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.