Seventh Heaven

Runners sprint from the starting line on the track at Palisades High School’s Stadium by the Sea to begin the seventh annual Palisades Funding Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving
Photo by Steve Galluzzo

Seventh Annual Palisades Funding Turkey Trot

Gwendolen Twist Wins Hometown Race for First Time; Taylor Breaks 10K Record

By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor

It was merely a coincidence that Gwendolen Twist wore 2019 for last Thursday morning’s seventh annual Palisades Funding Turkey Trot, but she was determined to finally break through and win her hometown 5K race on Thanksgiving morning. The bib number was indeed a good omen as Twist made this her year by beating friend and five-time champion Tanya Fischer along with all of the other women in a rainy run across the Asilomar Bluffs.

“I felt pretty good when I woke up, like ‘Let’s do this,’ and  I’m in really good shape,” Twist said. “The whole time I ran fearful because Tanya is notorious for turning it on if you drop off your pace just a little bit.”

Upon crossing the finish line at the 50-yard line on the football field at Palisades High’s Stadium by the Sea, Twist experienced both satisfaction and relief, especially after coming in a close second last fall. Her one disappointment was that her time of 18:57 was 10 seconds off the course record set by Fischer in 2014, but she’ll have always another chance next year.

“I was going for it,” Twist  admitted. “I think I’ve run this every year. I throw all the medals into a box and I went digging them out.”

In addition to coaching Pali  High’s cross country and track teams, Twist runs for Janes Elite Racing and one of her teammates is Fischer, the track/cross country coach at Santa Monica High who wore number 2020, so next year she may give Twist a better run for her money.

“You always know when you feel good and I just didn’t have it today,” said Fischer, the fifth femaile finisher in 20:13. “These days I have to pick my battles. I’m a year older and the competition keeps getting better… but I’m happy for Gwen and I always enjoy this race. A lot of the kids I’ve coached come out to run it and it’s always nice to see them.”

Twist, 44, and Fischer, 53, are training hard for the Club XC Nationals on December 14 in Pennsylvania, where The Janes will try to defend their titles in the 40s and 50s age divisions.         

Before heading up the street with Twist for a post-race lotte at Starbuck’s, Fischer took the opportunity to persuade Riviera resident Victoria Chapus, whom she’s been friends with since she was seven years old, to join her at Nationals.

“Victoria is going to run on the 50s team—I recruited her,” Fischer said.

Chapus, who ran the 5K with her daughters Cami and Elodie, joked: “Yes, Tania caught me in a weak moment.”

Twist used the race as a sort of warmup for the California International Marathon (CIM) this Saturday in Sacramento. In June she clocked a personal-best two hours, 50 minutes, 52 seconds to place ninth out of 387 women in her age group at the Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota. That came after winning the Mountains 2 Beach Marathon  from Ojai to the Ventura Pier in 2:51.49, with the help of Fischer, who jumped in to run the last four miles with her.

In July, Twist ran 5:29 to help The Janes win the team title at the Manhattan Mile in Manhattan Beach.

Twist lives in the Alphabet Streets with  her husband Jordan and their twin boys Wyler and Teyton, fifth-graders at Palisades Elementary.

Despite the weather almost 650 men, women and children turned out to run—many dressed as pilgrims or wearing their race t-shirts and orange turkey hats.

Embacing the spirit of the event was former “Good Day LA” reporter and race announcer Dorothy Lucey, who encouraged everyone to pick up their gift bags. She then introduced Paul Revere Middle School sixth-grader Sage Denham, who sang the National Anthem.

In lieu of a starting horn a countdown from five to one got the race underway and a turkey-clad David Houston rode his green Vespa scooter around the oval track ahead of the lead pack.

The first person to emerge from the tunnel leading back into Stadium by the Sea was  Thomas Fitzpatrick, who won the 5K for the second straight year, tying the course record of 16:30 set in 2016 by Ramin Razavi, who had just become the new pastor at Calvary Church of Pacific Palisades in the Highands and hadn’t finished unpacking after moving to from Colorado six days earlier.     

Fitzpatrick, a 30-year-old from Santa Monica, missed the turn off to go through the tunnel    last year but knew exactly where to go this time. He decided that morning on an encore after being encouraged to run it last year by Electric Flight Crew fitness group tammate and former Pali High swimmer David Nonberg.

Finishing second in the 5K in 17:07 was Pali High cross country runner Noah Wexler, who helped the Dolphins finish third at the City Championships in Woodland Hills.   

“I’ve been running here since the YMCA Track Meet and I have been running ever since I was six years old,” Wexler said. “My dad has had me run up hills ever since we moved to the Highlands. I love running and being part of the Pali team. I’m excited to run the mile for track this upcoming season.”

Wexler much prefers the Turkey Trot course to the three-mile switchback City Finals course at Pierce College.

“I can’t stand Pierce—this is much better,” he said. “The best part about it is that people are cheering for you instead of your coaches yelling at you.”

Women’s 10K winner Meghan Roberts described the last mile up Temescal Canyon Road as “horrific” but persevered to finish in 40:44, the third fastest women’s time in the  five years the 10K has been run.

“Anytime there’s a race I’ll run it,” she said. “It was fun to see all the kids out here. It’s a nice run with lots of turns and I liked it.”

In town to visit relatives, Roberts lamented that the rest of the family was at home eating bacon and eggs, but she loves to run and vowed to be back even though “LA traffic is too much for me.”    

Roberts, who lives in Santa Cruz and teaches P.E. in the Live Oak School District, went to UC Santa Cruz but didn’t play sports there. She broke her nose playing soccer in her senior year of high school and has since become a competitive distance runner, having completed the San Francisco Marathon in 2013, the Azusa Marathon in 2017 and the Boston Marathon last April.

Ken Rideout has adopted the ocal Turkey Trot as his race since he moved from New York to the Highlands in January 2016 with his wife Shelby and their four kids. He tried the 10K that year and battled winner Tom Comay of Santa Monica all the way before taking second in 36:25. That summer he was seventh in the Palisades Will Rogers 10K on the Fourth of July.

After his runner-up trot on his first try Rideout won it in 2017 in 35:02 and made it two in a row last year in 34:22. Wearing No. 1 this time around, he was warmed up briskly, trying to size up the competition.       

Rideout was eager to make it a three-peat after finishing second in 2016 and first the last two years, but the Highlands resident found himself locked in a duel with Craig Taylor, whom he beat by a little over a minute in the 2017 race.

“I’m getting too old,” the 48-year-old lamented after finishing the 6.2-mile course in 32:34, easily his fastest time yet. However, Taylor passed his rival on the final hill on the way to establishing a new course record in a brisk 32:27.

“I met Ken for the first time at this race two years ago and he blew by me coming up Temescal and I thought no way am I going to let that happen again,” said Taylor, a  32-year-old from Redondo Beach who was a cyclist in college at Indiana University and was fresh off doing the Ironman Triathlon in Kona, Hawaii in October. “I was able to pass him this time, but we were shoulder to shoulder until then.”

Taylor enjoys the local Turkey Trot because of its “neighborhood feel” and his rivalry with Rideout.

“This is a challenging course but you have people standing on their front porch cheering you on and that keeps you going,” he said. “I guess I have to come back next year since I won.”

Taylor, who works at Zwift (a virtual fitness company connecting cyclists and runners around the world) and does much of his training in the Palisades.