Keeping “Abreast” of the Turkey Trot

Based on an interview with Mark Riley, member of Christ Church of Arlington and Turkey Trot race director (aka “Chief Turkey”)

With the 17th running of the Arlington 5K Turkey Trot fast approaching, Mark Riley talked turkey on how the race started, how it has changed, and why it is important. While the race now has a max of 4,000 registrants and is a beloved tradition in Arlington, it started as a suggestion by the wife of the former pastor of Christ Church to reach out to the community. She had some prior experience organizing a race; the rest of the church volunteers had a very steep learning curve, but they were game!

The first race in 2006 had 275 runners and disbursed $4,200 to two beneficiaries right here in the neighborhood: Doorways and Bridges to Independence. In recent, “normal” times, with the help of about 100 volunteers and corporate sponsors, the typical net is about $120,000—all gravy!!  The beneficiaries have grown from two to 18. The organizers target non-profits with modest budgets doing important work locally. The goal: inclusion of these organizations in the community as well as inclusion of the people they help (who often don’t feel included). 

Covid was a challenge for the race, especially in 2020. The choices were suspending the race entirely or conducting it virtually. The decision was the latter option and participants “did their own thing,” including one family that sent pictures of themselves at an Atlantic beach jogging in turkey regalia. But the race still took a hit: registrants dropped by 75%. 

Last year the in-person Turkey Trot rebounded with 3,200 registrants but there were other challenges, such as not enough police on the force to support the effort. Cancelation was one option, but organizers decided instead on a “course correction”—literally, which meant running up and down Pershing Drive. No, not terribly exciting but it allowed the race to happen. This year the organizers expect the course to be back to normal, with the same route as in 2019. 

While the Turkey Trot attracts serious runners with 15–16-minute times (that’s a sizzling sub-5 minute mile pace), many participants are there to have fun, with a costume lineup to include a gorilla, dinosaur, flamingo, families of bananas and squirrels, Santa and Mrs. Claus, the Grinch, pilgrims, and, of course, TURKEYS!!!  There are adults who now run it with their kids who once ran it as kids with their parents. 

There are many ways to participate: you can donate, promote, register, sponsor, or volunteer. All are opportunities for organizing community resources, inspiring family fun, and addressing charitable needs. So don’t chicken out:  join in and help the community!