By: TRACY BRENNAN LYNCH
It’s a familiar sight early on Thanksgiving morning in Port Washington, rain or shine. Thousands crowd a cordoned-off Manorhaven Boulevard to wait for the sound of the gun that will commence the five mile loop of the annual Port Washington Thanksgiving Day Run. Whether they’re running or spectating, witnesses agree that the communal sense of excitement and camaraderie surrounding this celebratory dash is better than a parade.
For the last 11 years, this race has been organized by the Community Chest of Port Washington with growing sponsorship from local businesses. Race director Julie Meer Harnick says that in 2011, there were 2,917 registered runners representing 28 states aided by approximately 100 volunteers. She believes that this year’s turnout may be even stronger, given the number of early registrations. As anticipation heightens for the 37th running, race officials will cap registration at 3,000 to ensure continued safety on what is recognized as the busiest running day of the year.
The tradition began in 1975 when, in the wake of the school budget being voted down, three Port Washington residents organized the race as part of the S.O.S. (Save Our Sports) Program. Walter Bingham, a senior editor at Sports Illustrated, his wife Betty and Steve Lubar, an accomplished local runner, mapped a course using a car odometer that began in Manhasset Isle. There were a few hundred participants that year.
By the second year, longtime technical director David Katz, also a Port Washington resident, determined that the race was miscalculated at approximately 4-¾ miles. At that point, the start and finish lines were moved to Manorhaven. Katz, who was the 2012 London Olympics official marathon measurer and is considered to be international “measuring royalty,” was also instrumental in promoting the race in its early years to attract professional runners. He successfully convinced Olympians Craig Virgin and Eamonn Coghlan, the legendary miler, to run. Course records were set by Matt Centrowitz (23:23) in 1983 and Pia Paladino (27:43) in 1982 and remain unbroken. Other notable runners include Gary Muhrcke, who won the first ever New York City Marathon and Katherine Martin, an amateur masters runner from Northport. She won last year’s women’s race with a time of 32:23. She was 60 years old.
Seasoned runners also include Bobby Anastasia, a “streaker” as they’re known in the running world, who has never missed this race since its inception- even during the Thanksgiving blizzard in 1989 when it took him an hour to get to Port Washington from his home in Manhasset. That race was postponed until that Sunday but the few, like Anastasia, who showed up figured they would run the course anyway “for fun.” They did although Anastasia did not best his personal record of 29:42. He still shows up, no matter what, and says he hasn’t gone anywhere on Thanksgiving Day to avoid missing it although he notes the changes. He says it used to be a smaller, competitive event for a couple of hundred serious runners but describes it as “more social and more of a family thing now…you have so many people home for the holiday and the crowd is great,” he says.
Like the sport of running in general, the race has grown and participants range from competitive veterans and fledglings to occasional runners and walkers. Many are residents of Port Washington or nearby areas; some are there visiting friends and relatives. The regular cast of characters includes fleeing turkeys, Santa and his reindeer and, thanks to the challenging level of the course and the race’s established reputation, lots of local and neighboring talent. Some are trying to medal in their age group or set a personal record while others may just want to justify a feast later in the day. Some may have trained for months while others are reluctantly dragged to the start after being pried off the couch by an overzealous relative. But whoever they are, and whatever their reasons are for being out there, they will have reason to smile, having spent the morning in great company giving back to a great community. And themselves.
Get more information about the Thanksgiving Day Run and the Community Chest of Port Washington, or call 767-2121.