I ran my first Thanksgiving Day race ever — in 2020

Female runner in pink shirt, orange hat and maroon-ish shorts running on grass.
Here I am on the way to the finish of the Turkey Trek 5K. More race photos are coming, but my colleague was taking photos and sent me this one. (Josephine Noonan photo)

Of course, 2020 has been an odd year. But this year, I got to participate in one annual tradition for many that was new to me — running a Thanksgiving Day race!

For the past five years or so, I have volunteered at the Turkey Trek 5K that my work, Wicomico Recreation, Parks & Tourism, puts on each year at Pemberton Park. My running club, the Eastern Shore Running Club, usually does the timing, and I like to do a fun run on the trails afterward.

However, this year, the race went with chip timing — which is much better for social distancing than manual timing — so I registered to run it.

The race was held in-person, but there were two start times, no race day registration, a health screening, social distancing and a staggered start. Food was also packaged so people could take it to go, and awards will be mailed.

Selfie of Vanessa Junkin, wearing hat and Buff, holding a packaged piece of pumpkin pie. Text on photo says Turkey Trek 5K, 3.11 miles, 33:37, 10:49/mile.
Here I am with my finish line pie. (Vanessa Junkin photo)

It rained the morning of the race and it was gray and dreary, but the rain didn’t come down very hard while I was at Pemberton Park. However, because of the rain, people stayed in their cars pretty much until the race began, which made social distancing even easier. It was pretty warm for Thanksgiving — in the low 60s, and I wore shorts and a short-sleeve Eastern Shore Running Club shirt, along with a BibRave hat and Buff.

Since the race is on trails, I didn’t want to put too much pressure on myself, but since it was a race, I did want to challenge myself and try to go fast. For a road 5K at my current fitness level, I would ideally want to be under 30 minutes. I figured a good personal goal for the Turkey Trek would be to try to come in under 35 minutes.

Earlier this month, I’d had some issues with coughing that were worsened by running (it’s not COVID — I checked and have gotten other treatments). That made me really disappointed, but I went to the doctor, did a few tests and have been taking allergy medicine and using the inhaler I have for exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (asthma).

Vanessa Junkin opening her mouth to eat pumpkin pie off a fork and holding the pumpkin pie container.
I was excited to eat this pie!

Over the past couple weeks, I have felt great, and that continued at the Turkey Trek. The leaves were blown off the course and some of the larger roots were marked, which made the trails clear and easy to follow — and made it easier to run faster without having to worry as much about tripping. The course was also well-marked.

I was running faster than I thought I would without problems. Even though I felt strong, I was still a little surprised and pleased to see I ran the first mile in 9:56. I never got to a point where I felt terrible during the run on the familiar course — the same course as the Pemberton 24 — but I did take two short walk breaks, one at 14-something minutes and one at 23-something minutes. I’m not even positive whether I really needed these walk breaks or just thought I needed them mentally, but they were both short.

My next two miles were completed in 11:11 and 11:31 — more around what I thought I could expect for the trails. When I crossed the finish line, my watch read 2.98, but since I felt so good, I kept going till I reached 3.11 on the watch.

Vanessa Junkin posing in black long-sleeved Turkey Trek shirt with personalized bib reading "298" and "Vanessa" (you can just see "Vaness").
Here I am in my race shirt with my personalized bib.

My official time was 32:24, putting me at No. 8 of 25 women in my new age group — 30-39. This was my first race as a 30-year-old.

With the extra running on my watch, I ended up with a time of 33:37. However, who knows if my watch just had issues. I still got the Pemberton 24 Strava segment, which is 3.13 miles.

My watch logged a 10:49 average pace. I’m really happy with that for a trail run — and mostly, I’m just happy that I was able to run without coughing/breathing issues or injuries and that I felt safe and distanced from others. I’m normally a social person, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, I was glad that I was pretty much alone for the whole race.

It was also nice to come home with a big piece of pumpkin pie.

Great work to my colleagues who organized and worked the event. I’d like to make running this race a new tradition!


Mile 1: 9:56
Mile 2: 11:11
Mile 3: 11:31
Last part (.11): 58.7 (9:01 pace)
Total: 33:37 / 10:49 pace (results were 32:24 / 10:27 pace)

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