Before Eric Sandstrom enjoys turkey and stuffing, he'll be out on a racecourse, huffing and puffing.
"Competition takes a backseat to enjoying the morning," says Sandstrom, an avid runner who will join his sister, nephew, and a flock of others at the Cleveland Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning. The annual five-mile race begins at Burke Lakefront Airport and winds through Cleveland's downtown streets, alongside the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Cleveland Browns Stadium, then dips into the Flats.
Who really wants to spend a holiday morning scurrying along the lake in bone-chilling, early-morning downtown Cleveland? About 1,000 runners from at least 29 states, based on last year's count.
"I don't run to win," admits Sandstrom, who notes that the race field features a buffet of belly sizes and skill levels. "I run to see friends and enjoy scenery. You see people of every conceivable shape, size, and age group out there."
And unlike traditional marathoners, who "carb up" before a big race, Trotters are more likely to load up afterward. "I look at it as a way to burn some calories before I refuel," Sandstrom says.
No holiday event that encourages sweating before noon is without its share of dedicated athletes. "I like it because it's just like a party," says two-time winner Jeanne DeBonis, an avid marathon runner and triathlete. In the Turkey Trot, runners like DeBonis set the pace for a field garbed in outrageous hats, reptile suits, and Elvis regalia. It's Cleveland's own kind of Macy's parade, but without a 100-foot Underdog.
And the motivation? There's plenty. The Trot's best racers are running for their supper: The top 50 male and female finishers are awarded pumpkin pies.