Megan Shepard and Mackenzie Grimes never ran a race before, let alone participated in one on Thanksgiving.

But the buzz of the Rocktown Turkey Trot changed their minds.

Now in its sixth year, the Rocktown Turkey Trot by VA Momentum allowed runners across the city to start off their Thanksgiving festivities by participating in a 4-mile trek through downtown Harrisonburg.

By 7:30 a.m., South Main Street and South Liberty Street were transformed into a sea of orange race shirts and Thanksgiving-themed attire.

Grimes, 33, of Harrisonburg, works with the Harrisonburg Police Department and has watched her co-workers help set up for the event year after year, which led her to signing up to participate Thursday.

“This is my first race ever, but there was so much buzz about it,” Grimes said. “If I am going to do it I might as well be on my home turf downtown.”

Grimes ran alongside her friend, Shepard, 33, of Harrisonburg, who also was a first-time runner.

“There was definitely peer pressure for me to sign up,” Shepard said.

Another factor that led to Shepard signing up was the guilt she would have when she got back home and started partaking in the Thanksgiving treats.

Before taking off on her first ever 4-mile race while wearing a turkey headband, Grimes said she enjoyed that the turkey trot had a family atmosphere, which made it more inviting.

Grimes and Shepard were joined by close to 1,700 people who had signed up to spend their Thanksgiving morning running instead of sleeping in.

While running the course, participants were greeted with spoonfuls of pumpkin pie near water stations spread out through downtown.

With experienced runners leading the way, those who wished for a more relaxed pace stayed further behind.

First-time turkey trotters Zach Gesford, 29, of Harrisonburg, and Sam Ellingson, 31, of Harrisonburg, sported turkey-themed hats while running.

Gesford said the two had participated in other races by VA Momentum, but never the Rocktown Turkey Trot.

“We thought it would be fun,” he said. “We get to dress up and wear turkey stuff.”

Ellingson said running the turkey trot made him feel better about eating his Thanksgiving meal later in the day.

While Ellingson and Gesford experienced running in races before, they said they were just in it to have fun instead of finishing in a record time.

And the fun of the Rocktown Turkey Trot was exactly what Alan Maynard, co-founder of VA Momentum, had in mind when the race was created.

“We were looking for a Thanksgiving tradition in Harrisonburg and there wasn’t one at the time,” he said. “The idea of it was to have a lot of families here and it’s great to run and eat turkey later.”

Maynard said the turkey trot benefited the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank with participants asked to bring one canned good or non-perishable food item with them. VA Momentum also accepted cash donations to benefit the food bank.

When the race concluded, VA Momentum would consolidate all of the items collected and deliver them to the food bank on Thanksgiving.

Contact Jessica Wetzler at 574-6279 or Follow Jessica on Twitter @wetzler_jessica

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