Tweaks in bigger Turkey Day Run are suggested after runners fall at starting line and suffer minor injuries

The 36th Turkey Day Run & Gobble Wobble broke two records – for registrations and finishers –  this year, but a few of their participants almost broke some bones.

At least three people, among them a City of Charleston councilman and lawyer, a Columbia attorney and a prominent accountant, took a spill at the starting line and were trampled.

The incident happened as Turkey Day made virtual quantum leaps in registration and finisher numbers: 7,386 signed up and 6,558 runners and walkers crossed the 5K finish line. In anticipation of the bigger crowds, TDR’s organizers, the Knights of Columbus Council 704, added a fourth wave, staggered start, stressing that strollers be in the last corral to avoid problems

Now some are saying they should have a separate elite runner start, similar to the Bridge Run, where all who can prove they have run a 20-minute or faster 5K start first.

Among the known who fell on Thursday morning were Councilman/attorney Mike Seekings, attorney Kathryn Cavanaugh and accountant Bratton Fennel. All were lined up together toward the right side of the Meeting Street starting line when pushed to the ground for apparently 20 or so seconds.

Each sustained minor injuries and were shaken and scared by the incident, but still managed to gather themselves and run with sub-20 minute finish times. Their times were slower than what they would have run but still faster than more than 90 percent of the field.

All three are veteran runners and long-time regulars in the Charleston running scene, including dozens of Cooper River bridge runs among them. They are experienced in crowded race start situations but had never found themselves in a scenario of being trampled.

“It happened so fast that no one knew what was going on,” recalled Seekings, who estimates he was on the ground for 20 seconds but that it seemed longer. “When I got up, I was a little freaked out.”

Seekings gathered himself and ended up waiting to start in the second wave of runners.

On Monday evening, Cavanaugh said she was still sore from getting stepped on. When she was on the ground, she made sure her head was protecting and even “(thought) I might die, knowing a thousand people were behind me.”

She said getting up and running the race was purely based on adrenaline. She did not stay after the run, noting that she was both upset and also needing to get back to Columbia for Thanksgiving celebrations.

Both Cavanaugh and Fennell said, separately, that the problem may have originated in an awkward start without a “ready, set, go (or gun firing).”

Fennell said, “It was hard to tell when the gun went off, so I think a few people took off and some did not. With a fast start (in) that tight (pack) of people, when one falls, it started a chain reaction. I got a little banged up … For a second I heard someone say everyone stop, but then saw everyone was racing, I got my butt up and when I found I was OK, got to running. Other than skinning up my knees, I was OK.”

I’ve asked the media relations director Danielle Snider if Turkey Day officials know of the falls and if they plan to consider any preventive action, but have yet to hear back.

Here’s TDR’s response via a “statement”:

 “The Turkey Day Run is extremely committed to the safety of our runners.  While we understand that accidents happen, we take every precaution to avoid injuries and ensure that we have ample medical on staff in the event of an injury.  We will be assessing the race and any changes that need to be made over the next year, but when the starting line is moved back to its original place next year the runners will again be able to hear “on your mark, get set, go! Over the speakers”.

 Seekings, Cavanaugh and Fennell aren’t pointing fingers, but say this is a opportunity to make sure something more catastrophic doesn’t happen in the future.

Many runners, including Seekings, Cavanaugh and a few other runners, think it may be time for Turkey Day add an elite athlete start for the fastest runners, those who can run a 5K in 20 minutes or faster and can prove it by providing a race result from the previous year.

It may be a good idea, in part, to remove children from the mix. In both Turkey Day and the upcoming Reindeer Run, eager youngsters who tend to run erratically often line up in front of or beside adult runners.

Also, Seekings and Cavanaugh say the start needs to be more clear and obvious.

These are all growing pains that big races experience. Remember, even the Bridge Run officials  proved they can fix a messed up start.



2 thoughts on “Tweaks in bigger Turkey Day Run are suggested after runners fall at starting line and suffer minor injuries

  1. David, I have been involved in the Turkey Day race for over 33 years. In that time, the race has grown from 800+ to over 8000 this year(counting the children’s run.) We have worked diligently to promote safety and have gone from one mass start 2 years ago, to 3 waves last year, to 4 waves this year. The first wave was for runners under 25 minutes and only had 1100 runner. The 2nd wave had 2500 runners, the 3rd wave had 1976 runners, and the final wave had around 1800 runners. There were no mats, ropes, uneven pavement or any other obstructions in the road. In the 1982 Gaspirilla distance classic in Tampa FL, there were 1″ thick boat ropes that separated the world class runners from the elites. I lined up behind Grete Waitz on the other side of the rope. When the race started, the entire row that I was in went down, including myself, and did not know that I was injured until after the race. Several people suffered broken collarbones, and many were taken to the hospital. The race was at fault for having the rope in place when the event started, similar to what occurred at the Bridge Run a few years ago. Accidental falls happen, period. I will bet that even you have fallen on a run before. We did everything possible to prevent this. Instead of focusing on the negative aspect of the race, you need to focus on the fact that this was one on the largest, best run events ever put on in Charleston. The race started EXACTLY on time(9:00:00)
    There were -0- problems during packet pickup. The new route was prepared appropriately considering that we did not find out about it until 10 days before the race. The results were online by NOON and there were only 3 reported missed times out of 7386 registered runners, a 0.0004%, something that has never happened. Lookup Kisoks at the finish lines provided instant results for ALL finishers, something that has never been done before in Charleston. Please focus on the positive aspects of the race instead of accentuating the negative minor problems that occur.
    When the problems happened in Tampa, there was -0- coverage of the fact that several people went to the hospital, and that’s what should been reported. It is regrettable that Mike and Kathryn fell, but accidents happen, period, and that’s what happened this year.

  2. Get your facts correct, the announcements stated that strollers are only allowed in the last corral and NO pets are allowed on the course. This is the same as every year yet the public still shows up with pets or want their strollers in the front corral because they are “elite” runners with children. The organizers can do everything possible to make it a safe an enjoyable race but when a runner trips the race committee cannot control the 2000 people in that corral until the person regains their balance. The start of the race had to be modified due to the city having repairs done on the seawall at the battery.

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