Die-hard runners and recreational walkers joined Santa Claus and his reindeer on Thanksgiving Day as a crowd of nearly 4,000 people from all ends of the country participated in Dana Point's 18th annual 5-kilometer and 10-kilometer Turkey Trot.
Sponsored by the Dana Point Chamber of Commerce, this is the second-largest Turkey Trot in the country, behind one in Dallas, race director Herb Massinger said. This year's event drew one of the largest crowds in race history, he said.
"This is a unique event," Massinger said. "Last year people from 15 different states came. And every year people from 400 to 500 California cities converge here before they have their Thanksgiving dinner."
A team, or as some participants call it, a "centipede," from the Loeschhorn's Running Club followed their annual tradition of gearing up in their Christmas outfits. Following a trail of reindeer led by a red-nosed Rudolph, a fit and trim Santa dashed off in his red running tights, yelling, "We do this every year. It's great fun."
Wearing a pull-up costume that straddled a stuffed-animal turkey, early bird Sue Emery, a Dana Point resident, arrived at 5 a.m. to raise spirits and cheer on runners.
"I've been doing this for the past 12 years because I get to see people here who rarely leave their homes throughout the year," Emery said.
Along the scenic coastal route, roller-bladers whizzed by, babies snoozed as their parents pushed them along in strollers, and the young-at-heart senior citizens crossed the finish line. Despite the 60-degree morning chill, racers of all ages pushed for their best running times.
First-place finishers from each race took home a $100 check, a plaque and other prizes. Those who placed second and third received $75 and $50 checks, respectively, and enjoyed other prizes such as a cookbook and cutting board.
Jack Pomeroy, a 65-year-old track enthusiast from Escondido, quickly finished the 5-kilometer race. Cooling down with a smile on his face, Pomeroy said he felt "a sense of accomplishment" and was ready for a turkey feast.
For many, the race served as a training course. John Garcia, 16, a Cerritos High School student, endured the long drive to prepare for the upcoming cross-country and track season.
It was no surprise that a victorious Joey Gomez of Fullerton placed first in 10-kilometer run. A veteran racer who has triumphed in five previous Turkey Trots, Gomez said this year's hilly course was good preparation for a future Sacramento marathon.
But others had a different opinion. "The 10K kills," one exhausted racer said.
Weekend joggers like Laguna Niguel's Jill Murphy, who strolled along the course with her 1-year-old son, Reid, came to ease the anticipated evening of Thanksgiving feasting.
"This way," Murphy said, "I'll feel better about eating a lot later."