Afew years ago, I was a participant in a race that may now be
called Follow the Leader—I Think He Knows a Shortcut. The local annual Turkey Trot run had turned into a Turkey Takeoff, as an overcaffeinated, uninformed, and animated spectator gave his best impression of a highly enthusiastic safety patrol person doing a Jim Marshall.
For those who don’t recall this great Minnesota Viking football player, in 1964, Jim confidently picked up a fumble and resolutely took off, running 66 yards toward the endzone. Unfortunately, Jim’s internal compass was apparently out of sync that afternoon and off he sprinted—the wrong way. His less directionally challenged teammates took off in frantic pursuit, but they couldn’t match his speed; he arrived in the inappropriate endzone and scored for the other team. Needless to say, Jim was a little perplexed when the opposing team joined him in his endzone celebratory dance.
Well, Mr. Directionless Spectator, only 40 seconds into the Thanksgiving race, proceeded to take it upon himself to route the runners down the wrong street. Redefining the word chutzpa, he’d boldly concluded that the pace car was going the wrong way! His yelling sounded authoritative and his arm pointing seemed quite purposeful. Runners usually exhibit a collective mind in these situations, along with the intelligence quotient of a gnat. If they’d vigorously trained for the race and were shooting for a 10K PR—well, they’d pretty much follow the leaders down into a sewer hole.
Thus, despite many runners’ being quite familiar with the actual course, these turkey lemmings all began turning down the wrong street. They figured that if they had a chance to go from mile marker 1 to marker 3 without actually seeing mile 2, well, all the better.
Off the leaders went, and off the witless pack followed. Some of the more perceptive leaders ultimately concluded it was the wrong way (the dead-end street was a good giveaway). They then tried to navigate 4,000 runners over various traffic barricades and through narrow, pothole-laden alleys (kind of an urban cross-country steeplechase event), determined to get the race back on its rightful course. It was the largest, most clueless, fastest-moving, floatless, unintended Thanksgiving parade in modern history.
The back-and-forth, side-to-side movement of the lost and searching pack resembled a kind of enormous inebriated conga dance line. The perplexed lead runners eventually cut through enough parking lots and had sufficient on-the-run caucuses that they ultimately came upon the correct route. Unfortunately, it was a route now lined with an abundant number of race and parade spectators, all of whom had been collectively wondering how an entire race could have disappeared into thin air.
Suddenly emerging from a side street, the unannounced, meandering, and frenetic runners frantically waved their arms and screamed for the crowd to part so that a few thousand of their closest friends could come on through and get back on course. Lounge chairs, baby strollers, and coffee cups went flying as the spectators desperately moved as if raging, out-of-control animals were charging at them. Which they kind of were.
Race officials finally breathed a collective sigh of relief that things were literally back on track after a little east-west-north-west circuitous detour. However, they were quickly dismayed to find that another large group of runners, behind the main pack, had made a second incorrect turn. This mid-pack group had realized early on the transgressions of their Turkey Trot compatriots. They’d reversed themselves and were now heading back toward the other runners in search of the correct route.
Not a pretty sight, as it wasn’t the smoothest of moving mergers. It came close to being the first race ever to come to a complete standstill four miles from the finish, while runners vigorously pointed in numerous directions. Majority finally ruled and the horde of wandering runners began to go in a unified and, thankfully, appropriate direction.
The race eventually concluded without any more unplanned and non-scenic side trips. In the end, various participants had run various courses through various streets at various distances. Some ran shorter, some ran longer, and those (like me) who set personal best “10K” times turned a collective deaf ear to anyone who offered that the course might have been slightly shorter than the correct distance. Hey, we’d take a personal victory any way it came. Don’t bother us with minor technical details like course length.
Most runners took it all in stride and shrugged off the wayward path they’d explored. But there were some dyspeptic turkeys that acted as though, by briefly becoming a lost Trotter, they’d forever missed their opportunity for an Olympic gold medal and lucrative endorsement contracts. I’m fairly certain these joyless joggers weren’t planning to stick around to happily wave at the Mother Goose parade float going by.
And the nameless but clearly turkey of a spectator who started this runaway run with his less-than-accurate finger-pointing? Who knows, but I only hope he’s not moved on to air-traffic-controller school.