When Jeff Palmer started helping with the Pequot Running Club's annual 5-mile race on Thanksgiving in 1989, about 1,000 runners ran the race. The longtime race director never thought he would see the day when nearly 6,000 runners showed up.
But that's how many runners Palmer expects will stand at the starting line at 8:15 a.m. Thursday at the Wakeman Boys & Girls Club. There is also a fitness walk.
"It really started to take off in the last 10 years,'' Palmer said. "It was always a comfortable 1,000 to 1,500 runners. Over the course of the last 10 years, it has grown significantly. ... It's inexpensive family entertainment. We get a lot of families that run the race, and many of them have been doing it for years."
Palmer said late last week registration was running 34 percent ahead of last year, when 3,802 runners finished and nearly 5,000 participated in the run and walk. To alleviate parking woes, the club will provide a shuttle from Sherwood Island to the start. Palmer hopes the race doesn't become so popular that registration will need to be capped. The race is the largest participatory sports event in Fairfield County.
"With the advent of digital technology, timing is not an issue,'' said Palmer, who became race director in 1990. "It'd be a shame to cap it. It's a wonderful tradition. .... It'd be great if we could keep it open and let as many people participate as we can get."
The race benefits the Wakeman Boys & Girls Club, Fairfield Community Services, Domestic Violence Crisis Center, Westport EMS, Laddie Lawrence Scholarship Fund, Fairfield Police Explorers and the Keystone Club at Fairfield. Students from area high schools help out at the race.
Palmer said the most difficult part for him is figuring out the headcount. "They just show up like lemmings, and we deal with it as best as we can,'' Palmer said.
Many runners wait until the last minute to decide, based on the day's weather. Runners can register on race day. Runners can register today and Wednesday beginning at 6 p.m. at the Wakeman Boys & Girls Club in Southport. Runners can also register through Wednesday online .
Click here to sign up for Daily Voice's free daily emails and news alerts.