Across Madison, Thanksgiving races promote family, wellness and giving back | Local News

Ringing a cowbell and standing at the corner of Wingra Drive and South Mills Street, or the “home stretch” of the race, as he called it, volunteer Brian Vanderbloemer shouted encouragement to the Turkey Trot participants as they rounded the final bend.

“It’s the time of year when a lot of people come home,” Vanderbloemer said. “So this is a great event to do with your family. It’s another way to spend the holiday together.”

Runners and walkers in colorful tutus and turkey hats, along with a couple in matching M&M costumes, participated in the 5K Thanksgiving Day run/walk that looped around Madison’s Arboretum.

In its second year, the Turkey Trot on the city’s South Side drew hundreds, including many families and friends that raced together. 

Mary Hoffland, of Prairie du Chien, was watching the participants from the sidewalk, while keeping an eye out for her two daughters, granddaughter and family friend, who were running. 

She said seeing the wide variety of runners and walkers of all ages, especially the little kids, was “amazing” to her. 

“This is such an inspiration,” she said. “It’s a great example of a lifetime activity that a family can do together.” 

But even for volunteers like Vanderbloemer, the Turkey Trot on the South Side was still a family affair.

Vanderbloemer was volunteering with his wife, middle child, dad and father-in-law on behalf of United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Dane County, the beneficiary of the Turkey Trot. 

“This is just one way for everyone, volunteers and racers, to give without writing a check,” he said. 

In and around Madison, Thanksgiving Day saw a series of morning races in addition to the Turkey Trot on the South Side, ranging from a new Festival Foods Turkey Trot on the Near East Side to Fitchburg’s Berbee Derby, now in its 13th year.

The Berbee Derby was the first Thanksgiving Day run in Madison, derby Marketing Manager Suzy Shain said. Since 2004, proceeds from the race have gone to the Technology Education Fund, which gives money to nonprofits with technology projects for youth and adults. 

While Madison does have an older holiday race, Madison College’s 30-year-old Turkey Trot, that event takes place in the beginning of November, beating out the Thanksgiving Day race crowd.

As the years passed, interest in the Berbee Derby grew, and Shain reported more than 6,000 participated in the event Thursday, even as more Thanksgiving run options are added in Madison.

Joining the holiday racing scene this year with a start and end point at Breese Stevens Field was the Festival Foods Turkey Trot, which featured a 5 mile run and 2 mile walk. 

Festival Foods Director of Community Involvement Brian Stenzel said that Festival Foods had been looking to do a Madison Turkey Trot since its store on East Washington Avenue opened in April.

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“We like to do a Turkey Trot in just about every market we have a store,” Stenzel said. “These events are a great way to support local charities.”

Including Madison, there are 10 Festival Foods Turkey Trots that occur on Thanksgiving across Wisconsin, all of which raise money for the local Boys and Girls Clubs and YMCAs, Stenzel said. 

Stenzel said between 550 and 600 runners and walkers participated in Madison’s Festival Foods Turkey Trot Thursday morning. He added that the race is here to stay, especially because of the strong community interest in it during its first year. 

“For us as a company, we always try to do our best to give back to the community in any way we can and have healthy, happy communities,” Stenzel said. 

While all of these races benefit organizations in the community, Shain expressed concerned that having too many races happening at once could be harmful, not just hurting the Berbee Derby, but the organizations benefiting from these events.

But, she added, because the new races have charity components, they all ultimately give back to the community through different avenues, which is what matters most. 

And it’s what keeps her involved in the Berbee Derby every year. 

“The combination of exercise and family coupled with community involvement over time is really what drives me each and every year to provide a better race,” Shain said. 

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