For 736 people, a Rogue Valley family Thanksgiving tradition started early.

For 736 people, a Rogue Valley family Thanksgiving tradition started early.

That's the number of people who braved 24-degree temperatures to run in the fifth-annual Turkey Trot road races that started and finished in front of the Rogue Rock Gym in Medford and followed the Bear Creek bike path. In addition to the usual 2-mile and 8-mile races, the "Turkey Dash" for children 5-and-under debuted this year.

"What I like is that it's a family event. It's the girls' first race," said Mandy Samhammer, a resident of Eagle Point.

Samhammer's daughters Sierra, 5, and Morgan, 2, were among 20 children who ran the 200-yard race. Her husband, Brian, ran the 2-miler.

For another family, the Turkey Trot served as an opportunity to celebrate.

"My little sister just passed the California Bar exam. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia. She's giving us all an early Christmas gift of the race (entry fees) and race T-shirts. We've got family from ages 5 to 55 here today, and in all three races," said Jennifer Hedgepeth, who lives in Central Point.

For Mike and Kim Wisnovsky of Jacksonville, the race was a way to begin a large family gathering.

"We have 11 from our family here today, including five from Portland. I did it last year with my friends from Odyssey Fitness, and had so much fun, we decided to do it again," said Kim Wisnovsky.

This event was organized by the Southern Oregon Runners club. For the second year, the Turkey Trot has served as a benefit for the local nonprofit organization ACCESS Inc.

"Last year we raised $6,000 and runners brought 600 pounds of food. I'm hopeful we'll raise 50 percent more this year (because of the increase in the number of runners)," said Chuck Whitely, race director and president of the Southern Oregon Runners.

The funds and donated food will help feed the hungry in Jackson County over the next month.

"For every dollar raised, we're able to purchase 5 pounds of food. So last year, the race allowed us to purchase 30,000 pounds of food. We distribute it throughout the holidays to our 22 food pantries," said Philip Yates, Nutritional Programs Director at ACCESS.

The allure of winning a free Hellgate jet boat excursion as the "best costume" prize was enough to induce a dozen runners to dress up for the race. A green leprechaun and the wicked witch of the west made a strong run for the prize, but the judge's clear favorite had a more traditional Thanksgiving motif.

Caryn McLane of Phoenix was the clear winner for the women's best costume prize for her turkey outfit.

"My friend held a pilgrim party last week. Since I had the costume, I thought I'd use it again today," McLane explained.

The pilgrim theme also figured in the choice for the men's costume winner.

"This is my first race. My daughter Marisa made a corn-on-the-cob costume for the race, so I thought I'd dress up, too," said Donney Dalton of Central Point, whose costume included a homemade top hat and showcased the familiar buckle favored by pilgrim men.

Despite the frosty conditions, many runners banked plenty of calories for the big meal to come. Jorge Gil-Juarez of Phoenix and Kierra Huggins of Medford won the 2-mile race, and Max King of Bend and Mercy Ray of Jacksonville won the 8-mile race.

Daniel Newberry is a freelance writer living in the Applegate Valley. Reach him at dnewberry@jeffnet.org

For race results, visit http://www.sorunners.org