When the Spartan Turkey Trot began in 2010, only 100 or so people participated. Year-by-year the event has grown and now a crowd of well over 1,000 consistently shows up at Mountain View High School for the Thanksgiving morning event.
“We had no vision it would get as big as it has,” founder Mike Mulkey said. “It’s a big deal for the high school now.”
Mulkey created the event as a way to raise money for athletic teams at the school. At the time, he was an assistant basketball coach and realized there was limited money available for athletics. He suggested hosting a turkey trot as a way to raise funds and was told he could give it a try.
Ever since that first year, the race has consistently grown. Each year has seen a larger crowd than the last, with the exception of last year when heavy wildfire smoke threatened to cancel the race altogether.
As the event has grown, so too has the ground the races cover. For the first four years, Mulkey said the event was held entirely on the high school campus. However, according to Mulkey, starting in 2014, the city of Mountain View has allowed the 5K race to be run in the surrounding neighborhood.
“Once we’ve gotten on the city streets, that has been wonderful,” he said. “It’s just a beautiful course; it goes through the residential district out around the high school. People really enjoy it.”
Because the streets themselves aren’t closed, Mulkey said participants are supposed to stay in the bike lane. However, the size of the event has meant it sometimes spills out into the road. To help mitigate the problem, the race is now capped at 1,400 participants.
Although Mulkey still serves as master of ceremonies for the event, in recent years there has been a separate race director. This year, Kjersti Nelson is serving in the role.
Nelson is a long-distance runner and licensed marriage and family therapist who combines running and therapy in her practice by providing therapy as she runs or walks with clients. She lives near the high school and first ran in the turkey trot in 2017.
“I always ran in turkey trots growing up,” she said. “It’s always been part of my tradition to do a turkey trot, so it just seemed like a match.”
She was drawn to the Spartan Turkey Trot in part because of the small neighborhood feel. Many of the participants are local residents, with family members in town for the holiday often also participating. The first year she participated, Nelson said she saw many of her neighbors and walked home with them after the race.
For Mulkey, the part of the event he is most proud of is the way that it has brought the community together. At times, the high school and its neighbors have had an adversarial relationship, especially over the issue of installing stadium lights at the school. However, Mulkey said the turkey trot has helped break down walls, with many neighbors participating in, or donating to, the event.
The races also provide funding that helps the high school’s athletic teams be more competitive against well-funded private schools, Mulkey said.
“It’s enabling Mountain View to get the equipment, get the trainers, get the weights, get the stuff they need to compete at that level, to be able to compete with someone like St. Francis,” he said.
According to boosters president Brett Schiller, the turkey trot typically raises $18,000-$28,000 annually and makes up approximately one-fifth to one-quarter of the boosters’ annual budget.
Student athletes who volunteer at the event get a share of the profits for their athletic teams. The remainder of the money is used by the boosters more broadly to support sports at the school.
“Putting on an event like this, which is all about health and getting out and exercising, it’s in line with our core values … as a sports boosters organization,” Schiller said.
The event is modeled after an “all comers” track meet, meaning participants pay a flat fee and can compete in as many events as they want. The Spartan Turkey Trot features a 5K and “Spartan Mile” race, as well as 60- and 400-yard dashes designed for kids.
Mulkey implemented the “all comers” model at the inaugural event and the tradition has been maintained over the past decade.
“His heart and soul have gone into it and so much of the tradition reflects his initial vision,” Nelson said.
This year, registration is $35 for adults, $25 for children ages 5-17, $15 for those under 5 and $20 for Mountain View and Los Altos high school students.
The event will begin at 8:30 a.m. Thanksgiving Day on the Mountain View High School track, 3535 Truman Ave.
“It’s unbelievable it’s 10 years old and it’s grown the way it has,” Schiller said. “It’s really a neat event, so I hope everybody comes out and enjoys it Thanksgiving morning.”
To register, volunteer and for more information, visit spartanturkeytrot.com.