The party atmosphere that is the hallmark of the Turkey Trot did not disappoint Thursday, despite freezing temperatures.
“It’s just fun. The environment is awesome,” said Christin Handley, 24, of East Aurora. Handley was running in her seventh Thanksgiving dash down Delaware Avenue and said she is proud that the oldest road race in the country is in her backyard.
The Turkey Trot – a nearly 5-mile race from the YMCA in North Buffalo to the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center downtown that dates back to 1896 – drew 14,000 registrants and sold out 18 days before the race, the earliest registration has ever closed.
Shari Rife, of Kenmore, ran with four family members dressed up as the cast of the “Wizard of Oz.” The women carried a broom, a picnic basket and an ax to complement their costumes.
“We always like to do something fun and different,” Rife said.
Families gathered to kick off the long Thanksgiving weekend, and people dressed up as Pilgrims and turkeys, some in T-shirts that read “Huffin’ for Stuffin’,” ran past cheering spectators. Greeting runners at the finish line in front of the Convention Center was a booming sound system blasting upbeat pop music and a race announcer urging participants to finish strong.
But the 19-degree weather prompted more than a few runners to note how cold it was and how drastically different it was from last year, when temperatures reached into the 50s.
Emily Appleton, 14, was thawing out after the race in the lobby of the Convention Center with her family.
Appleton, of South Windsor, Conn., was visiting relatives for the holiday weekend and had just finished her first Turkey Trot.
“It was good, it was long,” she said.
The weather was “perfect” for Dennis Hand, who has been running the Turkey Trot since he was 19.
For his 42nd race, Hand, a volunteer firefighter with Wrights Corners in the Town of Lockport, suited up in 30 pounds of firefighting gear, including a helmet, reflective vest and heavy-duty coat and pants with large cargo pockets.
He wants to encourage other people to become volunteer firefighters and to encourage “fitness for the guys who are already in it,” he said.
At the post-race party, Hand said he was looking forward to going home and resting, and having dinner, and said he hoped there wouldn’t be a fire call for the rest of the day.
Mark Shriver, of Elma, was dressed in his ski pants and jacket and was volunteering at the finish line, urging runners to keep walking toward one of two parties, one in the Convention Center and a family-friendly event at Statler City.
“It’s like chaos,” he said of his task. “It’s great though, everyone’s having a good time.”
He’s been volunteering with his family for the last decade and said he enjoys running into old friends at the finish line.
“It’s alive down here,” he said.
For the first time, race organizers set up a walkway, or chute, for runners after the finish line, to keep them from stopping to talk to family and friends while other finishers are coming in behind them.
The success or failure of the chute – it appeared to back up at times with runners – will be discussed at a post-race meeting, said Kathy Romanowski, YMCA communications director.
The party atmosphere was complemented by the many runners who donned costumes, including 11 runners from Lancaster outfitted as a table dressed for Thanksgiving dinner, and another runner, Stephanie Schwartz, of Williamsville, who dressed up like the Candy Crush game. Schwartz and the dinner crew won awards for their efforts.
The fastest runners, who won overall awards, were women’s winner Rachel Schneider, 22, of Washington, D.C., who finished in 28 minutes, 17 seconds, and men’s winner Jacob Krolick, 22, of Arcade, who finished in 24 minutes, 21 seconds.
Megan Looney, of East Amherst, was clutching a Tim Hortons coffee and waiting at the finish line for her husband, John, and son, Andrew. Her son and his friends, high school soccer players, had worked on their Pac-Man costumes for the last couple of weeks, using glue guns and staples.
“They’re not going to be very professional,” Looney said of the costumes.
Debbie and Bruce Jones and their four young children were lined up at 8 a.m. at the Convention Center to take the bus up to the race start at the YMCA.
The family, who had arrived in Western New York eight hours before from West Hartford, Conn., huddled against the cold. Six-year-old Luke, running in his first Turkey Trot, said he was most looking forward to hot chocolate at the end.
“Getting them out of bed took a lot,” said Debbie Jones.
The popular race is limited to 14,000 participants to comply with fire codes governing the Convention Center and Statler City, which hosted the post-race parties.