Turkey Trot Fiasco

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As a college student in Chico, California in the early 1980’s, I was always on the lookout for a deal on food. When I learned the University was sponsoring a student turkey trot 5k run with the winner receiving a turkey, I entered the event determined to win despite a stubborn knee that was interfering with my training.

When the inaugural race finished, I limped home with a frozen Cornish game hen strapped to my sore knee, my prize for finishing third. I told myself if the school held the event the following year, I would be healthier and make sure I came home with a turkey.

The following year, the event was held again. I was in prime shape having just run a PR two weeks earlier in a prestigious event and was certain no one would beat me this time around. Adding to my chances was a change in the race day and start time. The first year, the event was held in the late afternoon on a school day. However, the second time around it was decided to move the race to an 8:00 a.m. start on a Saturday morning. I knew few students would drag themselves out of bed after a Friday night of partying. However, because I had a job that required me to empty the trash from the girls bathrooms in a nine story dorm starting at 4:00a.m., getting to the start line would not be a problem for me.

I reported to work wearing my running gear under my clothes. After hauling out the trash, I had enough time to report to the start area, sign in, and then go through my warm up process. You see, I took running very seriously and was not about to leave anything to chance.

However, between the time I reported to work to the time I left the dorm building, a major rain storm moved in. Water was falling from the sky in buckets so race registration was moved indoors to the school’s gymnasium. Warming up now meant jogging laps around the basketball courts and stretching in the warmth and cover of the gym.

Meanwhile, the rain not only continued, it now increased to Arc building levels that only an insane person would run in. I happened to be one of the twelve crazy students who signed up and were readying themselves for a very wet race, all for a turkey.

We were told to remain inside until we were called to the start line.  They told us they would start us under the over hang of the gym so we could stay dry just a little longer. When the start gun went off, we began racing a course that had us crisscrossing the University grounds which were now under a couple of inches of water. There were no other students to be seen but the insults of plenty could be heard coming from the dorm windows as the twelve of us negotiated our way around campus.

About a mile into the race, I began experiencing a problem. You see, I wore a pair of running shorts that did not have a built in liner so I was sporting a pair of Fruit of the Loom tighty-whities. The cotton underwear had become saturated with water and were now so heavy, they began to sag like an overly filled toddler’s diaper. I now had to hold on to the waistband of my underwear just to keep them from falling well below my waist. This left me running in an awkward manner with one arm free and the other held prisoner by my underwear. I was at a disadvantage, or so I thought.

When I looked around me, I couldn’t help notice several others with the same predicament.  We were all struggling to keep our shorts from dropping down to our ankles as well as keep up with the three runners who either had built in liners with their shorts or who were running commando.

In the end, I managed to finish ahead of my underwear soaked competition but just behind the three better equipped runners.  I walked home without a turkey, the second place chicken, or even another Cornish game hen, but not entirely empty handed because I still had to hold on to my waistband.

When I arrived back to my place, my girlfriend, and now wife, couldn’t help notice I did not bring home a turkey, or any other food for that matter. I tried to explain what happened but all I got in return was her laughter.

Still, it was a worthwhile Thanksgiving run. My girlfriend would go on to buy me my first pair of lined running shorts for Christmas the following month and running in the rain would never be the challenge it was on that day in 1982.