The Wash
Turkey Trot participants run towards finish line and around the marker as the race gets re-routed due to police shortage (The Wash/Heather MacNeil)

Arlington County Turkey Trot succeeded despite changes 

Thousands of Arlington County Turkey Trot participants faced cold weather, police shortage, and COVID precautions.

Two thousand four hundred people gathered on Pershing street Thanksgiving morning in near-freezing temperatures to run, trot and walk up and down the block. The course was set to go around the neighborhood and be more separated for COVID safety reasons but, due to the shortage of law enforcement personnel in Arlington County, event organizers had to adapt.

According to Arlington County Resident Renee Gutshall, the race usually runs through the neighborhoods, but this year the course was an “out and back” up Pershing street.

Arlington County Sheriffs’ block a road in front of the race (The Wash/Heather MacNeil)

“This doesn’t normally run up and back, it usually runs through the neighborhoods…but, I think they had fewer police officers that were available and they had to shorten, tighten up the course because they didn’t have cops and cars to block off and keep for safety,” Gutshall said.

Gutshall said even with the changes, she was in it for fun and was glad to have the race back. 

“It’s really nice after COVID to actually get back together and I’m really glad they got to do it even though they had to make so many last-minute changes,” she said.

Participants of the Turkey Trot race to the finish line (The Wash/Heather MacNeil)

Mark Riley, the head of the Arlington Turkey Trot, or Chief Turkey as he likes to be called,  sent out a letter a few days before the trot to all the participants who had signed up stating that there would be alterations due to a police shortage. 

“This year, our course has been ‘corrected’; because we are short on police officers to cover all the intersections along our regular course,” Riley said. “Consequently, we will walk, trot and run only on Pershing Drive between Fillmore St (at Lyon Park) and Oakland St (almost to Gleve,) a distance of .6 miles. 

On Nov. 22, Police Public Information Officer Ashley Savage sent out a note stating that the police would be blocking those roads for the Arlington Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving Day. 

“The public should expect to see an enhanced police presence in the area, and motorists are urged to follow law enforcement direction, be mindful of closures, and remain alert for increased pedestrian traffic. Additionally, other closures not mentioned above may be implemented at police discretion in the interest of public safety,” Savage said.

The Turkey Trot has been around the community since 2006. According to Riley, before the pandemic, the trot would stuff roughly 3,500 to 4,000 people into one city block for the start of the race. 

“That looked great, but it’s a bad look in 2021,” admitted Riley. 

This year, the trot emphasized a rolling start to assist in the protection of COVID. 

“There’s going to be no stopping and waiting and looking and breathing on people’s necks. We’re gonna be moving pretty much the whole time. Now, if there’s some congestion along the way…you bring a mask,” said Riley. 

Diane Martinez, a senior researcher in Arlington County’s COVID response team, said the area is still recommending people follow CDC guidelines.

Some participants crossed the finish line socially distanced and with masks (The Wash/Heather MacNeil

“This includes getting vaccinated, wearing a mask in public indoor spaces, gathering outside or in well-ventilated areas, staying home and getting tested if you’re having any symptoms of COVID-19, and washing hands frequently,” said Martinez. 

Last year, the Arlington Turkey Trot was held “virtually” for COVID safety reasons. 

“With the COVID situation we didn’t do Thanksgiving day, we did Thanksgiving week…spreading out to stop the spread,” said Riley. 

According to Riley, the race emphasized the need to create an environment where people feel safe and comfortable. 

Participants enjoy beverages and food supplied by sponsors after finishing the race (The Wash/Heather MacNeil)

Riley said that even with the COVID complications and police shortage, the trot remained a success. 

“I love these guys for being there because without them, we couldn’t have done it and with them, we had a great trot,” said Riley. 


Heather MacNeil

Heather MacNeil is a Washington, D.C. based investigative reporter earning a graduate degree in journalism and public affairs with a specialty in investigative reporting at American University.

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