The Christmas season doesn’t begin in Marietta until the gobblers jog through the Square.
Every Thanksgiving morning, thousands come downtown for Gobble Jog, a series of foot races to benefit MUST Ministries’ mission of serving the homeless.
Many runners go wild with their fashion choices, and the wacky costumes are always a highlight of the event. This year, along with the always-plentiful pilgrims and turkeys, there were cartoon characters, monsters and princesses sprinting across the Square.
This year’s event was the biggest yet, with over 10,000 runners taking part across five timed and untimed races, said MUST Ministries President and CEO Ike Reighard. Reighard said he hopes the number will be above 10,700 once all the last-minute entries are tallied.
Those runners are expected to bring in over half a million dollars for MUST to spend on food for the hungry, shelter from the cold and job training for people who need it.
Reighard said those funds will benefit more than just those who visit MUST’s shelter off Cobb Parkway, and he gave the example of MUST’s school pantry program, which recently opened its 36th location to provide food and hygiene products to members of the community.
“By the end of the year, we’ll be in a total of 39 schools here in Cobb, Marietta City, Cherokee and we also have a pantry at KSU that we stock,” Reighard said as the morning was getting under way. “Those pantries are helping to level the playing field because when kids have food, they study better, they’re not sitting there with a gnawing pain in their gut.”
Dawn was just creeping over the horizon as the runners lined up for the first race of the day, but everyone seemed too pumped up to be sleepy. Costumed runners danced along with pop music, stretched or jogged in place.
The MDJ caught up with businessman Fitz Johnson of Smyrna as he stretched his legs before running the 10K. He’s run the Gobble Jog about 10 times, and he said it’s the best way to warm up before a big Thanksgiving meal with family.
“You’ve got to stretch your stomach,” he said with a laugh. “You feel much better about eating all that food after you’ve gone on a nice run in the morning. … You get a good workout in, eat some turkey, watch some football, my wife will watch the parade, it will be a good time.”
When the starting gun fired, the Gobble Joggers jogged off, quickly exiting Marietta Square.
Leading the pack was Marietta Mayor Steve Tumlin, who stayed ahead of the runners without breaking a sweat. He was driving the pace car.
Tumlin said the annual celebration, now in its 17th year, is one of his favorite Marietta traditions.
“It’s a good family occasion, you see groups running together, families together,” he said. “It’s a great way to start the wonderful holiday of Thanksgiving, and we love that it’s so unique to Marietta.”
As a thousands of runners stomped past the starting line, Reighard said he feels blessed to be able to spend Thanksgiving working to help others.
“It’s the most humbling thought in the world,” he said. “I went to bed in a warm house last night, woke up in a bed, I had everything I needed, I was able to drive here to the Square, and when I think about people this morning waking up in a tent or somewhere on the side of a road in a ditch trying to keep warm, it breaks my heart, but I’m so thankful I’ve been given this privilege to be able to work in an organization that has 48 years of history in this community. … It’s a blessing, but it humbles you every day because you see what people are going through.”
Gobble Jog is MUST’s largest annual fundraiser. Last year, the Marietta-based nonprofit provided food, shelter and job training to over 33,000 people.