When Tom Alber used to see people running in the Thanksgiving Day 5K race on Ward Parkway near his house, he wondered what would possess anyone to get out for such an event.
But on Thursday, Alber was jazzed to run in the race at 85th Street and Ward Parkway along with some work colleagues. Despite the early morning hour and a wintry chill in the air, his wife, Kathy, was ready to cheer him on. His daughters, 10-year-old Emma and 7-year-old Samantha, were excited about the Kids Run.
Alber, who is police chief in Garden City, Mo., said he’s realized that running helps keep him fit for police work, and he had a great time at the 5-mile Wilderness Run in Hodge Park earlier this month. Now he’s getting his wife and kids involved.
“It’s family time,” he said, touting the lively music, funny costumes and crowds of people getting healthy and fit. “It’s like a carnival without the rides.”
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Plus this race had an added bonus — a 6-inch Tippin’s pie for everyone crossing the finish line.
“We promised grandma we would have pie for dinner,” Alber said.
Thursday’s Thanksgiving Day race near Ward Parkway Center was sponsored by Garry Gribble’s Running Sports and the Kansas City Track Club, among others, and drew a few thousand runners. And it was one of at least five races held in the Kansas City metro area, becoming part of a huge national trend. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Thanksgiving Day races have increased 118 percent in five years, from 400,000 runners in 2008 to 870,000 in 2013.
In the Kansas City area, races were also held Thursday at the Sprint Campus in Overland Park, in Liberty and Parkville and on Gillham Road in midtown.
Nancy English, the Ward Parkway race director, said the event has become a bigger draw every year. It benefits Harvesters, the Community Food Network.
It’s a great day for a run, she said, because most people have the day off and the whole family can participate.
English is 61 but looks 20 years younger. “It’s the running,” she said.
The race was clearly a big draw for all age groups, especially parents and kids. Ginny and Michael Allen of Olathe brought their three children: 13-year-old Gwyneth, 8-year-old Max, who was riding his bike, and 8-month-old Ellie looking happy and bundled up in her stroller. Gwyneth gave a simple answer for what motivated them to all get out on a brisk holiday morning.
“It’s fun,” she said.
The race also drew the “Jolley runners” — all members of a family headed by Jane Jolley, 64, from Salida, Colo. She was visiting daughter Erin Eason, 38, of Leawood along with other family members who had come from Iowa. All four adults and five kids sported warm, fuzzy hats in the shape of turkeys or pies to ward off the cold.
Eason said the race was just a great opportunity to “get together and do something active” before devouring a turkey dinner.
They had researched other local Thanksgiving Day races but this one had a particular allure, said daughter Wendy Marckmann, 40.
“It was the pie,” she said.