Fifth Annual Pacific Palisades Turkey Trot: Leading Lady

Tania Fischer Becomes Only Woman to Take First Place Overall in Thanksgiving Day 5K

By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor

As she crossed the finish line at the 50-yard stripe on the football field at Palisades High’s Stadium by the Sea last Thursday morning, Tania Fischer must have been happy she decided to get up early on Thanksgiving to do what she does best—run.

The 51-year-old from Santa Monica not only became the first four-time winner of the Pacific Palisades Turkey Trot 5K, she became the only female to beat all the males, taking first place overall in 18:54.

“I felt good,” said Fischer, the cross country and track coach at Santa Monica High and member of The Janes Elite Racing Team. “I had a race on Sunday [the SoCal Cross Country Championships] and this just confirmed my training. The weather today was perfect and it definitely helps knowing the course. I was third or fourth when the other leaders suddenly made the turn for the 10K and I realized I was alone. It’s not very often I beat all the guys. I wanted to get under 19 [minutes], which is tricky because this isn’t a fast course.”

Fischer has been the leading lady every year she has run the race. She won for the first time in 2014 when she clocked 18:47, repeated in 19:05 in 2015 and made it three in a row last fall in 19:10. Hailed as the “Queen of the 5K,” Fischer was awarded the first-place medal and, after exchanging well wishes and posing for pictures with fellow competitors, she hurried home to prepare the turkey.   

Palisadian Nell Stephenson won her age division in the 10K, running the 6.2-mile course in 42:08.

Not far behind Fischer was her Janes teammate Gwendolen Twist, who lives in the Alphabet Streets and is the assistant cross country coach at Pali High. Her twin boys are third-graders at Palisades Elementary and she is training for the Phoenix Marathon in February.

Palisades High cross country coach Gwendolen Twist was 11th overall in the 5K race in 20:22.

“We like to run together in the morning,” Fischer said. “I’m more into the shorter races while she does the longer stuff. Sshe coaches here at Pali and I’m at Samo.”

Finishing second in the 5K and winning the men’s 46-55 age group in 19:07 was Brentwood resident Bruce Chorpita, a pyschology professor at UCLA who likes to run marathons and half marathons and is training for the California International in Sacramento next Sunday.

“This is the second time I’ve run this,” said Chorpita, who grew up just outside Philadelphia and enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner with his neighbor, 15-year-old Leo Bilder, who finished right behind Chorpita in 19:19. “Last time, I ran with my family. This time, they let me go.”       

Nearly 1,300 people participated.  Corpus Christi School sixth-grader Declan Burke put everyone in a patriotic mood with his stirring rendition of the “Star-Spangled Banner” and moments later the horn blared and the pack of runners took off running around the stadium’s new all-weather track, under the tunnel and out onto Bowdoin Street.

Bruce Chorpita of Brentwood was the first male finisher in the 5K, completing the course in 19:07.

The leaderboard was full of Palisadians. In the 5K, locals Sam Houston and Braun Levi took the top two places in the Boys 10-12 Division, while Keira Wood and Layla Adeli were the top finishers in the Girls 10-12 Division in the 5K and Adelle Levi clocked 56:30 to finish first in the Girls 10-12 Division in the 10K.   

The 10K champion was Highlands resident Ken Rideout, who covered the 6.2-miles in 35:02 after finishing second last year. He was 17th overall in a personal-best two hours, 40 minutes and six seconds at the LA Marathon in March and won the Malibu Half Marathon in 1:17 on Nov. 5. He is training for next Saturday’s Tucson Marathon, a race he “desperately” wants to win. Originally from Boston, he averages three or four triathlons per year and uses the Turkey Trot as speed work for longer distances.

Palisadian Ken Rideout wins the Turkey Trot 10K for the first time in 35:02 after coming in second last year.

“I find this one tougher than the Palisades-Will Rogers 10K [run every July 4] because of that last hill on Temescal,” said Rideout, who works in business development for The Palisades Group and has four children—two at Marquez Elementary, one in pre-school at the Lutheran Church and a 2-year-old. “It’s so long and sustained and you’re already tired by that point. I’m having dinner with my in-laws who are here from Virginia but I’ll probably run another five to 10 miles tonight. I’ve been running 80 to 90 miles a week for the last six weeks.”

The first time was a charm for 43-year-old Nell Stephenson from Marquez Knolls. She completed the 10K in 42:08—not bad for someone who didn’t start running competitively until after college. Like her, husband Chris is an Ironman triathlete, a marathoner and he even likes 100-mile races. They have lived inthe Palisades since 2009 and Nell likes to run with her two Weimaraners, Preston and Pele.

“Not today though,” she said. “They told us no dogs on the course!”

Stephenson, who earned her BS in Exercise Physiology at USC, has authored five books on healthy living, fitness and cooking and has a website: She has earned eight trips to the Ironman World Championships in Kona and admitted that she doesn’t usually run 10Ks.

“I like it because you can push really hard,” Stephenson added. “I’ve run the Fourth of July race too and I’d say Will Rogers is tougher, but this is still a challenging course.”