SPARTA — Those arising before dawn were not up to put the bird in the oven. They were getting up to tend to pre-race rituals and head to Sparta for an annual runners' rite of Thanksgiving — the Krogh's Turkey Trot. More than a race, the event is an early morning holiday bond with family and friends in the context of a healthy yet often quite frigid morning run to welcome in the day of thanks (and perhaps also justify that extra piece of pie later on).
The out-and-back, 3.1 mile course includes both hills and on days like last Thursday, a cold wind whipping off a white-cap-topped Lake Mohawk. Those approaching the turn around cone at the half way point were greeted by a light flashing, horn blowing four-wheeler coming the other way leading two runners who were battling for the win. In first place was High Point sophomore, Joe Dragon, and behind him, former Pope John and Georgetown University student, Justin Scheid.
The chase"At the start I looked around and didn't see either of them there," Sheid said, then as the race started someone Scheid didn't think he knew got off the line very well and gapped him slightly as they climbed the first hill.
"Before cresting the hill I was on his heels, and I felt the race was between the two of us as the footsteps of trailing runners did not sound close," Scheid said.
He realized Joe Dragon was a camper at the local X-Treme Running Camp had already made a name for himself as a stand-out Jersey runner.
"As we rolled downhill toward the turn-around I saw a clock was set-up," said Scheid. "This may be the first race I have seen a clock at the half-way point of a 5K. The clock flashed 8:08 as we rounded the cone. I trailed [Dragon] up the steepest hill just before the 2-mile mark. At the top of the hill I moved to the lead and tried to pick-up the pace."
As Dragon settled in behind Scheid, he continued pushing the pace through the last mile, up the final climb, and down toward the finish line.
"Dragon fell back a few steps over the last half mile, but he was coming off a tough effort at the Meet of Champions and I am well aware how grueling Holmdel Park can be," Scheid said.
Scheid beat Dragon 16:01 to 16:13.
In the women's race, Nicole Falcaro of New York City was the champion, running 18:53. Claudia Disomma, of Sparta, was second in 18:59, and Carly Zinner, of Sussex, was third running 20:01.
Turkey Trot TraditionThe race was directed by Sabrina Lucas. The Trot is the Sparta Education Foundation’s largest annual fundraising event, and the foundation has awarded more than $410,000 in grants to all five of Sparta’s public schools since 2007. Besides Krogh's, Lakeland Bank and others, one of the race's sponsors is Eastern Propane, which made a presence at the event with a sea of yellow as more than 100 team members donned their bright shirts and competed.
As for Scheid, he summed it up best.
"The Turkey Trot has always been special for [my family] because it takes place in our hometown and there is a tremendous amount of pride having grown up in Sussex County," Scheid said. "The race is an opportunity to say thank-you and spend time with the community that has blessed us with so much. Of all the competitions I participate in each year, the local races are the most memorable because each one feels like a homecoming."
Scheid hopes to one day settle in Sussex County and raise a family, but for now, "the local races provide as good of an excuse as any to drive up Route 15 and visit the old stomping ground."