CHICO — A crowd of at least 4,250 people ran, jogged and walked through Bidwell Park to raise money for the Jesus Center and to burn a few calories before Thanksgiving dinner.
The turnout was so great Thursday that the 14th annual Jesus Center Run for Food saw the first runners cross the finish line of the 5K course as hundreds were still beginning the race.
Mollie Openshaw stood on the flat bed of a tow truck in the parking lot of Caper Acres entertaining the crowd through a megaphone before the race began. She continued encouraging runners as they passed the start, cheering and getting smiles from participants.
Jesus Center Executive Director Laura Cootsana told the crowd that the announced 4,250 runners was from earlier that morning and more people had signed up the day of the race.
Once they took off, the runners at the beginning of the crowd set their watches to time and pace themselves.
Many participants ran, but many also walked, content to push kids in strollers at their own pace or chat with friends and family as they took a stroll through the park on a beautiful autumn morning.
Justin Smith, of Orland, said the run has become a regular occurrence every year for the family.
"Mom started doing it like 10 years ago, and it’s become a Thanksgiving tradition,” he said. "It’s a good way to burn off calories.”
Alison Duckworth, who is engaged to Smith’s brother Brandon, said the experience went well.
Duckworth’s goal was to run the whole way through and she accomplished it.
Brandon Smith said his brother Justin — a former collegiate runner who once ran across the United States — helped pace him for a while.
One of the serious runners, Jack Emanuel, crossed the finish line at Sycamore Filed in first place in his first Run for Food.
"I always had collegiate or high school races, so I never got a chance to do it before,” he said after the race. "It was fun.”
Emanuel said the community turnout to support a good cause was encouraging.
The Chico State sophomore athlete helped the Wildcat cross country team to a third place finish in the National Championships on Oct. 23.