Oceanside CA- The largest crowd in the eight-year history of the Pacific Marine Credit Union O’side Turkey Trot, began their Thanksgiving burning calories. It was the biggest ever running race in North San Diego County featuring a 5 mile run and a 5K run/walk. The majority ran in the 5K, which went off in 12 separate race starts. The family-oriented day finished with a series of five runs for kids. The race is unique in that entrants can designate part of their entry fees to support local schools and non-profits. One of those non-profits was the Austin Bice Memorial Scholarship Fund, which attracted more than 500 entrants. The race also directly benefits the Move Your Feet Before You Eat Foundation, started by event organizer Kinane Event to promote physical activity among youth.
At the front of a record crowd of 10,000 runners and walkers who moved their feet before they ate at Thanksgiving Day’s Pacific Marine Credit Union O’side Turkey Trot, a former prep sub-4-minute miler won his biggest victory since starting a remarkable comeback from a serious cycling accident that left him injuries so severe his doctor told his family he would never walk again.
Lucas Verzbicas shadowed defending champion Okwaro Raura of Oceanside until the final kilometer of the day’s opening 5 Mile Race through downtown Oceanside. Then, the two-time Foot Locker National Cross Country champion put it into another gear and won going away in 25:16. Okwaro finished at 25:30.
“This is my first big running event and race that I won since my cycling accident,” said Verzbicas, who is now training in Chula Vista at the Olympic Training Center under the tutelage of 800-meter Olympic champion Joaquim Cruz of Brazil . “I could have gone harder, but all that mattered today was the win. After the cycling accident and two months in the hospital, many people told me that I would never run again. I have a gift. I was meant to run. All the pain of the accident didn’t compare to the pain that I have felt in training.”
“I’m so grateful to be able to run and grateful today to win, running along such a beautiful course along the ocean,” he added. “I could not have done this without the entire family of support. All my family, friends, and coaches made this win possible. I’m so thankful to them.”
That cause resonated with women’s 5 Mile champion Michellie Jones of Australia and nearby Carlsbad , an Olympic silver medalist in the triathlon.
“I am thankful for being able to here on a beautiful day and coaching kids who finished the race,” said Jones, who won in 30:25. “I love this cause. It is a great tradition to move your feet before you eat. It’s something I really support.”
Interestingly, Jones pulled away from runner-up Rachel Challis after a mile-half to win. Challis is also a professional triathlete and, while currently living in Carlsbad , also hails from Down Under in New Zealand .
“I ran with Michellie until a mile and a half, but Michellie is a little faster,” said the 37-year-old Challis. “Hey, she’s the Olympic silver medalist, after all.”
In the 5K, local star Tom Kloos of Oceanside , a multi-time previous winner of this event, added another and was the local favorite. Kloos, coached at El Camino High school in Oceanside and ran for them, won in 15:08.
“I coached at El Camino High School in Oceanside and ran for them, and I beat some of my former athletes, and it felt good!” he said. “This is a homecoming for me since I’ve been running races locally since 1992. I had to prove I’m not getting older.”
For the women, Jessica Textoris of Pacific Beach in San Diego won in 17:07. Textoris edged Kate Layton of San Marcos , who runs for the Steve Scott coached Cal State San Marcos program. “I easily beat my coach today,” said Layton , who finished in 17:10. “Steve Scott inspired me and lets me know, whatever I think I can achieve, I can achieve.”
Of all the winners among the big crowd in Oceanside , however, perhaps the most thankful was Verzbicas, once the brightest high school distance star in the country. The victory proved to him that he is on track to chase his goals of qualifying for the 2016 Olympics for both the triathlon and either the 5K or 10K in track.
“Triathlons are my focus now. But, down the road, running is my love and my future,” said Verzbicas, who made a believer of his closest competitor.
“He ran behind me until the last 1K and I tried to make him take the lead, but I couldn’t,” said Kenya ‘s Raura. “It was much tougher competition for me this year. I would have done the same thing if I’d been him. When he went (for the win), he was amazing.”
In the past seven years, the PMCU O’side Turkey Trot has raised more than $140,000 for its participating charities, a figure that will rise considerably with this year’s record crowd.