Invesco QQQ Thanksgiving Day Events Welcome Largest Crowd Since 2019
New York City may have its parade, but in Atlanta, the capital of the south, Thanksgiving Day starts with a race. More than 10,000 runners kicked off the holiday season Thursday morning at the annual Invesco QQQ Thanksgiving Day Half Marathon, 5K, Mile and Dash. Including runners and walkers of all ages and even a wave for leashed dogs and jog strollers, it was the event's largest number of participants since 2019, the year before the COVID-19 pandemic.
On a picture perfect fall morning with temperatures in the low 40s, the first athletes off the start line on Hank Aaron Drive in the Summerhill neighborhood were 21 teams from the Kyle Pease Foundation, the Atlanta-based non-profit that provides race entry and support to athletes with disabilities.
"This race was the first opportunity for inclusion of the push assist teams back in 2012," said KPF Executive Director Brent Pease. "It has become a Thanksgiving tradition for us to celebrate the holiday with one of our favorite partners."
The open waves of the half marathon were off moments later with more than 5,500 runners and walkers choosing the 13.1 mile option that took them through downtown Atlanta, the West End, Piedmont Park, Midtown and Edgewood before finishing back in Summerhill at Center Parc Stadium. Darr Smith, 25, took the lead from the start and stayed there the entire race. His winning time of 1:07:35 was nearly five-minutes and 30 seconds ahead of the second place finisher.
Now a professional triathlete, Smith is an Atlanta native who competed for Johnson Ferry Christian Academy in High School where he was a part of Atlanta Track Club's All-Metro Cross Country Team. This was his first half marathon.
"I got my brother out here, my dad out here, my mom's out here. It's so good to be back here in Atlanta" said Smith, who now lives and trains in Arizona and most recently raced in Santiago, Chile. "I get to race all over the world, but there is something special about being home."
Another former Georgia High School standout crossed the line first in the women's race. Grace Clements, the 2017 3A Cross Country State Champion from Bremen High School in Haralson County, said she has been running the Thanksgiving Day Half Marathon since her early teens. But, this was her first time breaking the tape. Clements, who competed collegiately for the University of Georgia, finished in 1:21:20
"I was not expecting that!" Clements said with a big smile. "I don't set goals. I just have fun. To be around so many people that are happy is just fun."
Fresh off a victory in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium 5K/Walk Like MADD, Patric Campbell, 30, of Conyers was the winner of the non-binary division in 1:33:35.
Also celebrating after the race were the more than 2,000 finishers of the Triple Peach Race Series. The three race series starts with July's Atlanta Journal-Constitution Peachtree Road Race and includes the PNC Atlanta 10 Miler as well. Finishers receive a special medal and a beanie.
"It was just perfect. Cheers the whole time until I got here," said Abass Kargbo, 37, a two-time Triple Peach finisher who moved to Atlanta from Sierra Leone seven years ago. "I run for my life. Anywhere I go, I preach it, so people who don't know about it can tap into this gift that we have been given."
Delfino Juarez, 20, of Norcross was the winner of the 5K in 15:41. Juarez is a junior competing in cross country and track and field at the University of Central Missouri. The women's race was won by former University of Colorado runner Laura Pifer, 39, of Suwanee in 17:15. The non-binary winner was Evan Nowell, 35, of Atlanta in 27:55.
While Juarez, Pifer and Nowell may have captured all the accolades, few runners had as much fun as Zion Thomas and Nicholas Killen of Atlanta. The duo ran the 5K in full turkey costumes and were still laughing about it when they came across the line.
"It's a good strategy because we stay warm. We are layered up and we look good while doing it too," said Thomas. "
"But, I don't think I could run any farther than a 5K in this costume," Killen added.
With many runners making Thanksgiving Day races an annual tradition, some of the younger participants in the mile and dash were experiencing the thrill for the first time. More than 500 took part in the youth distances including Halle Robert, 10, of New York who was here visiting family and ran in the mile with her dad.
"It was my first race ever," she said. "Even though it was challenging, it was so much fun!"
Full results can be found here.
There are two more Atlanta Track Club events remaining in 2023; the Singleton 20K Relay for members only on December 2 and the Eastside BeltLine 3K - 10K presented by Resurgens Orthopaedics on December 9.