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Rabah Sbitani (center) of Fredericksburg organized the 'rogue' Turkey Trot in response to the official race's move.
Mike Hawkins and dog, Zeke, of Stafford finish
Runners take off at the start of the Turkey Trot, which this year,
Participants share a laugh as the 'rogue' Turkey Trot starts on Fauquier Street in downtown Fredericksburg on Thursday morning.
A simple question was posed on the back of the orange T-shirts given to the first 80 "rogue runners" who showed up at Thursday morning's unofficial Turkey Trot run in downtown Fredericksburg: "Where did all the turkeys go?"
The answer, for the most part, was that they had flocked to Central Park.
The official Thanksgiving morning Turkey Trot started at the Fredericksburg Expo and Conference Center this year and snaked its way through Celebrate Virginia and Central Park. The race had been downtown for the past 19 years, but organizers moved it this year due to its growth and subsequent complaints from some residents along the course who were unable to travel to and from their homes for holiday gatherings.
About 3,600 people signed up for the five-kilometer Turkey Trot, and another 600 children did the one-mile run that started before the main event, said race director Terry McLaughlin. Parking lots and sidewalks in Central Park teemed with people and strollers, perhaps providing a preview of the Black Friday madness soon to come. People dressed up as Gumby, Indians, Pilgrims, Thanksgiving dinner and the Burger King mascot, and the race featured lots of strollers and dogs.
Meanwhile a smaller crowd of about 150 runners gathered at 9 a.m. outside the Central Rappahannock Regional Library headquarters on Caroline Street to participate in the "rogue" Turkey Trot race. Fredericksburg resident Rabah Sbitani, who has participated in the downtown race with his family for many years, organized the event in the past week after finding out that the race had been moved. Word traveled fast through Facebook and news articles.
Sbitani used Google Maps to draw up a five-kilometer course that showcased downtown's most picturesque sites, including the Rappahannock River, Caroline Street, Washington Avenue and the many historic landmarks in between.
Sbitani handed out cards to runners offering turn-by-turn directions and added some markings to the course, but most people just followed the runners ahead of them. No roads closed to traffic, and the few cars that were encountered along the course happily yielded to runners. Participants brought canned goods and monetary donations for the Fredericksburg Area Food Bank.
Many downtown business owners and residents did the "rogue" run and reported having a good time. One of those was Jason Cohen, who said he'd rather run through the beautiful downtown than past a Krispy Kreme store. Sbitani plans to follow up with city officials regarding where the race will be held in future years.
McLaughlin plans to do the same, but his clear preference is to keep it in Central Park, where the wider streets can accommodate the large number of runners.
"If we want it to grow, Central Park is the place," he said.
Feedback from people who ran the official Turkey Trot race was mixed.
Jonathan Sprick drove down from Vienna to be with his family for Thanksgiving. It had been several years since he'd run the race, and he said that as he searched online for an entry form, he thought the Central Park race was a completely different event.
"We always liked it downtown," said Sprick, who ran the race along with his wife, Katie, and his brother, Joel. Joel had driven down from near Philadelphia for Thanksgiving.
They noted that the race course was a lot less interesting, with fewer hills than the downtown course--a change that also made for a faster pace for many runners. They also said downtown was just a lot more interesting to look at than the strip shopping centers of Central Park.
They acknowledged, though, that the race was a lot smaller the last time they remember running it downtown, and that it would be hard to accommodate a crowd that big in the smaller central business district. They also noted that parking for spectators was a lot easier in the new location.
Staff reporter Emily Freehling contributed to this story.
Bill Freehling: 540/374-5405