Nearly 400 race in second Thankful 5K in Pittsfield on Thanksgiving morning

PITTSFIELD — My alarm clock snapped me awake just after 7 a.m. Thanksgiving morning. I threw on some base layers and a T-shirt, grabbed my running shoes and a jar of peanut butter and jogged through the 25 degree air to McKay Street in Pittsfield.

It was time to start a new tradition.

Growing up back in Marlborough, the fourth Thursday in November was all about traditions. Of course the typical turkey, stuffing, Detroit Lions, giant Snoopy balloon traditions, but also those with a more local flair. The Panthers played the Hawks, either at the Morgan Bowl in Hudson or our Kelleher Field. Report time for those of us in the marching band wasn't too much later than the time I joined an impressive mass of people at the corner of McKay and Depot Street yesterday morning. Because fans at the rivalry game needed to hear my blasting sousaphone at halftime, I was never able to partake in another Marlborough tradition: the Frozen Toe road race, an annual 5K that has kicked off the last 36 Thanksgiving mornings in my hometown.

It's been a few years since I last saw my alma mater pour some gravy on its hawk meat and go to town on our neighboring football rival, and with brief interludes of Arlington, Upton, Auburn and Nauset in recent years for coverage, 2017 was probably my first Thanksgiving without a high school football game in 20 years. For as long as I stay in Berkshire County, where the high holy day of Massachusetts gridirons isn't recognized, it appears that tradition may be in indefinite suspension.

So, when I sit around the table with family and friends and am asked what I'm grateful for, I'm glad I now have something new to say.

Berkshire Running Center held the second Thankful 5K Thursday morning, giving those visiting the county, returning home for the holiday or working the night shift at the local newspaper a new tradition to precede their bird carving and pigskin tossing.

The Thankful 5K is completely in the spirit of the giving holiday as well. The event is free to enter, with shirts and pies on sale to help offset the cost, which this year was picked up by Autism Connections. All proceeds of the race shirts and donations will go to the program, which provides needed services to affected youth in Western Massachusetts.

"I think word of mouth got out. I always wanted to have a Thanksgiving race that was early enough that we could get home to cook," said Shiobbean Lemme, who owns Berkshire Running Center with her husband, Kent. "I said, let's make it free. It costs a couple thousand dollars to put it on and Autism Connections stepped up to sponsor. We raised over $4,000 and they'll wind up taking home over $2,000 for their organization because of all these great people and our incredible volunteers."

While racing is free, a donation of a non-perishable food item is encouraged, hence half-asleep me trading that jar of Smuckers for a bib number. The food donations all went to the South Congregational Church's food pantry.

The idea of the Thankful 5K is to provide families a chance to come out and run together without shelling out big bucks for a family of five to spend some active time together. The racing and walking field was filled with countless families in matching shirts, all supporting a good cause and being together. Some dressed in turkey costumes or with pilgrim hats for six loops around McKay, Depot, Center and West Streets. The outfits were varied, but the smiles were consistent.

The Thankful goals go beyond raising money, though, and BRC is continuing its push to put Pittsfield on the running map.

"Our goal is to try to make this big. You go over to Troy, N.Y. and there's thousands of people, or Kent drove to Manchester, N.H. and 10,000 people are running there," said Lemme. "So if we get that going, grass roots, we had 393 today. Last year we had just over 200 registered and less than 200 finishers."

That also meant over 300 people making their way downtown to pick up bibs Wednesday, flooding the North Street area businesses. There will be more events like this, including a Jingle Bell Run on Dec. 16 to take donations for the Eagle Santa Toy Fund.

Personally, while my family gathered 200 miles away for traditional turkey and pies north of Boston, I'm glad I was able to partake in a new tradition in my new home of Pittsfield.

"What you saw today is what the running community does," said Lemme.

It's a community and tradition I'll be thankful for for some time.

Mike Walsh can be reached at, at @CLNS_Walsh on Twitter and 413-496-6240.


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