Local Thanksgiving Morning Race Is Building More and More Momentum Every Year
By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor
It may not have quite the history of the Palisades Will Rogers Run, Pacific Palisades’ other holiday race, but the Palisades Turkey Trot is building quite a following of its own.
Next Thursday was supposed to be the eighth running of the local Thanksgiving Day race, but like the Will Rogers Run on July 4, it was canceled due to COVID-19.
Community members had been exploring ways to deliver the annual 5/10K on November 26, but mounting uncertainty rendered continuing the event inadvisable.
“The Palisades Funding Turkey Trot is committed to providing a fun, family event on Thanksgiving morning for Palisadians and neighbors from nearby westside towns,” event co-founder and race director Dawn Houston said when the announcement to postpone the race was made in September. “Our goal has always been to kick off the holiday season with a healthy celebration that allows us to connect as a community. We appreciate the spirit, hard work and dedication our staff and volunteers put into the Turkey Trot each year. While we’re disappointed that circumstances prevent us from hosting the event this fall, we look forward to getting everyone together in 2021 to continue our Thanksgiving Day tradition.”
Since 2013, the race has grown in size and scope and like the Will Rogers Run which began in 1978, the Turkey Trot is fast becoming a local tradition.
“We were shocked to find that there wasn’t something like this in our area already,” said event coordinator David O’Connell, who teamed up with Dawn and David Houston, avid runners in the community, to organize an event benefiting Hearts for Hope Foundation. Fellow Palisadian Dr. Dan Levi, a pediatric cardiologist at UCLA, and his wife Jenn Levi, a fitness trainer, also got involved.
Here is a year-by-year look at the race that all involved hope will be a part of the Thanksgiving Day festivities in the Palisades for many decades to come.
Nearly 1,000 runners, twice as many as expected, participated in the first Turkey Trot 5K beginning and ending at Palisades High’s Stadium by the Sea.
He may have been unfamiliar with the route, but David Olds crossing the finish line was a familiar sight in the Palisades.
The 52-year-old from Los Angeles was a longtime participant in the Palisades-Will Rogers Run every Fourth of July, so it no surprise that he won another holiday race in the community he had come to know so well.
“I enjoyed the course, although it was pretty challenging, with lots of twists and turns and very little flat running,” Olds said after finishing first in 16:48. “It was nice touring the El Medio neighborhood and the stretch down towards the bluffs was fast. Grinding back towards Palisades High was tough, especially since there was a headwind along with the uphill climb.”
Olds, who trained with the Fluffy Bunnies Track Club in Santa Monica, won the Will Rogers 5K in 1990 in 15:10 and won the 10K in 32:13 three years later.
“All in all I was pleased with my time given that I’d never run the course before and I was pretty much all alone after a half mile or so,” Olds added. “They did a great job for an inaugural event.”
The female winner was 17-year old Sonaali Pandiri, a senior at Crossroads High in Santa Monica where she ran cross country and track. She found out about the race a few weeks before and decided to give her hometown race a try, finishing 13th overall in 20:48.
“I really enjoyed the course and luckily I had a teammate with me the whole time so I wasn’t feeling too lonely at any point in the race,” said Pandiri, a lifelong Palisadian from the Highlands who had run the Will Rogers 10K the year before. “I liked the course because it felt similar to courses I’ve raced during cross country, except there was less pressure.”
The second edition marked the beginning of the reign of Santa Monica High track coach Tania Fischer. The 48-year old, a four-year cross country runner at UCLA who later founded The Janes (an elite women’s training team) was never challenged on her way to winning in 18:47.
The men’s winner was one of her former Samohi runners, Matt Cohen, a 24-year-old who had run for Haverford College near Philadelphia. He clocked 16:50.
“Matt ran with me for cross country and track and he was our cross country captain,” Fischer said. “I’m always proud of my students who continue running in college and after college so I was happy to have Matt win the race.”
Both Cohen and Fischer were running the holiday race for the first time but unlike Cohen, who was given a run for his money by Olds and Pali High sophomore Jack Hockley, Fischer had little competition.
“I’ve run the [Palisades-Will Rogers] 5K on the Fourth of July many times and this reminds me a lot of that race,” she said. “There’s lots of local support, you run through the neighborhoods, people are clapping as you go by and there’s a hometown feel to it.”
Olds finished in second place in 17:14, Hockley was third in 17:39 and Palisades teammates Jonathan Flores and Jordan Burkhardt were second and third in the 13-18 age group.
“I knew David was the one to beat and won by a couple minutes last year so I had my eye out for him from the beginning,” Cohen said. “We were shoulder to shoulder for two miles. I felt I had a little bit more in me and wanted to see what would happen so I made a bit of a move and I guess it stuck because I had a pretty good gap from there on.”
Approximately 1,000 people registered for the second annual race and many showed up
dressed as pilgrims or indians in the spirit of the holiday. Eleven-year-old Palisadian Jonathan Smiley took first place in the male 8-12 age division with a time of 21:53.
The third annual event, titled the Banc of California Turkey Trot of Pacific Palisades, was the first to include a 10K race and it was won by 14-year-old Brentwood School runner Ryan Younger, who helped the Eagles take 10th in the Division V race at the CIF state cross country finals two days later.
Jennifer Blair, a 35-year-old software saleswoman from Brent-
wood, was the women’s inaugural 10K winner in 45:32.
When he and his family arrived at Pali High the morning of the race, Cameron Posner had no idea what to expect. Visiting his aunt in Santa Monica for the holiday weekend, he was looking for a race to run and she suggested the one in Pacific Palisades. Good thing she did.
