This year the Thanksgiving race day drama isn’t being provided by your crazy aunt Pam and her slew of ex-husbands. Nor is it coming from your in-laws. Believe it or not, it’s being brought to you courtesy of your local running race.
In the spirit of Thanksgiving’s “more-is-more” philosophy, Naples—despite being a town of a mere 20,115 (per the Census Bureau)—will host two groups of turkeys both trotting within a five-mile radius.
You’ve likely heard some squawking about the dueling Thanksgiving race events; it’s actually a little hard to miss if you’re tuned into local running social media sites. But what’s the real story? Just like the first Thanksgiving, it depends on whom you ask.
The original Gobble Gobble Four Miler happened in 2001, and was the brainchild of Fran Fidler, of the now defunct Striders of Southwest Florida, Matthew Erickson, who worked at New Balance Naples and Matthew Sonneborn. By 2002, Sonneborn had taken over as race director. “I owe him [Fidler] and Matt a great deal of gratitude for teaching me what it means to give back and to give of yourself,” says Sonneborn.
The vision for the run was simple: give people a friendly, healthy, family-friendly way to recreate on Thanksgiving morning, all while raising money for local charities. For a decade it did exactly that.
“Eventually the idea of getting GCR’s (Gulf Coast Runners) support became desirable. We hired them and were able to use the club’s insurance and race support, etc., and it was a win/win,” says Sonneborn.
Gulf Coast Runners is a Naples-based 501 (c) 3 organization that promotes running races and activities in Southwest Florida while raising money for local charities. Last year the group raised over $38,000 just for scholarships for local high school athletes. It also did the timing and race promotion for more than 20 local races last year, some owned by the group and others—like the Gobble Gobble—not.
“We do a lot of professional race management and staging,” says Mitch Norgart, president of the group. “Some are GCR races and some are not. We were encouraged to put on our own Thanksgiving Day race for a variety of reasons, one of which was location. We wanted to put it in a location that was far more manageable.”
He also says that the group wanted to ensure that Collier County would always have a turkey trot event, which was something GCR could do if they took ownership of the event.
Apparently there were rumors after last year’s event that it would be Sonneborn’s last—or that the neighbors at Venetian Village wanted the event moved. Sonneborn says he knows nothing about either of those rumors. He’s even got paperwork showing preparations for a 2013 race were well in the works.
Whether because of the rumors or for other reasons—or simply because it’s a free country and no one says you can’t host your own darn turkey trot—Gulf Coast Runners applied for its own permit.
“I had no knowledge of it until after the permit was pulled and sprung on me,” says Sonneborn, adding that perhaps this was the most hurtful part of the whole thing.
Norgart confirms this, saying, “We had a conversation with him the day we received the permit.”
Norgart’s hope was that Sonneborn would join forces with GCR and come help the new race get off the ground. But feeling totally blindsided after a decade of managing the race, Sonneborn declined, doubling down on producing his race.
And so, what we have is basically a game of chicken, er turkey. As the holiday approaches, no one is budging. Permits have been secured, registration pages are open for both, locals are choosing sides and the rumor mill is in full effect.
Both groups have been spinning their Thanksgiving race as a positive, saying that now runners have even more opportunities to raise more money for St. Matthew’s House. Still, the two-race thing seems a little excessive.
“It’s a free world but in an ideal world, there would probably only be one race,” says Norgart. “Look at Cincinnati or Chicago, some of the major cities only have one race, so no, I don’t think two races is necessary. To have two races on Thanksgiving Day two miles apart is a little silly.”
But perhaps we should all just be thankful that we’re blessed with a race scene that’s so robust it can actually support two trots.
“We are all just trying to do a great thing for charity and enjoy the day with tradition,” says Sonneborn, adding that he anticipates his race being as strong as ever. “[There has been] crazy incredible response. We will hit our cap for certain. A tip of the hat to Gulf Coast Runners and best of luck in their new venture. The Gobble Gobble will be so fun with the costumes this year.”
Norgart adds, “Life’s too short; this is a volunteer position. If we maximize donations to St. Matthews, then that’s great.”
The Gobble Gobble Four Miler is an untimed, four-mile run around the Village at Venetian Bay. The event includes a one-mile walk and a Lil’ Gobbler Dash. It is a cup-free race, so racers are encouraged to bring their own hydration bottles, though water is available along the course. To register visit www.gobblegobblefourmiler.com.
The Gulf Coast Runner’s Turkey Trot is a timed 5-k leaving from Cambier Park in downtown Naples. For more info or to register, visit http://gcrunner.org/events/event/2013-gcr-turkey-trot/.