Since, oh, 1546 or so, Scottish Highlanders played bagpipes during wartime to scare off enemies. Interestingly, Trumbull Pipe Band* serenades the Pequot Runners Club (PRC) at the beginning of their annual Turkey Trot. No one knows exactly why they play at the starting line, but I imagine the racers run a bit faster to get away from the shrieking instruments.
Last Thanksgiving, over 2,600 people of all ages gathered at the Southport Wakeman Boys & Girls Club to run five miles in the PRC’s Turkey Trot. Founder of PRC, Packer Wilbur, wants the race to be called “The Thanksgiving Day Five Mile Run” believing it sounds more dignified than “Turkey Trot.” Unfortunately, the name doesn’t trip off the tongue and runners like things to be fast and efficient. Also, watching folks sweat down the street in turkey suits compromises any extra dignity a longer title may bestow.
It all started in 1977 when Packer and three friends began running every Saturday. Much fun was had, so Packer decided to spread the joy among other weekend athletes, slapping up posters in stores and persuading local papers to publish articles promoting a new running club. After a few weeks, the threesome had ballooned to over 40 eager, and purportedly fun, runner-types. PRC was off and running.
But Packer wanted even more fun. He wanted a signature event, preferably in the fall when weather was cooler and hapless racers wouldn’t crawl to the finish line whining about heatstroke. Thus, the Turkey Trot was hatched, but not fully baked, in 1978. Problem being the number of racers (630) exceeded the club’s primitive scorekeeping. These were the late ’70’s and most people were too busy buying Andy Gibb beach towels and wondering what to do with Susan B. Anthony dollars to concern themselves with keeping accurate tabs on a five-miler.
Packer recalls a proposed solution, “to dig a deep trench across the finish line and sort out the finishing order by a runner’s location in the pile.” Now, I’m no race expert but this solution seems brilliant in its simplicity as well as a crowd-pleaser for the onlookers. Ultimately, computers gifted PRC with a less interesting tracking method.
As with all races, there are winners. Three lucky women and three lucky men go home with a t-shirt, modest cash prize, and crystal trophy. For the past two years, Wesport’s Henry Wynne has ripped through the finish line first. If you don’t know Henry, a quick Google search will show that you’ll never win a race as long as he’s running. Staples grad and professional runner who ran a 3:51 mile this year, Henry is going to the Olympic trials this summer with the hopes of claiming a spot in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Why would an elite athlete choose to trot with ordinary turkeys on Thanksgiving morning? Henry explains, “I like to go out and suffer and earn my meal like everyone else.”
Which is the whole point.
*Trumbull Pipe Band is an award-winning band, because they’re quite good and many people enjoy bagpipes.