Less than one hour later, Posner was crossing the finish line as the 5K champion.
“My Aunt Heather found out about it online—every year we do a 5K when we come out to California and we all ran it,” said Posner, a 20-year-old cross country and track runner at Otterbein University in Ohio. “There were a few big hills that were fun to go up but pretty even downhills. This is my first time in the Palisades and the houses are beautiful, people were waving and cheering us on as we ran by. I had a lot of confidence heading back to the stadium that we were almost done.”
Fischer defended her women’s title in 19:05, good enough for fifth overall. The turnout was strong as over 1,200 people registered, including 100 for the 10K.
Finishing fourth in the women’s 10K and first in the 20-25 age group was Meg Norton, a graduate student and sand volleyball player at USC who grew up in the Palisades and was a standout for Sunshine Volleyball Club. She was a three-time league MVP at Harvard-Westlake High and helped UCLA win the 2011 NCAA title.
If he was wondering what kind of welcome he might receive as a new Palisadian, Ramin Razavi didn’t have to wait long to find out. He was met with steady applause and cheers upon winning the fourth annual Banc of California Turkey Trot in a record 16:30 on a crystal clear morning.
The 38-year-old had just become the new pastor at Calvary Church of Pacific Palisades in the Highands and had not even finished unpacking after moving from Boulder, Colorado, only six days earlier.
“This is a very challenging but fair course that tests your racing tactics,” Razavi said. “It was a fun environment, the race supports a great cause (Hearts with Hope) and I got to run through my own neighborhood in the El Medio Bluffs, which was neat.”
Razavi ran the race with his father Mehdi, his brothers Kamran (a 15-year Palisadian) and Eli and his brother-in-law Daniel from Utah.
Finishing second in the 5K was Santa Monica College sophomore Shane Brouwer, who had run cross and track at Pali High.
Fischer three-peated in the 5K in 19:05 and 32-year-old Tom Comay from Santa Monica won the men’s 10K in 35:43.
Over 1,500 locals and visitors participated in the run through the neighborhood streets, organized once again by O’Connell.
John Closson, representing the Palisades branch of race sponsor Berkshire Hathaway Home Services for the four straight year, said: “One of the [event’s] strengths is a sense of community. A non-competitive family-friendly race to kick off Thanksgiving is ideal.”
For example, Michael Branch and his 8-year-old son Connor ran their first Turkey Trot hours before driving up to Santa Barbara to spend the holiday with family.
Not only did Fischer become the first four-time winner of the event, she became the only female to beat all of the males, taking first place overall in the 5K in 18:54. Nearly 1,300 people participated in the fifth annual race and crossing the finish line first in the 10K was Highlands resident Ken Rideout, who was runner-up the previous year. The father of four covered the 6.2 miles in 35:02 and was fresh off winning the Malibu Half Marathon just weeks before.
“This is tougher than the Palisades-Will Rogers 10K because of that last hill on Temescal,” Rideout said. “It’s long and sustained and you’re already tired by then.”
Triathlete and author Nell Stephenson of Marquez Knolls was the women’s 10K frontrunner in 42:08.
“I like it because you can push really hard,” she said. “I’ve run the Fourth of July race too and I’d say Will Rogers is tougher, but this is still a challenging course.”
Corpus Christi School 6th-grader Declan Burke put everyone in a patriotic mood with his stirring rendition of the “Star-Spangled Banner” and it wasn’t long—less than 19 minutes, in fact, before Fischer was hailed as “Queen of the 5K.” The runner-up in the 3.1-mile race was Brentwood resident Bruce Chorpita, a psychology professor at UCLA.
“I felt good,” Fischer said. “The weather today was perfect and it definitely helps knowing the course. It’s not very often I beat all the guys.”
Fischer made it five-for-five in the 5K and Rideout repeated as 10K champion, this time in 34:22.
Chloe Maleski, a graduate student at Pepperdine and former distance runner at Duke, won the women’s 10K in a course-best 40:16, placing seventh in a field of 173 participants. Reflecting the race’s growing popularity, the 5K included 1,274 registered runners.
“Coming up the last steep hill I thought ‘what sick person designed this course?’ This is as hard a 10K as I’ve ever run,” the 48-year-old Rideout said. “It reminds me of old school Americana! And this is one of the few races that my wife and kids come to watch me run. Afterwards I’ll be chillin’ with the family.”
Thomas Fitzpatrick, a 29-year-old from Santa Monica, won the 5K in 16:54 after being coaxed to try it by friend David Nonberg, a 2005 Pali High alum who led the Dolphins to four City swim titles.
It was fitting that Gwendolen Twist wore Bib No. 2019 last fall, because the 44-year-old finally won her hometown 5K, ending Fischer’s streak 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,” said Twist, who lives in the Alphabet Streets and trains with Fischer with The Janes. “The whole time I ran fearful because Tania is notorious for turning it on if you drop off your pace just a little bit. I was going for it. I’ve run this every year. I throw all the medals into a box and I went digging them out.”
Embacing the spirit of the event was former “Good Day LA” reporter and race announcer Dorothy Lucey, who introduced Paul Revere Middle School sixth-grader Sage Denham to sing the National Anthem.
Fitzpatrick won the 5K for the second straight year, tying the course record of 16:30.
Craig Taylor, a 32-year-old from Redondo Beach, won the 10K in 32:27, a new course record. Santa Cruz P.E. teacher Meghan Roberts, who was in town to visit relatives, was the women’s 10K winner in 40:44.
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.