Race #11 – Running to Aid Families Battling Cancer

Thanksgiving morning: There’s nowhere I’d rather be than the New Cumberland, PA Turkey Trot

Race #11: The SMT Turkey Trot 5K, New Cumberland, PA

The Cause: Vickie’s Angel Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to helping families facing cancer with household costs that affect their quality of life–mortgage and car payments, electric bills, and other non-medical expenses.

Thanksgiving, perhaps more than any other day of the year, is the perfect day to run a race that benefits others. What a blessing, to be able to run!

This is my third year in a row running the SMT Turkey Trot 5K, but my photos from this year’s race don’t do it justice. That’s because I didn’t leave as early as in past years, and I got caught in bumper-to-bumper “race traffic.” Nearly 3,000 runners head to this small town near Harrisburg for one of the region’s most popular turkey trots. Parking volunteers were wonderful–I must have passed 10 of them directing the sea of traffic to tightly-packed rows of cars at the borough park. But I missed my running club’s group photo at the appointed time, and barely had time to hop out of my car once I parked, only to join another line–the porta-potty line.

Luckily I spotted a few run friends, and we packed into the start line crowd. It is one of the most entertaining runs of the year, complete with runners in turkey costumes, turkey hats, turkey tutus, and more.

Running bud Cathy sports turkey gear 🙂

The race winds through the town of New Cumberland, past neighborhoods, past cheering residents holding their Thanksgiving morning coffee cups, past the town library (including librarians in Pilgrim and turkey costumes) and Hillside Elementary School (yes, it involves running a hill!), past downtown businesses–including the West Shore Theatre and Nick’s 114 Cafe bearing the signboard “See you at the Turkey Trot!” It’s one of, if not the biggest, event in New Cumberland all year. Local cheerleaders line the course at the entrance of the town park, and they cheer for runners coming and going.

On Thanksgiving morning, New Cumberland feels like everyone’s all-American hometown, and the town embraces the runners. That’s mainly thanks to the race director Mari Lynn Dare, who has become a dear friend. She launched the race 15 years ago in honor of her mother Shirley Mae Taylor (SMT) who passed away after a battle with cancer.

I met Mari Lynn a few years ago when I wrote Angels Among Us: Vickie’s Angel Foundation helps central PA families battling cancer for TheBurg, Harrisburg. Since then, I’ve run with Mari Lynn numerous times, with Fleet Feet Mechanicsburg and/or River Runners. She is an amazing runner, having completed more than 70 marathons, but she is humble and always warm and friendly to those of us who are less-accomplished.

You get the feeling that Mari Lynn knows everyone, and everyone knows Mari Lynn. The donations she lines up as part of the Turkey Trot’s post-race festivities are astounding. There are vats of coffee, an entire picnic pavilion filled with slices of pies, cakes, bananas, and more, plus kettles of chicken corn soup donated by the aforementioned local cafe. There’s a small army of volunteers. And the proceeds typically exceed $40,000 donated to Vickie’s Angel Foundation, which provides $30,000 of aid monthly to families battling cancer.

It’s hard to choose your post-race treat!

It’s Thanksgiving morning and everyone is happy, focused on family, fun, and pre-Thanksgiving feast fitness. There are lots of families who participate together.

I didn’t run “full out” because I’m also doing two more races this weekend, but I surprised myself by running a fairly fast time and finishing 21 out of 174 women in my age group.

Do you subscribe to Jen A. Miller’s weekly running newsletter from The New York Times? (If not, you should!) In last week’s edition, she wrote that 1.17 million people ran a Thanksgiving race in 2018, up from 684,000 in 2011.

The togetherness, friendly holiday vibes, and camaraderie (I think), encourages people who might not ordinarily consider themselves runners, to participate in turkey trots. On Thanksgiving, everyone is welcome. And what is a “real runner” anyway? That reminds me of a wonderful quote from a book I recently read:

Running is a club, all right, but here’s the beautiful thing: Anyone is welcome to join… I had the wrong idea going into this year. I thought “real running” was proven in distance, mile splits, body weight–something that could be quantified. Now I know it can’t possibly be contained.

Susan Lacke, “real runner,” in her book Running Outside the Comfort Zone
Runners, runners, everywhere
SMT Turkey Trot runners ready to trot through New Cumberland

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