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Thousands of people from throughout the Central Coast swarmed the sands of Pismo Beach for the annual "At the Beach" Turkey Trot fun run Thursday to get some exercise before feasting, and to help raise money for the San Luis Obispo County Foodbank. 

The Turkey Trot kicked off early Thursday morning, with races including the one-mile, 5K and the 10K. The annual event is a benefit fundraiser for the food bank, organized by the South County Turkey Trot organization.

"We're back again this year for the Turkey Trot, and it warms my heart seeing so many come out to join us today and I love seeing everyone get really into it and dress up in turkey costumes," said event coordinator Emma Valdivieso. 

"I also love to reunite with familiar faces who've made this a part of their Thanksgiving tradition," she added.

Valdivieso encourages participants to return every year, to bring their families and be a part of an invigorating experience. 

"I myself have been up since 4:30 a.m. setting up for today, but my body's just pumped up and I still have to go home and finish cooking turkey," she joked. "So come out, get away from the chaos of the kitchen and get some exercise in!"

The fun run, which is held in memory of Christine Allen, of San Luis Obispo, is a creative way to raise money for those who may not be as fortunate, and Valdivieso said the organization hopes to surpass their goal of $18,000. 

Allen died in 2013, but left behind a legacy of countless hours of community service benefiting the San Luis Obispo County Food Bank and the population it serves. Allen was also an active 4-H member for eight years, participated in various 5K runs herself, and the San Luis Obispo Triathlon. 

The only registration fee participants are required to pay is a $1 donation, said Valdivieso, but runners are also encouraged to give however much they want, which they usually do.

"One man walked up to me this morning, pulled out a wad of cash before the race, looked at it, and just said, 'here you go,'" Valdivieso said. "He just decided to give back so much, which is so nice." 

Despite Wednesday night's rainfall in San Luis Obispo County, some of which carried into Thursday morning at the start of the race, by 8:30 a.m. runners were enjoying sunny conditions. 

"We're so thankful every year that the weather's so beautiful, and we had a great turnout anyway year after year, rain or shine," added Valdivieso. 

First place finisher Melecio Gonzalez, 18, who's traveled 150 miles every year with his family from McFarland in the San Joaquin Valley to camp at Pismo State Beach on Thanksgiving, didn't have to drive so far this year.

After coming to Pismo Beach once a year, Gonzalez made the Central Coast his home as a freshman at Cuesta College this fall.

"I drive 150 miles with my family every year to camp for Thanksgiving, and I decided, well I might as well move here," said Gonzalez.

"I didn't even look at my time this year, I didn't even look at the clock when I finished," said Gonzalez, who's been winning first place the last four years, since he began running the Turkey Trot. Once again, he ran the race with his whole family, including his two sisters and his cousins. 

"The run felt good, the surf was pretty high though so I ran the course in the water most of the time," said Gonzalez, pointing to his ocean-soaked shoes.

He added: "It's also just really nice that this organization is giving back and putting the event together to help people. I heard the food bank feeds thousands of people each year for the upcoming holiday season."

Fittingly, Gonzalez also joined the Cuesta College cross country and track team; he just finished his cross country season and made it to the state meet, he said. 

Having earned his calories, "I'm just waiting for the turkey now," he said.

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Gina Kim covers crime and courts for Santa Maria Times. Follow her on Twitter @gina_k210

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Courts/Public Safety Reporter