The 16th annual Virginia Run Turkey Trot turned out to be the most successful one so far — breaking records for number of participants and amount of money raised for charity.
Held last Thursday, Thanksgiving morning, it drew nearly 3,400 people to its 5K race and 2K walk. And when all the expenses are paid, Turkey Trot chairman Dominic DeVincenzo expects to hand over between $45,000 and $50,000 to Life with Cancer.
"WHEN I FIRST started [as a Turkey Trot volunteer] in 1993, I set a goal for myself to raise $10,000, and everyone else on the committee thought I was crazy," he said. "By the third year, 1995, we broke that goal. But we had never broken $40,000 until this year. We must be doing something right. People tell me that our Turkey Trot is well run, they like it and they have a lot of fun."
All proceeds benefit Life with Cancer, Inova Health System's slate of nonprofit programs for cancer patients and their families. And this year's race was run in honor of two Virginia Run residents, Mary Graham and Ken Moore Sr., who died of cancer in November 2003 and February 2004, respectively.
Capturing first place in the 5K for his second year in a row was Centreville resident Eric Post, 25, with a time of 15:58. Aaron Church, 29, of Fairfax, came in second in 16:11. First-place overall female was Shauneen Garrahan, 19, of Hadley, Mass., logging 18:18. Following on her heels in second place was Vienna resident Meghan McLaughlin, 25, in 18:35.
Chris Tremonte, 24, and Mark Schaffer, 35, finished in a dead heat for fastest male overall from Virginia Run, with times of 17:10. DeVincenzo said it was the first-ever tie in Turkey Trot history. And showing up all the grownups as the fastest Virginia Run female was 11-year-old Nadia Podo, with a time of 24:09. Kathleen Esposito, 46, took second place in 24:18.
Garrahan's family lives in Fairfax Station, and she ran cross country and track at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science & Technology. She now runs in both events at Amherst College in Massachusetts where she is a sophomore majoring in political science.
She's run in other Turkey Trots, but this was her first time competing in Virginia Run's. She entered because "it's close to home and is for a good cause." But she didn't plan on winning. "I was pretty much running it for fun," said Garrahan. "Then about halfway through, I was feeling good, so I decided to pick up the pace."
Roughly 2,250 people finished the 5K, with 1,150 walking in the 2K. And even though a hard rain at the start drenched everyone before they even took a step, the sun came out after about five minutes, the shower eased up and the race went on, unaffected.
"IT WAS OUR biggest turnout ever," said an admittedly surprised DeVincenzo. "It's grown by leaps and bounds — by 300 people a year — and beyond my wildest expectations." However, for that very reason — because the race has grown so large — he said some changes will have to be made before next year's Turkey Trot.
"I'm very pleased with the number of participants and the amount of money we raised," he said. "But I'm concerned about the logistics and everyone's safety because Pleasant Valley Road has to stay open [to traffic]. So I'll work with the State Police on the logistics of the course and the finish for next year."
Post, who lives in the Heritage Forest community, is in his second year as a math teacher at Chantilly High, teaching Algebra I and II. He first ran in Virginia Run's Turkey Trot in 1994 and then not again until four years ago. Since then, he's run in it every time.
"It's a great atmosphere," he said. "Everyone's in such a good mood, that morning. It's a big race, so it's more enjoyable, and it's local so you don't have to travel very far. And you tend to see the same people [participating] every year, so that's kind of nice."
If he's training seriously for a race, he'll run 90 miles a week. This fall, said Post, he's been busy with other things, so he's "only" been able to get in 40 miles a week. But, he said, "I'm going to be bumping that up to prepare for the Boston Marathon in April."
Calling the Turkey Trot "impressive — it's a huge local race" — Post said he was hoping to repeat as first-place finisher overall. "I definitely wanted to try to win," he said. "The years and years of hard training [enable me] to run a fast time even if I'm not in great shape."
Another noteworthy thing about Post is that — unlike most Turkey Trot participants who might run with a family member or two, but are cheered on by the rest of their relatives from the sidelines — he ran with a whole dozen relatives of his and his wife.
"My wife is Colleen Chapman, and she's one of 14 total siblings," he explained. Altogether, 11 Chapman siblings ages 15-32 — including her, plus her father, husband [Post] and another in-law, participated in last week's Turkey Trot — 14 relatives total.
THE CHAPMANS live in Centreville's Sequoia Farms community, and dad Ralph is a 10th-grade health teacher at Chantilly High. Besides fleet feet, careers in education also run in the family. Colleen, 25, teaches eighth-grade English at Lanier Middle School. Her sister, Meredith Norris, 22 — who also ran in the Turkey Trot — is a special education teacher at Chantilly, and her husband Aaron coaches JV basketball at Chantilly.
All totaled, their family had seven male relatives and seven female relatives competing so, said Post, "We had a little side race between the men and the women. We're all pretty decent runners, so we decided we had to beat the women by nine minutes. But we only beat them by eight minutes and 40 seconds, so the women claimed a little trophy and bragging rights."
Every year, he said, "Six or so of us will run in Turkey Trot, but this is the first time we got the whole group out there. It was a lot of fun. The whole family's really competitive, so that makes it more interesting."
And the friendly rivalry didn't end with the 5K. Afterward, the 14 relatives played football outside the Chapman house before finally replenishing their energy at Thanksgiving dinner.
Married 2 1/2 years to Post, Colleen is no slouch, either, when it comes to running. In October, she ran in the Marine Corps Marathon and, come April, she, too, will race in the Boston Marathon. This was her fifth Turkey Trot (although not consecutively), and she liked the course because "it goes by quickly."
She said running in the Turkey Trot was "a good way to get everybody together. It was fun to finish and see how everybody else ran — and also to have the fun of the girls vs. boys competition."
HER SISTER Meredith first participated in Turkey Trot when she was in high school, but last Thursday's race was her first Turkey Trot in five years. "It's an easy course," she said. "I had knee surgery last year and just wanted to finish."
Most of all, though, she didn't want to finish last of all 14 relatives. "I was the sixth of the seven girls, and I beat my husband, so that was good," she said. But the best part, said Meredith, was "all the trash-talking leading up to the race."
The male and female contingents would send group e-mails to each other saying, for example, "The girls are gonna beat the guys," and "23 hours until the boys are gonna kick the girls' butts." After all that, said Meredith, it felt great to win — "we were really excited."
"I think it'll get more competitive as the years go by," she added. "As there are more nieces and nephews, there'll probably be even more of them running — and the start of a new tradition."