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A record throng shares ‘a good mood’ in Turkey Trot

Tens of thousands of runners, fans and gawkers converged on Delaware Avenue in North Buffalo on Thursday for the 117th annual Turkey Trot, as a record 14,000 participants – many in costumes from mild to outlandish – dashed off to the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center.

With the sun shining brightly and crisp fall temperatures inching from the 40s to the mid-50s, the racers sped away in a mass at exactly 9 a.m., following the announcer’s cry of “Runners, set … go!”

The most serious competitors were largely grouped in front and set off deliberately as Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” blared from speakers, while the rest of the pack ranged from runners to joggers to walkers. Participants ranged in age from young children with their parents to senior citizens older than 80, and most were in sweatpants, running suits or even shorts.

This year’s race featured, for the first time, a costume contest beforehand; previous runners have worn everything from turkey outfits to hockey jerseys, so organizers capitalized on the tradition to spur more creativity and interest.

“We have a huge percentage of runners that do the costumes,” said race director Tom Donnelly.

Of course, there was an array of “turkeys” – from those in turkey hats, plumes and feathers to full-body costumes – a fair share of pilgrims, and even a Native American or two. But there were also plenty of superheroes – Superman, Batman, Captain America and Green Lantern all made appearances – as well as Gumby, the Gingerbread Man, Pac-Man, and Scooby-Doo.

“It’s a fun race,” said Charlie Anderson, 39, of Grand Island, who runs competitively. “You see all the costumes. Everybody’s in a good mood.”

“Bill” and “Ted” took a break from their “Excellent Adventure” to stop by, as did Santa, some elves, a few vikings and at least one leprechaun. There was a wedding party, a long green centipede with a dozen seniors, and some bananas pulling someone in a rickshaw.

The award for individual costume went to Lisa Welch from St. Catharines, Ont., for her turkey outfit, while the group prize went to a team dressed for “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.”

The 8-kilometer course – 4.97 miles – began on Delaware from North Buffalo, through Delaware Park, residential and commercial districts, Mansion Row and into the heart of downtown, before the runners turned onto Church Street and then up Franklin Street to the finish line in front of the Convention Center.

“Come on, runners. Bring it in strong,” the announcer called out at the finish line as racers poured across. “Strong finish, strong finish, runners. Nice job.”

Runners and organizers praised the weather as “perfect.”

“I don’t think they’ve had better weather for this than today,” said Anderson, the Grand Island runner who finished with a time of 34 minutes, 47 seconds, his personal best. “It was the perfect temperature. Not too hot, not too cold.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever worn shorts for the Turkey Trot,” agreed Christin Handley, 23, of East Aurora, who has run competitively since college, including in the Turkey Trot for five years, and who now coaches at John Carroll University.

The Turkey Trot is the oldest consecutively run annual footrace in North America – five months older than the Boston Marathon. As such, it attracts competitive runners not only from Western New York, but also from across the country.

Jed Christiansen, 25, of Greenville, Pa., won this year’s race with one of the fastest times in recent years. His time of 24:01 ended the four-year winning streak of Dennis Pollow Jr. of Ransomville. The race record is under 24 minutes. “I made a very fast time,” said Christiansen, who last ran the Turkey Trot in 2004. “It’s tough to find such good competition this late in the year.”

He said that it was his second-fastest time, after running 23:41 in the Shamrock Shuffle in Chicago last spring. “It was pretty strong,” he said. “I was running by myself for most of the race.”

Running in her eighth Turkey Trot, Jacklyn Rzepecki, 28, of Rochester, Mich., won the Women’s Division with a time of 28:17. Unlike Christiansen, who has no Buffalo connection but competes nationally, Rzepecki grew up in Woodlawn and graduated from Frontier High School in Hamburg in 1996. She has been running in the Turkey Trot “on and off” since high school, so it’s “just part of the tradition.”

“It’s a very fun course,” said Rzepecki, who is training for a marathon next week. “You don’t have to think much – just run.”

Both touted the weather and temperatures, even with some wind. “For Buffalo, it’s probably one of the most ideal days,” Rzepecki said. “As long as there’s not snow on the ground.”

Meanwhile, Carl Rundell won the Male Masters Division for runners 40 and older at 26:35. And Amy Fakterowitz won the Female Masters Division at 31:35. Winners were also crowned by age group.

The Turkey Trot marks the end of the running season in Western New York. This year’s race reached capacity at 14,000 – up by 800 from last year and an all-time high.

Race organizers had to cap registration this year, as they factored in how many people they could accommodate at the post-race parties in the Convention Center and Statler City, and how many would be shuttled by bus back to the Target plaza parking lot off Delaware to get their cars.

“We are maxed,” said Donnelly, the race director. “We had to turn people away this year.”

The cheerful crowd began gathering early for the race, which originated at Delaware and Shoreham Parkway, north of Delaware Park and just south of the Target plaza. With loudspeakers blaring music along a closed stretch of Delaware, a festive atmosphere reigned as the sea of runners slowly made their way toward the starting line marked with yellow rope.

“I love it. I keep coming back,” Handley said. “It’s always a fun atmosphere, and there’s good competition. There’s so many people. It’s a good tradition.”

The race is the biggest fundraiser for the Buffalo Niagara YMCA. Those who signed up for the race by Oct. 31 paid $30 each. The fee went up to $35 in November. Last year’s race raised $221,000 for the agency.

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