MARIETTA — There may have been warmer runnings of the MDJ Gobble Jog, but it’s hard to imagine a more triumphant occasion than Thursday’s as the annual road race returned to the streets of Marietta for its 19th edition.

With the frost not yet thawed, thousands of runners packed Marietta Square to support MUST Ministries on its 50th anniversary. Hundreds more lined the sidewalks and surrounding streets to cheer on the participants.

Thankfully for all involved, in spite of the chill, the blue skies overhead were immaculate.

The 2021 Gobble Jog was the first in-person race held since 2019, with last year’s being run virtually in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. MUST CEO Ike Reighard, sporting a pair of Adidas trainers in solidarity with the runners, said the occasion went “better than we could have ever prayed for.”

“It feels like you’re home,” Reighard said. “For a lot of people, this is the kickoff of their holiday season. It’s much bigger than MUST. It’s a Marietta event, a Cobb County event, and that’s what makes it even more exciting.”

Adri and Rob Herman were among those jump-starting their Thanksgiving with a quick trot around Marietta. Thursday was their eighth running of the race.

“I guess I could say I did better than expected. My goal was just to finish upright,” Rob Herman said with a laugh. “We’re going to go home and get the turkey in the oven.”

Added Adri Herman, “It’s a great way to start the day … It feels so good. I missed it so much last year.”

The race’s universal appeal was evidenced by the pace of different runners. In the 5k timed race, for example, a ferocious pack came sprinting down Church Street toward the finish line in around 16 minutes. But plenty of runners — or walkers, rather — brought up the rear with drinks in hand, shimmying and dancing their way to the end.

Most of the runners who spoke with the MDJ said the race was a longtime tradition, and either they or someone in their family had been running it for a decade or more.

While more serious runners clad themselves in sleek athletic gear, the real eye candy was the dozens more who festooned themselves in festive costumes. There were Santa suits, pumpkin pie-shaped costumes, and one libertine runner dressed as a red Solo cup. The most popular, of course, was the turkey.

“It’s a little constricting on the stride,” said Jason Griffith, sporting a head-to-toe turkey jumpsuit. “But everything else went really well. It kept me warm, and everybody was really happy to see it.

“We started with the walkers and had a really good time. Everybody was out and about, and a few people offered me a beer … It’s nice to see everybody, it really is. It seems like there’s more people out supporting the runners than in previous years,” he added.

MUST’s goal for the day had been to reach 10,000 runners in the race. Reighard said with about 8,500 who pre-registered, and another 1,200 to 1,500 “walk ups,” he was optimistic the group would hit the mark.

“Every year I’ve asked how much bigger we can get,” Reighard said, “and they tell me, when we can increase the size of the Square.”

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