At this year’s Rappahannock YMCA Turkey Trot, most people agreed: Downtown is where the event belongs.

“We like doing the run in Central Park, but doing it back downtown is important,” Ed Rodriguez from Spotsylvania said. “Keep the community feel and keep the small-town idea”

Rodriguez joined a group of runners with the Fredericksburg Area Running Team, who were fully dressed in costumes, including a jester and a snowman.

Other racers, who gathered outside of James Monroe High School, agreed.

“Just the atmosphere of being in the city is fun,” Judi Brown of Fredericksburg said, as she waited near the finish line for her family to run by.

“And you get to see the sights, that’s the fun part,” said Kelly Walker, from Fredericksburg, pointing out elaborate costumes all around her.

Sean Mades, 17, from Courtland High School, said he ran the downtown version of the race for years before it moved to Central Park in 2012.

“Downtown is a lot more of a closed-in feel. It feels a lot more personal,” he said.

The race, which brought more than 4,000 people out on the morning of Thanksgiving for a 5K and two children’s runs, moved to Central Park after city officials were concerned about runner safety because the race brought in large numbers.

The Turkey Trot held downtown in 2011 had 3,527 runners, and was held there for 19 years prior.

Early Thursday morning, the James Monroe High School parking lot and adjacent Washington Avenue were filled with families and friends dressed in quirky outfits, costumes and warm gear as they awaited their turn to run.

The running started at 7 a.m. with the kickoff of five 1-mile heats for children, continued with two half-mile heats for children under 6 years old and finished with continuous waves of runners completing the 5K—or 3.1 miles.

Margo Bragg, from Spotsylvania, came to the race with her husband, Will, and their 4-year-old son, Braxton, who had never participated in the race with his mother before. “Mom, can I go?” Braxton asked, anticipating the start of one of the half-mile runs.

“He’s got lots of energy to spend,” his mother said.

Jan Miller, or Gigi as she’s known by her family, traveled from Yorktown to join in the traditional fun with her family, who all wore shirts that read “Keep your eye on the pie.”

“We run first so we can eat later,” she said.

Renee Sterling, from Fredericksburg, brought her future son-in-law, Lucas Savage, to the race with her, since the rest of her family and friends weren’t up for it.

“This is going to be my racing buddy from now on,” she said, pointing to Savage.

She said her family, which came out to support the two runners, would have to wait a little longer for dinner since she was running.

“Hopefully, it inspires them in January to come out and run with us,” she said, referring to a race she plans to run next year.

Adrienne Ohle–Rodriguez, who joined her husband, Ed, with the Fredericksburg Area Runners Team, called her group “a social club that runs together.”

“It’s about friends first and running second,” Ed Rodriguez said.

Lupe Sigman of Fredericksburg joined three of her longtime friends at the race, all of whom wore matching sequined Santa hats from Whittingham, a store downtown.

Sigman said the event was a chance to see everybody she knew in town.

“Sometimes you don’t see them for a whole year and you see them here,” Sigman said.

The women, who’ve participated in the Turkey Trot for years, agreed the run isn’t hard at all, and is more like a downtown party.

“Forty-five minutes, you can do that,” Betsy Kiley said.

As the first batch of racers crossed the finish line, clouds of warm breath could be seen as tired runners greeted their families.

“Seven-fifteen [per mile pace] and I’m feeling every bit of it,” Chris Downing said, recalling his finish time while standing next to his wife, daughter and grandson.

Downing, who said he’s more of a long distance runner, said he was happy with his finish time.

With another Turkey Trot over, participants all seemed to agree that the race was a Thanksgiving staple.

“It’s just fun seeing everyone run and take part in the celebration of Thanksgiving and enjoying it with running,” Nick Willging, 14, of Courtland High School said.

Melissa Simpson of Caroline said the event that supports the active community is a perfect opportunity to see friends as well as family on a day that fosters both.

“This gives us some friend time in the morning, and then we go join our families in the afternoon,” she said.

Regina Weiss: 540/374-5417; rweiss@freelancestar.com

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