In the three decades of the Knights of Columbus Turkey Day Run, the event passed the long-awaited 5,000 registration mark for the first time last year.
The race registrations grew from 2,467 in 2003 to 5,135 last year. But with the growth, the organization proceeded with more innovations - as well as an aggressive, targeted marketing campaign - on a quest to surpass the 6,000 registration mark this Thanksgiving Day.
And it looks like they might get it. Advance registrations late last week were running about 1,000 ahead of year-to-date figures over last year's record-breaking year.
Race Director George Seago credits those numbers to efforts by the Knights of Columbus to target-market Turkey Day at other races, including the Myrtle Beach Marathon, Lowcountry Komen Race for the Cure and Spinx Marathon in Greenville. Runners at the recent James Island Connector Run and the Knology Pajama Run returned to cars with Turkey Day race applications tucked under windshield wipers.
"It's been a lot of work, and it's been a lot of fun," Seago said. "We don't have the support of a national organization for the Race for the Cure or paid staffers like the Bridge Run. This race is put on by a committee of 15 and we're all volunteers."
Chuck Magera, who has helped manage the race for 25 years, ordered an extra 1,000 race bibs last week in anticipation of yet another record-breaking year.
In national running circles, though, prestige lies in the number of finishers, not registrants. Typically, 15 percent to 20 percent of those who register never enter nor cross the finish line. For example, last year's Turkey Day had 4,185 finishers.
If Turkey Day were to surpass the 6,000-finisher mark, it would be among the 100 largest races in the United States, according to the 2009 listing at Running USA. The 32nd annual Cooper River Bridge Run, with 31,505 finishers, was the sixth-largest race in the nation in 2009 - behind the New York City and Chicago marathons.
While marketing has been more concerted for the 33rd Turkey Day Run, the race will offer popular features of the past - a beer garden, a kids run, prize money for top runners and music (this year by the popular local band Blue Dogs) - and of the future.
The race will be among the first in the Charleston-area to use the new, state-of-the-art Jaguar timing system that has proved to be more accurate than other systems, such as the D-tag. Magera said. Turkey Day had 400 runners finish without readings with the D-tag last year.
"This [Jaguar] is the mac daddy chip," Magera said of the chip that is attached to the bottom of the bib and starts reading as runners get within 15 feet of the finish.
Magera added that Jaguar will allow the race officials to register up to 1,500 people on race morning, if necessary.
One highlight of this year's race that may not be duplicated in future years will be an off-site Turkey Day Run.
Nearly 7,400 miles away in Afghanistan, about 300 troops - Army, Marines, Air Force and Army National Guard - will be running the Turkey Day Run at Camp Phoenix. Officials are anticipating getting video of that run to be shown at Marion Square on Thursday.
The arrangement came within recent weeks when Leonor Lourido Spahr, a Charleston-based member of the S.C. Army National Guard stationed in Afghanistan, asked for some bibs so that troops could participate in a Thanksgiving tradition. The Knights of Columbus sent 250 free registration packets, and their race times will be added to the official race results.