Jesi Niebuhr competed in her first 5k race during the Turkey Trot in Ocala on Thanksgiving last year.
This holiday, she is participating in the race virtually.
The 20th annual Turkey Trot, hosted by the Frank DeLuca YMCA in Ocala, is incorporating new parts of the overall event—including a virtual run where participants who are out of town can still run the race.
Niebuhr, an employee within membership services at the YMCA, will be visiting her family in New York this Thanksgiving, but wanted to stay involved with the race.
“After doing the Turkey Trot last year, I set out to do it every year,” she said. “It’s something that I really enjoyed. There was a great atmosphere to run in.”
Niebuhr’s goal last year was to run the entire time without walking and complete the race in under an hour. She met this goal by running the race in 55 minutes and 14 seconds.
This year, her goal is to run her virtual race in less than 45 minutes.
All of the race’s proceeds go to the YMCA Scholarship Campaign. These funds go to families who cannot afford the memberships or programs, according to the Turkey Trot website. Niebuhr says this campaign is one of the reasons she wanted to participate in the race again in any way she could.
“It’s such a great cause that we have that I just wanted to be able to give back and that’s a great way to do it,” Niebuhr said.
As the largest race in Marion County, according to Nicole Bloom, the senior membership director of the YMCA, there is the goal to grow the race and improve it.
“With this being our 20th year, we did want to make this event a little bit more special to commemorate such a big milestone for this race,” she said.
To do this, they incorporated the 10k race to give runners a chance to grow and train for a bigger race and the dodgeball tournament for kids who don’t want to run in the race but still want to participate. In the past, the event has only included the 5k and an outdoor cycling class.
Bloom said 185 participants have signed up for the 10k so far. She said the original goal was to have 100 runners sign up.
Bloom also said the overall event is growing far beyond their numbers from last year.
As of November 17, 1,066 participants were registered for all of the events. Last year, 804 people were registered at this point, she said.
In total, about 2,000 participants ran in the race last year.
This year the Turkey Trot will be partnered with the inaugural Big Hammock Race Series.
The series includes the Turkey Trot, Reindeer Run, Ocala Marathon, Valentine’s Day 5k, Live Oak International 5k, St. Paddy’s Day 5k, and Four on the Fourth.
“We wanted to bring excitement to the community, but we also wanted to increase participation across the races,” Darrin DeTorres, the creator of the series and president of Ocala Runners Club, said.
The series starts with the Turkey Trot mainly for exposure, according to DeTorres. With 2,000 runners and 2,000 to 3,000 spectators, there would be many people to advertise to.
“We figured if we can get the race series in front of almost 5,000 people who are runners, we’re more likely to succeed in the series,” he said.