Cincinnati’s Thanksgiving Day Race ended in chaos and empty tables of food.
One Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot left the race organizer and several runners with a sour taste in their mouths after competitors looted the finish-line food tent.
Julie Isphording, who won the 1990 Los Angeles Marathon and represented the United States on the 1984 Olympic team, won the Thanksgiving Day Race in Cincinnati 12 times and has now managed the race the past 12 years. Last week’s event might have been her last one.
“It’s 2 a.m. in the morning and I can’t shake the thought of watching people steal food,” Isphording told Cincinnati.com. “People were stealing food, cussing kids out and one threw a box at me. They threw it right in my face.”
A 10K, this year’s race had a field of more than 15,000 runners. A typical post-race spread of granola bars, bagels, fruit and other items was laid out near the finish line. There have never been any issues, and Isphording donates the leftover food to a local charity called Freestore Foodbank.
Last Thursday, however, early finishers kept going back for more helpings of food and filled up several sample-sized boxes with treats for themselves. And when those boxes had run out, runners looked for something bigger.
“There were people jumping in dumpsters to find bigger boxes,” Isphording said. “I couldn’t believe it. People brought bags of their own just so they could stuff them full.”
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The food was gone by the time the back-of-the-packers finished. All that was available to them were sports drinks.
In a letter to the Cincinnati Enquirer, one runner vented about the scene that unfolded near the finish line.
“Unfortunately this year, someone invited the Turkey Grinch,” Liz Harvey wrote. “After finishing the race with my husband, we made our way to grab a bottle of water and the token piece of fruit. What I saw was shocking: What began as seeing people taking entire boxes of protein bars for themselves gave way to seeing others using large cardboard boxes and loading them to the brim with all the free food they could get — protein bars, granola bars, energy drinks, oranges, apples, yogurt and more.
“Everywhere I looked the boxes were getting bigger. Some were having trouble carrying their full boxes that were now overflowing. I was completely disgusted by this display of greed, made worse by the irony that this was a day to give thanks and remember those less fortunate.
“As I watched people loading up their arms, a fellow runner must have noticed my look of shock and said to me, ‘I’ve never seen people behave this way at a race.’ We shared a moment of disappointment and then it was time to leave before the looting ruined all the good feelings I had built up so far that day.”
Isphording said she is thinking about stepping down from her post as race director in the wake of what transpired.
“I spent eight months out of the year preparing for this event,” Isphording said. “I’ve thought about resigning.”