Coach: The Tall Trees Turkey Trot keeps on truckin'
It started out as just a simple idea; oftentimes, the great ones do.
Avid runner and, at the time, soon-to-be marathoner Ken Krause thought it would be fun to start a little 5K run in his tucked away, but close-knit, neighborhood in Glenview known as Tall Trees.
"I figured running was getting pretty popular, and we had plenty of volunteers in our neighborhood, so why not try a run," Krause said.
The first year, 1997, they had a whopping 23 runners. Not exactly breaking out of the gate in spectacular fashion. But the old expression "It's not a sprint, but a marathon" held true.
"Yeah, we lost money that first year," says Krause, "and the homeowners association said they wouldn't fund it anymore, so I took matters in my own hands and funded it myself for a couple of years."
From there, things moved rapidly. By year five they were up to 100 runners, and the momentum kept growing by leaps and bounds. And now? As they enter year number 25, they are maxed out with up to 600 runners!
"Six hundred is really all we can take," Krause said. "We have to turn people away because we have a limited running area in our neighborhood. We kind of have a pretzel-shape racecourse through the neighborhood streets, and if we had too many participants they would be running into each other. So, we have sold out to the max every year the past 10 years."
Amazing! Again, from such innocent beginnings some 25 years ago.
The Tall Trees Turkey Trot has grown into one of the best Chicagoland neighborhood running events, and certainly has become very much a part of the Glenview community's Thanksgiving tradition.
Sandy Brennan and Dan Wassmann, also Tall Trees residents, have taken over much of the reigns in recent years and have seen the growth.
"It is really a great family event," Brennan said. "A lot of reunions and friends and neighbors that maybe haven't seen each other in awhile."
A number Glenview's top young runners have been part of the race in recent years. Familiar names like Jordan Theriault (2018 winner), Brian Hiltebrand, Will Houser, Jayson Stamm, James Kurtzwell, Bradley Berg and Kyle Pekosh all who ran cross country or track for Glenbrook South in recent years.
On the female side, the last few years have been dominated by the flying Ackerman twins, Jessica and Courtney, who both starred at New Trier High School and then in college. Their brother Tyler took second on the men's side in the last running in 2019.
But the real stars of the Turkey Trot are the recreational runners. The moms, dads, brothers, sisters, kids, even a few grandpas and grandmas who show up early on Thanksgiving morning for the traditional run.
Adding to the intrigue is a variety of out of town runners from all over the country who take part while visiting relatives. In fact, the defending champion from 2019 is Nick Handel, who came in from San Francisco, California, to defeat all of our local runners, crossing the finish line with a first-place time of 16:27.
Amanda Gershon is the defending champion on the women's side, shockingly pushing Team Ackerman out of the winner's circle.
We say back in 2019 because in 2020, as was the case with so many special events, the run had to go virtual.
"Even the virtual run last year was popular though," Brennan said. "We had around 400 runners, and people sent in photos and raised money. So, despite the difficulties, it was still a great success."
A couple of other interesting notes on the Turkey Trot.
One, is that all proceeds from the event go to benefit Youth Services of Glenview and Northbrook. Coordinator Krause set that up as one of his goals when he first started it. Over the years, The Turkey Trot has raised close to $200,000 for this wonderful organization and has become one of Youth Services biggest fundraisers.
Secondly, the Turkey Trot long sleeved race T-shirt has become almost iconic. Every year they come up with a new theme and a humorous, creative design. Some of the ones in the past have had an Elvis theme, a Beatles Abbey Road theme, a man on the moon, Abe Lincoln, Harry Potter, and a Macy's balloon among the many. They even lay out a clothesline in the pre-race area and hang out all the shirts from the previous years for all to see.
This year? The famous Chicago "Bean" will be featured and, as have all of the designs over the years, incorporate running and an ever-present turkey. The creator of the designs is Scott Willis, who has been a newspaper cartoonist for many years and was a college colleague of Krause's.
Finally, packet pickup has become part of the tradition as well. This is the day before and a chance for all runners to get their race bag with run numbers, shirts, goody bag items etc.
For many years the Krause family home hosted this.
"Oh, yeah, we would have all kinds of people coming in the house and we would have everything spread out. It kind of became part of our family Thanksgiving tradition," Krause said.
This year, though, a new sponsor will take over the prerace packet pickup festivities as the Blended Health and Smoothie Bar in the Olympia Shopping Center will be the featured location.
Owner April Doremus is a Tall Trees resident and, in fact, has signed on as director of the race for next year. (Writer's note: while picking up your packet or just visiting, I highly recommend the Tropical Berry smoothie, as well as the extremely underrated Banana Bread Waffle Bowl. Awfully good! They also have something called "The Funky Monkey" smoothie, which, as of this writing, I have not yet been brave enough to delve into.)
All told, the place to be on an early, cold, crispy Thanksgiving morning is at 1421 Sequoia Trail Road in Tall Trees (home base for the race). 8:15 a.m. is tip off time, but runners often gather early as part of the tradition. A nice bonfire and numerous fire pits are lit to keep the runners warm pre-race, and two turkey mascots (at least I think they're mascots?) roam around for family photos.
YogaSix will be leading stretches and warmups at 7:45 a.m. for the really motivated early birds.
Finally, when those 600 runners line up at the starting line for this special 25th anniversary event, Ken Krause will be there, as he has every single one of the 25 years, and he will no doubt look on proudly, remembering back on how it all started with just a little idea.
For details and to register, visit talltreesturkeytrot.com.
• Jon Cohn of Glenview is a coach, retired PE teacher, sports official and prep sports fan. To contact him with comments or story ideas, email firstname.lastname@example.org.