers said 29,002 runners and walkers took part in what is believed to be the largest Thanksgiving Day foot race in the nation. That total surpassed last year’s crowd by more than 300 participants.
Some attributed the record crowd to the weather: While the morning started off chilly, race time temperatures were in the low 40s, with clear, sunny skies warming the crowd. Others said racers were drawn to the annual event by a desire to help those in need.
“There’s a lot of enthusiasm in the air this year,” said Blake Young, the president and chief executive officer of Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services, which organizes the race. “Clearly, people are finding value in what we’re doing. It just shows us how generous this community is.”
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The race raises money for Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services, which provides food, clothing and services to more than 135,000 men, women and children each month. Past events have generated roughly $1 million for the nonprofit. That fundraising provides roughly 20 percent of the Food Bank’s annual budget.
Long before the race started, enough runners and walkers to fill Golden 1 Center and Bonney Field – combined – began gathering near the J Street entrance of California State University, Sacramento. Some sipped sports drinks, but more drank coffee. There were serious athletes from area running clubs and weekend warriors hoping to burn some calories before the day’s feast.
The 10K race was won by Nicholas Spector of Sonoma, who crossed the finish line in 31 minutes, 22 seconds. The top female runner was Lindsay Tollefson of Mammoth Lakes.
At the other end of the spectrum were crews of 5K runners and walkers, some walking dogs or pushing strollers. They made up the majority of what was essentially a moving party through the streets of East Sacramento, where live bands and supporters sipped mimosas along the course.
Many runners said this year’s event brought a welcome jolt of joy in a time of much animosity.
“It’s so much fun to see everyone happy,” said Pam Gibson, walking with her group to the start of the 5K race.
“We need happiness!” added Laura Burriss.
Gibson, Burriss and their friends were at the back of the pack. But they didn’t seem worried. They were having too much fun joking about their turkey hats while poking fun at the newbie of the group, Brandon Pinckney, who was forced to wear a stuffed chicken on his head for his first Run to Feed the Hungry.
Lindsey Wilson was in full turkey garb. But the food bank staffer wasn’t running.
“I’m just here to clap and pose for a lot of photos,” she said between selfies.
If the race had a division for those running in full costumes, Mark Reynolds might have been the winner. The Kansas City-area resident was visiting family in Sacramento. He’d run the 5K Run to the Feed Hungry in a full turkey costume before, but took it up a notch this year with the 10K.
“It’s nice and warm at the start,” he said, “but it gets pretty toasty by the end.”
Clearly, Kenny and Dominic Young were comfortable by the end of the 10K race. They were both fast asleep in the stroller pushed by their mom, Rachel Young, who finished in just under 54 minutes.
“They loved it,” Young said. “It’s hard pushing them – it’s not easy.”
Her husband, Rick, agreed. Despite not having a stroller to push, he finished three minutes after his wife.
This was Rachel Young’s eighth time doing Run to Feed the Hungry. She plans to keep coming back and involving Kenny, 2, and Dominic, 10 months.
“We’ve got to keep the family tradition going,” she said.