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Another tradition upended by the pandemic: Annual Turkey Trot road races go virtual

The Boston Globe logo The Boston Globe 11/26/2020 David Abel
a group of people riding skis on a snowy road: Robin Condon headed to the finish line in the Feaster Five Thanksgiving Race. © Erin Clark/Globe Staff Robin Condon headed to the finish line in the Feaster Five Thanksgiving Race.

For years, it’s been as much of a part of Stephanie Guyotte’s Thanksgiving as turkey and gravy.

Running a Turkey Trot road race has been a way for Guyotte and many others to give thanks while being cheered on, and to raise money for a good cause.

But like so many other traditions in 2020, this year was different.

When Guyotte ran her first leg of the annual Feaster Five Road Race in Andover, one of the largest Turkey Trots in the state, there were no cheering crowds, no timekeepers, no volunteers or barricades along the course. She ran it alone, with her dog, one of many virtual turkey trots held this year.

“I definitely feel like I’m missing the whole feel of it,” said Guyotte, 39, of Methuen, who has been running the Feaster Five for 15 years, but this year ran her own route. “I miss the excitement of it all, and starting Thanksgiving on the right note. But this is a way to keep the tradition going.”

In Boston, Katonya Burke spent the morning doing her best to uphold a similar tradition.

As co-ambassador of Black Girls Run! in Boston, the 45-year-old from Dorchester joined a small group of fellow runners to take part in the annual Franklin Park Turkey Trot, which was also a virtual event.

Every year, Burke’s team wears costumes and draws inspiration from the spectators who flock to the park to cheer them on through the cold. While they weren’t expecting a crowd or other runners, Burke’s team dressed up again, wearing shirts emblazoned with “8:46” — the amount of time George Floyd was pinned down this year before being killed by a police officer — and a quote from a letter Martin Luther King Jr. wrote from a jail in Birmingham, Ala.: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

But the team wore masks and spread out to remain socially distant. “With so many races canceled, we just wanted a way for people to express themselves,” Burke said. “It just means so much more this year to make the statement for empowerment.”

It’s been a year of similarly strange races for Burke, who ran a virtual Boston Marathon in September after it was cancelled last spring. “It’s been crazy,” she said. “But running is a great outlet, and the pavement never closes.”

In Wellesley, where runners also wear costumes for the annual turkey trot, the race is also virtual this year.

Kate Maul, the director, is carrying on in part to uphold the tradition started by her friend, Carol Chaoui, who died of breast cancer over the summer after years of running while dressed up as Wonder Woman.

Maul, who wore a pink cape in her friend’s honor, ran the 5K with her husband, isolating from others as she and her children were waiting for results from COVID-19 tests so they could celebrate Thanksgiving together.

Typically, about 3,000 people sign up for the Wellesley Turkey Trot; this year, around 800 runners registered for the virtual race. But without the costs of paying for police details, insurance, and other race-day needs, more of the money they raised could be given to charities, such as the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Maul said.

“It’s definitely different this year,” she said.

For Haymakers for Hope in Boston, this year was to be their first turkey trot, after years of organizing charity boxing events.

Despite having to keep it virtual, they registered 450 people and planned to donate their proceeds to cancer research.

The new tradition was an odd turn for Andrew Myerson, the group’s director, an amateur boxer who used to hate running. “We were more than happy to get punched in the face to avoid running,” he said.

But on Thursday morning he planned to take part with his own run, a loop around the Charles River. “This has been a good time to get into running,” Myerson said.

For Dave McGillivray, it was a truly unusual holiday, after 30 years organizing the Feaster Five, and so many other road races.

Thanksgiving usually marks the last of his packed schedule for the year. Since March, all of his planned races were cancelled or held virtually.

“The virus has pretty much wiped us out this year,” said McGillivray, whose DMSE Sports organizes the Boston Marathon.

Like so many others, he’s hoping for a better 2021.

“Although we are hopeful, we are not too confident this will all come back for us right away,” he said. “It will be a long, slow climb out of the ditch. It will come back, but the more challenging question is when.”

He added: “We just need to somehow figure out a way to keep a pulse between now and then.”

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