Record field takes part in Sacramento’s 20th Run to Feed the Hungry

The nation’s largest Thanksgiving Day race just keeps getting bigger.

A record crowd of serious runners, stroller pushers and costume wearers took to the streets of east Sacramento on Thursday morning for the 20th annual Run to Feed the Hungry.

Race officials said 28,508 runners took part in either the 10-kilometer or 5-kilometer races, surpassing the previous record of 28,364 set in 2009.

Clear skies and relatively warm weather contributed to the large crowd. In addition to the runners, an army of 650 volunteers arrived at the starting area before dawn to organize an event that continues to be a tradition for hundreds of Sacramento families.

“I can’t say enough about how seriously people take the family tradition of the race, but also what it represents in helping folks,” said Blake Young, the president and chief executive officer of the Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services.

The race generated close to $900,000 in donations for the food bank, representing 20 percent of the organization’s annual budget. That money will fund a wide range of services, including providing food grown at local farms to families in need, and job-skills programs for young adults. The food bank also runs after-school programs for children and conducts nutrition classes for seniors.

Earlier this week, the food bank collected more than 7,400 turkeys that were distributed to families.

Roughly 85 percent of the food bank’s budget is generated by private donations. Those gifts have increased slightly this year after a stretch of tough years brought on by the recession.

At the same time, Young said the food bank is helping more and more people seeking services for the first time. Every month, about 25,000 individuals take part in one of the organization’s programs or services.

“We’ve never seen it like this,” Young said.

The foundation of those services is the Run to Feed the Hungry, a mobile celebration that begins and ends near the entrance to California State University, Sacramento.

“The crowds are amazing. We wouldn’t miss it,” said Veronica Janecek of El Dorado Hills, whose family has taken part in the race for several years. This time, the family sported matching turkey hats, part of an eclectic crowd that included some interesting wardrobe decisions.

Ethan Bloom, 24, went even farther. The Portland, Ore., resident dressed in a head-to-toe turkey costume.

“My friends dared me,” he said. “Plus, they paid for it.”

It was a similar scene in Elk Grove – although on a smaller scale – where a record crowd of around 1,300 runners took part in the fifth running of the Elk Grove Turkey Trot.

The race raised money for Courage Worldwide, which rescues children from sex trafficking. Proceeds also went to the Elk Grove Food Bank and Runnin’ for Rhett, which helps support youth fitness programs in Sacramento-area schools.

“We had it all,” said race director Rebecca Gordon, noting the field also had its share of turkey costumes. “And the weather was perfect. I’m going home with a sunburn.”

The perfect running conditions helped push an elite field to some blazing times through the tree-lined streets of east Sacramento.

The women’s winner of the 10-kilometer race was Elisa Karhu, a UC Berkeley senior who recently qualified for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, and who finished Thursday in 35 minutes. And the men’s winner was Max King, a Bend, Ore., resident who was in town visiting his father in Elk Grove.

King also won the race in 2011, although Thursday’s win was more decisive. He crossed the line in 30 minutes, 17 seconds – that’s 4 minutes, 53 seconds per mile – a good 90 seconds ahead of second place. The Run to Feed the Hungry is a great event for top-notch runners looking to support a good cause, King said.

“It’s a perfect course,” he said.