Five kilometers, or 3.1 miles, is a relatively short distance, and many people plan to run or walk it in Thanksgiving Day turkey trots. Locally, standing above the rest, quite literally in the East Bay hills, is the Piedmont Turkey Trot, returning for its 22nd year on Nov. 23.
“This is a fun race. It gets everyone out — competitive runners, families with strollers, extended family. It’s just really a special race,” says Jeanine Holmlund, a longtime member of the Piedmont Turkey Trot committee.
In the trot, which gets underway Thursday at 8:30 a.m., runners and walkers of all ages and paces heed the slogan “move your feet before you eat.” Participants wear racing attire, sweats or turkey costumes; strollers are fine, and dogs can come, too.
“We’re a community event, I think we’re unique that way. We’re not a big organization. It’s all local and volunteer-based,” says Sydney Proctor, race director since 2021, who has served on the board since 2015 and volunteered since 2011.
For her, the event is a family affair, including her son who helps set things up, then runs himself.
“The turkey trot is definitely part of my Thanksgiving Day. It’s been that way for a while; I wouldn’t change it,” says Proctor, adding, “I’m glad that people are excited to sign up and want to bring their families. That means we’ve done it right.”
One nuclear-plus-extended family group participating this year boasts 28 people.
While most trotters hail from Piedmont and Oakland, there’s also representation from the North Bay, South Bay, Southern California, Oregon, Washington, New York and Rhode Island. There’s even a runner traveling from the United Kingdom.
A lot goes on behind the scenes on race morning. Holmlund, who was Piedmont High School’s track and cross-country coach for 10 years, is a key figure.
She’s in charge of gathering the volunteer course monitors stationed at intersections, turns and side streets, and gets Piedmont High students, often track team members, to help with pre-trot tasks such as putting up no parking signs. Before the event, she distributes flyers to notify neighbors about street closures.
“When the race starts, if you live inside the perimeters of the turkey trot course, you can’t get out. So you have to know the race is going on and get yourself or your car parked outside of the perimeter before then,” says Holmlund.
The six-member committee works with the Piedmont Police Department to ensure safety. One standout feature of the event — whose proceeds go to Piedmont High School’s cross-country and track and field teams — is the fully closed course.
Proctor explains, “During the 90 minutes or hour and 40 minutes that the roads are closed off, runners and walkers and strollers and dogs can mosey through the streets of Piedmont completely unencumbered, not worrying about sidewalks, having a great time.”
A benefit of being a longstanding race is knowing the right number of participants. Having 3,100 runners registered in 2017 “just made it chaos,” Proctor says. Now the number is capped at 2,400.
That limit, for the trot and the awards ceremony after, makes it easy for participants to find friends and family and comfortably enjoy the support of bystanders.
The trot welcomes folks of all interests and ambitions, whether they want to rev their metabolism before holiday feasting (on turkey or tofurkey, dressing, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, green beans, dinner rolls and pie) or friendly competition and a test of speed.
There’s something for everyone, says Proctor, including a seated corral for seven-minute-per-mile runners at the start of the race, and age group categories ranging from under 10 to 80 and up.
Community involvement extends beyond participants, organizers, volunteers and police. There are donors (Piedmont Grocery, Transports and J Miller Flowers) and, of course, Piedmonters watching, cheering, holding handmade signs and offering refreshments along the course.
“We’re a big deal here in Piedmont,” says Proctor. “The community wants to participate, even if they’re not running.”
Three unofficial water stations were set up last year. One had cranberry juice and water at the mile one marker; another had doughnut holes around mile two, and, farther along the route, another had lemonade.
Piedmont’s event is a U.S.A. Track & Field certified-course. Trotters start in front of the historic Exedra, a landmark at Highland and Magnolia avenues, then round the corner onto Highland, which slopes downhill, then proceed left onto Wildwood Avenue—a turn that sets the tone for what’s to come.
“If you’ve ever been to the city of Piedmont, we definitely have some uphills,” says Proctor.
Holmlund says, “It’s Piedmont, right? It’s the foothills. You can come up with a flat mile in Piedmont pretty easily, but even if you tried to do a 5K, an out and back 1.5, you’d end up going up some slight hill towards the one end.”
Piedmont High and Middle school running teams have the course in their backyard, and often venture onto its streets during practice in cross-country season. Many of the athletes register for the trot, their familiarity with the route in tow.
“To have [the race] right in their neighborhood streets is super fun for them,” says Holmlund.
The route’s midway climb up Sea View Avenue can be a tad soul crushing, so it’s an ideal moment to remember: 1) It’s a 5K, not a marathon; 2) there’s only about a mile left to go; and 3) the seems-like-it-goes-on-forever incline will be followed by a coast down Mountain Avenue.
“There’s a whole float section downhill that I love on Mountain; you can just float Mountain to Craig. I’ve always loved that little route,” says Holmlund.
Newcomers to the trot might reap race-day benefits by specific training. Holmlund says, “Definitely train up on hills. Definitely do yourself a favor and start walking the hills, hiking the hills, running in the hills. There’s some steep hills in there, so I would just be prepared.”
A big hill is at the very end, at the final left turn from Hillside Avenue onto Magnolia Avenue, and then a gradual climb back to the starting point.
Proctor admits, “We have kind of what I think is a brutal finish. But people who run it fast run it, start to finish, in 16 minutes.”
Last year’s overall winner, Walter Teitelbaum, completed the course in 16 minutes and two seconds, with an average 5:10 pace per mile. Runners aiming for a personal record, top-three overall win, or age group win, ought to check out the route before race day.
“If people are just going to walk the course, they probably don’t need to do that. But for competitive runners, I would definitely have them come run the course ahead of time,” Holmlund suggests.
The course isn’t technical, doesn’t have too many turns and is well marked with a volunteer at every corner to ensure everyone heads in the right direction.
“It’s not a hard course to do, but you’d want to know, ‘Where’s my uphill? Where’s my downhill?’” Holmlund says, adding, “And realize there’s that uphill finish, so save some leg [strength] there to get yourself up that little hill.”
The Piedmont Turkey Trot starts at 8:30 a.m. Nov. 23 at Magnolia and Highland avenues, Piedmont.
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