Sixteen-year-old Melecio Gonzalez and his family have been traveling from Macfarland to the Pismo Beach Pier on Thanksgiving every year since he was a baby, and competing in the South County Turkey Trot has been a new addition to the tradition.
As he sped through the crowd of nearly 3,000 runners, walkers, strollers and furry, four-legged athletes to finish in first place, his mother Aimee Gonzalez cheered him on, taking photos of her son at the finish line.
"We stay at Pismo Coast Village every year for Thanksgiving as a family tradition," she said. "We travel about three hours just to come here. The entire family runs together — my son, two daughters and a few cousins are all in the race today."
It was a third year in a row for Melecio to compete in the annual Turkey Trot, and hoped he bested his time from last year — running the 5K route in less than 16 minutes.
"I'm not really sure what my finishing time was just now, but the race itself was fun," he said, taking off his sunglasses and brushing the sweat from his brow. "I run every day, and I like it — plus coming out to Pismo to camp out here every Thanksgiving is always a good time."
The annual Turkey Trot fun run race has three routes for participants to choose from — the one-mile race, the 5K and, for those daring enough to brave through the high tides and sand, a 10K is also offered. All runners had to was continue running past the 5K marker down the south side of the shore.
Right at 8:30 a.m. as the crisp coastal breeze wafted through the air, nearly 3,000 runners all took their place at the starting line. As soon as the countdown was complete, a sea of runners took off, with their hearts pounding and sand flying off their running shoes.
"The idea to put together a Turkey Trot came from one businessman and it's bloomed ever since," said Emma Valdiviezo, who helped put the entire event together. "It's been a phenomenal event every year."
While the Trot is free, participants were encouraged to donate a dollar or more. All the proceeds of the race are donated to the San Luis Obispo County Food Bank, and every dollar raised purchases $10 of food. Proceeds from T-shirts and hat sales also go straight to the food bank.
"We did so well the first year we put this together," said Valdiviezo. "We brought in about $8,000 and last year we hit an all-time high record of $10,000 to donate to the food bank."
"After we took it over, it's just been growing every since."
Participants always go above and beyond in their donations, she added, giving anywhere from $5, $10 even $20.
She added: "It's such a fun event — people have so much fun and it's going to continue growing every year.
"It warms us so much inside seeing nearly 3,000 people running for a good cause. They could be traveling home, or preparing for the evening, but instead, they're out here to contribute to the community."