ENCINITAS — For the last 10 years, North County residents and visitors alike have wobbled before they gobbled in the Encinitas Turkey Trot.
This year marks a decade since husband-and-wife duo Steve and Kristie Lebherz started the annual Thanksgiving morning race on Nov. 23.
As fellow runners, the couple got the idea after participating in a particularly cold and rainy turkey trot up in Silicon Valley. They quickly realized that staying in sunny San Diego County to run on Thanksgiving morning was a much better idea.
The two were already in charge of running events for a cause through Excelerace, their events management company, so starting another event was simple enough.
The Encinitas Turkey Trot has more than tripled its participants in the past decade, beginning with about 1,500 runners in 2013 and expecting more than 5,000 this year.
“It all depends on the weather,” Steve said. “We’re expecting a good turnout with 75 degrees and sunny.”
While most participants are from Encinitas, Cardiff, Solana Beach and Del Mar, the trot attracted visitors from 35 different states and as far as Europe last year.
Turkey trotters can either run or walk up and down Coast Highway in the 5K, 10K and Kids-K races that begin and end at the Encinitas sign. Though the trot is a chip-timed race, Steve described the event as a lighthearted “fun run” where participants can get a positive start to the holiday alongside friends and family.
“A lot of people don’t even make it past their favorite coffee place,” Steve said with a laugh.
The Turkey Trot wouldn’t be complete without a costume contest, which will award $300 to the winner, $200 to the runner-up and $100 to third place on race day.
One of the top reasons for participating in the Turkey Trot is to exercise and burn some calories before consuming a handful of hearty meals throughout the rest of the day.
Many Turkey Trots, like the one in Encinitas, double as a charitable event. A portion of proceeds go toward the Veterans Association of North County (VANC), a nonprofit organization in Oceanside that helps veterans and active duty service members and their families.
In addition to its participants, the Turkey Trot also brings in dozens of volunteers who help to run the race, including Boy Scouts from Encinitas Troop 776, who for years have run the race’s water stations.
“We get a lot of help,” Steve said.
Top sponsors of the event include Road Runner Sports, Excelerace, The Coast News and Hudson Safe-T-Lite, which helps shut down roads and put up signs that direct traffic to keep trotters safe.
“They’ve already started putting up signs,” Steve said about Hudson Safe-T-Lite. “They’re really good at what they do.”
Encinitas Turkey Trot registration is now open on its website, encinitasturkeytrot.org, and will remain open between 6 and 7:30 a.m. on the day of the race. The 10K begins at 7:30 a.m., the Kids-K race around 7:45 a.m. and the 5K around 8 a.m.
The 5K race costs $62 and the 10K is $72 for adults, $42 for kids ages 10 to 17, and free for children 9 and under. The Kids-K race is also free.
Thanksgiving is the most popular running day throughout the United States, with over 1 million people running in some form of event.
As trotters gear up to run along the coast in Encinitas, thousands of other trotters gather to race in Oceanside during the O’side Turkey Trot, one of the biggest running events in the region.
Steve noted that while the Encinitas Turkey Trot seems to attract more people from the lower North County coastal cities, the O’side Turkey Trot attracts more people from Carlsbad and the cities along state Route 78.
Eric Marenburg and Pete Hess, two runners who founded San Diego Running Co., recently purchased the O’side Turkey Trot.
“They’re great guys and we wish them all the best,” Steve said.