Fort Wayne’s Galloping Gobbler is more an experience than a race.
It’s parade and pageantry, all turkey hats and argyle socks and guys running in their jammies. You just laugh when the gun goes off and it takes you three minutes to shuffle toward the starting line, because it’s so awesome that all these people rolled out of bed for a communal run on feast day.
But then you finally toe the rubber mat that activates your computer chip and everybody prepares to shove off like boats leaving shore. Only something’s wrong. The traffic jam just won’t dissipate. It’s a great wall of humanity as far as the eye can see. There’s nowhere to run.
Feeling like a mom in a disaster movie, I grab my taller, faster 13-year-old son and shove him through a narrow opening toward the sidewalk: “Go! Make a run for it! Escape while you can!”
Seeing his bright orange shirt disappear in the distance, I concentrate on finding my own path through the tangled polyglot of arms and legs pulsing toward Lindenwood Cemetery.
Part of me is frantic to escape the mob, propelled by some vague undefinable angst. What, exactly, am I afraid of? That the back of the pack will wind up like a Thanksgiving turkey? That I won’t beat last year’s time?
It shouldn’t matter. This is all in good fun. On some level it just feels better to run in a human herd, to be part of something larger than yourself.
And yet … it’s even better when you get into the flow of a race, pulled into a faster rhythm than what you can usually manage all on your own. A time that’s even a few seconds faster is a sign that you’re progressing rather than regressing, that you’re still living and breathing and growing rather than just … congealing.
Usually in a race like this I employ my sister Traci’s tactic of picking out a runner up ahead that I want to stay with and eventually pass. But at the 1-mile mark I’m still boxed in, still trying to maneuver through the human obstacle course.
It occurs to me that I’m getting a small dose of what I envision those Zombie Chase runs to be like. Which somehow seems appropriate since we’re running in a cemetery.
Eventually the crowd thins just enough that I can focus on individual runners and the haunting beauty of this grand old cemetery. It feels great to charge up its gently rolling hills rather than bemoan their existence, thanks to my sister’s maniacal enthusiasm for hill training. Too bad she couldn’t come along this year.
I spy my husband up ahead, changing the battery in his camera as I run by. I wonder if he got a picture of Ben. There’s no sign of his bright orange shirt as far as I can see. Which is good. He wanted to put as much distance between us as possible.
At last my segment of the pack winds its way out of the cemetery and begins the long ascent toward the University of Saint Francis and the finish line.
“Attack the hill!” shouts the Galloping Gobbler mascot in his turkey suit. He extends one costumed claw and I give him five as I run by.
I remember from last year that this last part feels like it’s going to take forever, because you can’t see the finish until you’re practically upon it. I force myself to pick up the pace, trusting that I don’t have much farther to go.
And then there it is up ahead. The clock is showing 40 minutes and some change. But then I remember that I get to subtract at least 3 minutes from the official start time. My official time, I later discover, is 37:24. A pace of 9:21 minutes a mile. I’m still moving up in the world.
Ben somehow finds me amid the congestion at the finish. He’s not thrilled with his time of 33:18, an 8:20 pace. But I note that this is the longest race he’s ever run. He, too, is still improving.
We never do find Bob until we all eventually migrate back to the car. We’re freezing, and I can’t stop sneezing.
But this still feels like the best way to kick off Thanksgiving Day — and the Zombie Chase element made it even more amusing this year.