Schenectady County

Distance before dinner: Thanksgiving morning races popular as ever

Running in Thanksgiving morning road races has become as much a tradition as mushroom gravy for the
Nearly 4,000 runners participated in last year's Christopher Dailey Turkey Trot in Saratoga Springs. Runners are shown before the start of the race.
Nearly 4,000 runners participated in last year's Christopher Dailey Turkey Trot in Saratoga Springs. Runners are shown before the start of the race.

People always have things to do Thanksgiving morning.

The turkey is baking by 7 a.m. Potatoes are mashed and buttered into the Crockpot by 9.

The kitchen floor gets a quick mop and glow by 10 a.m. — just in time for opening notes and floats of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV.

At 12:30 p.m., the Detroit Lions start their annual Thanksgiving Day exercises. And this year, with the Minnesota Vikings in town and both teams enjoying some success, the game — for once — means something.

Tom Catena, an Amsterdam native and doctor in Sudan, speaks to runners before the start of the first Thanks4giving Run for Charity in Amsterdam last year. (Jeff Wilkin photo)

For many other people, top priorities include lacing sneakers, dressing in layers and hitting the road by 7 a.m. Running in Thanksgiving morning road races has become as much a tradition as mushroom gravy for the dressing and second helpings of pumpkin pie.

“For Schenectady, this race is such a community-fueled event,” said Kristen Adach, manager of community engagement and special events for the Foundation for Ellis Medicine, which runs the Ellis Hospital Cardiac Classic in Central Park. “A couple years ago we had a massive snowstorm and we still drew 1,700 runners. People like to come out and give back to the community. All the money is supporting the Wright Heart Center at the Ellis Cardiac Care Center.”

The 35th renewal of the Cardiac Classic is one of several athletic appetizers before people sit down to the all-star dinner. Among other races:

• The Troy Turkey Trot, which traces its roots to 1916 and has been run continuously every year since 1964.

• The second Thanks4giving Run for Charity in Amsterdam.

• The St. George’s Turkey Trot in Clifton Park.

• The Our Towne Bethlehem Turkey Trot in Delmar.

• The 15th Annual Christopher Dailey Turkey Trot in Saratoga Springs.

• Cohoes 53rd annual Turkey Trot.

Races on the last Thursday of the month are held all over the country. There’s the Feaster Five road race in Andover, Massachusetts, the Fast Before the Feast in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, the Buffalo Niagara YMCA Turkey Trot in Buffalo. The latter race, which started in 1896, is the oldest consecutively run foot race in North America.

Runners keep signing up. According to the web site “Running USA,” more than 780,000 people in the U.S. finished a Thanksgiving Day race in 2014, compared to the 678,000 who laced up on Thanksgiving in 2011.

Part of the fun is dressing in costumes. Another part is pitching in to help: Funds raised in some races support food pantries and community funds. In Amsterdam, the money helps native son Tom Catena, a doctor in the Sudan, continue his work at an understaffed hospital.

Adach and other race directors know the top reason people wait for the starter’s horn on Thanksgiving. They know a big meal is ahead, and seconds on salads, steamed carrots and squash are often parts of meal plans. Burning calories early in the day makes them feel better about big plates later in the afternoon.

Family tradition

The Schenectady race was founded by Dr. William Vacca, a runner and cardiac doctor at the former St. Clare’s Hospital, in 1981. Ninety people showed up for the first race; William Fennicks and Brian Forget were part of the 1981 management.

Both men believe tradition keeps people coming back. For many people, it’s a family tradition. Whole families participate.

“People say, ‘I haven’t seen you since last Thanksgiving!’ and ‘Hey, it’s good to see you,’ ” said Forget, director of support services at Ellis Medicine. “It takes the guilt out of eating a Thanksgiving dinner. I hear it a thousand times, ‘I can eat what I want, no guilt.’ ”

Fennicks, manager of engineering at Bellevue Women’s Hospital and the McClellan Health Center, believes the relatively small size of the Cardiac Classic works in its favor. “Here, it’s a couple thousand,” he said. “Everybody can see each other and greet each other.”

Adach is always in Central Park by 6 a.m., ready to sign in volunteers who arrive at 7:30 a.m. Once the running is over, people don’t stick around.

“You’re in, you’re out and you’re good to go home,” Adach said. “I’m usually home by 11 o’clock.”

Huge turnout

The Troy Turkey Trot always gets numbers. This year, athletes will get an extra helping of history.

“It’s been around since 1916, “ said director George Regan. “This is the 100th anniversary. It’s the 11th largest Turkey Day race, the 12th oldest road race in the country and it’s tied for 64th in the world. It has a lot of history and tradition to it, for sure.”

This week will bring the 69th running. The Troy gathering was not held during some years in the 1930s and did not start during World War II and Korean War years. It has been run continuously since 1964.

Regan said the 1917 race was called the “Bald Mountain Marathon,” and started from Brunswick. Seven runners covered 6.6 miles and finished in downtown Troy. Regan said the race attracted 25,000 spectators.

Regan expects about 8,000 runners. Many are making the exercise part of their Thanksgiving weekends, as people from 37 states have already signed up.

“I think we’re going to have more,” Regan said, adding that some categories cater to families. There are husband-wife, father-son, brother-brother and sister-sister team-ups. “We try to support that side of the event,” Regan added. “In doing so, we have things like costumed contests. It’s more of a fun event for the community.”

Regan knows about the other race options, and he thinks they’re great for the whole Thanksgiving and exercise theme. He also thinks a lot of people like to sign up for the original, and they’re the runners who don’t mind a crowd, people who want to participate in a larger-than-life event.

“I think it’s a great thing,” he said of the choices. “The more the merrier.”

Amsterdam run

In Amsterdam, the second Thanks4giving Run for Charity will be held at Shuttleworth Park. Last year, the idea was to raise funds for Amsterdam native Catena, the sole doctor in the war-ravaged Nuba Mountains in the Sudan.

This year, the idea’s the same.

“Last year, it was overwhelming,” said Robin Sise, one of the directors. “I thought we’d get a couple hundred, we ended up with over 700. We thought we’d raise a few thousand and we ended up raising over $40,000. Amsterdam came out strong to support Dr. Catena and his work in the Nuba Mountains.”

Sise said Amsterdam had never had a Thanksgiving race. Runners who needed to stretch and stride on Thanksgiving always went to the Cardiac Classic or the Troy Turkey Trot. The city’s own race kept people closer to home and let them do a good deed with their wallets, check books and credit cards.

“It’s sort of a nice way for the community to come together,” Sise said. “It’s a fun event to talk a walk or take a run before you sit down for the big dinner.

“It’s a really small community with a big heart,” Sise said of Amsterdam. “People just came out in droves to support Dr. Catena. We didn’t do any advertising; it was all word of mouth.”

About 300 people have so far signed up for this year’s edition. Sise said people can register all week, even on race day.

Thanksgiving morning lineup of races

Among this year’s Thanksgiving Morning running races in the Capital Region are:

Amsterdam Thanks4Giving Run for Charity

Thursday, Shuttleworth Park, 65 Crescent Ave., Amsterdam

Races: One-mile walk, 9 a.m.

5K run, 9:30 a.m.

Registration at Price is $17 until Thursday morning.

Cohoes 53rd annual Turkey Trot

Thursday, Cohoes City Hall

Races: kids’ races, 8:30 a.m.

3.5-mile run/walk, 9:30 a.m.

Register online at

Online registration ends Monday at 8 a.m. Day of race registration is available.

15th Annual Christopher Dailey Turkey Trot

Thursday, Saratoga Springs City Hall, Saratoga Springs

Race: 5K road race, 8:30 a.m.

Advance registration only ($25).

Register online at Online registration closes at 12 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 22.

Register in person Wednesday between 4 and 8 p.m. at the Saratoga Hilton Hotel.

Foundation for Ellis Medicine’s Cardiac Classic

Thursday, Central Park, Schenectady

Races: Two-mile Wellness Walk, 8 a.m.

5K road race (runners only), 9 a.m.

One-mile duck pond fun run, 10 a.m.


Our Towne Bethlehem Turkey Trot

Thursday, Bethlehem Middle School, 332 Kenwood Ave., Delmar.

Races: 5K run, 9 a.m.

Walk, 9:10 a.m.

Registration ($30) at Kids 10 and under are free.

St. George’s 5th Annual Turkey Trot, Antonio “Tony” Lauria Memorial 5K

Thursday, 912 Route 146, Clifton Park

Race: 5K run, 8 a.m.


Troy Turkey Trot

Thursday, Fourth and Fulton Streets, Troy.

Races: 10K race, 8 a.m.

Grade School Mile, 9:30 a.m.

One-mile turkey walk, 9:35 a.m.

5K race, 10 a.m.

Registration at

Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 395-3124 or at [email protected] or @jeffwilkin1 on Twitter. His blog is at

Categories: Life and Arts

Leave a Reply