Being that it’s barely July, it’s strange to even mention Thanksgiving let alone start planning for it, and yet that’s what many Southern families are doing right about now. Why? The 30A 10K, a beloved annual event now entering its seventh year.

Scheduled for November 22, 2018, the 30A 10K, has already been named one of the top five Thanksgiving race events in the nation and has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for local charities in the South Walton area, which spans the Florida panhandle and is a popular destination anytime of year, but for race participants, particularly during Thanksgiving week. In fact, the 30A 10K has evolved into an annual tradition for many families, who register in late summer and excitedly begin planning their trip South for the Thanksgiving holiday. We spoke with three families who take advantage of the chance to bond with friends and family in addition to putting a few miles on their running shoes.

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Nandy Miller joins with family members from Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia every year to rent a large house within walking distance of the start/finish line. “We started coming the first year of the race,” she shares. “It’s the only time of the year that I get to see some of the family, and we have a lot to be thankful for, especially family. We have to keep getting bigger houses!”

Although the week itself is about fun and family, Nandy’s brood does get a little competitive sometimes, with 13 members of her group running the 10K last year and her 75-year-old mother taking part in the one miler. (“Mom holds our stuff for us while we race,” Nandy jokes.) Nandy, her brother, sister and nephew have all finished in the top three in their age groups over the years that they have competed, but it’s getting tougher to end up on the podium. “We’re all athletes, some of us more than others, but the race has grown so much, and the competition has gotten a little stiffer.”

Nandy Miller and her family are admittedly a competitive bunch, and they excitedly return to South Walton every year to run the 30A 10K.

Nandy Miller and her family are admittedly a competitive bunch, and they excitedly return to South Walton every year to run the 30A 10K. Image: Submitted

Note the medals around their necks ... yep! Nandy's family has taken their places on the podiums several times! Image: Submitted

Note the medals around their necks … yep! Nandy’s family has taken their places on the podiums several times! Image: Submitted

Nandy and her family initially decided to spend the holidays in Rosemary Beach because they had friends with houses in the area. “Now it’s a family tradition,” she says. “We stay from Tuesday through Sunday. We ride our bikes up and down the beach from Seaside to Alys Beach. We shop and eat and pedal. There are lots of wholesome things for people of all ages to do. The shops are open and bustling with people, and the weather is really nice for Thanksgiving. It’s not hot, but pleasant.”

The 10K is also an incentive to stay in shape all year long. “We know we’re going to do this race, so we think about it while we exercise,” she says. “It’s the best place to spend Thanksgiving!”

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Matt Markel also takes the racing seriously, but the event has taken on a serious meaning for the family from Woodlands, TX. Matt’s son Riley has actually taken the top overall spot in the race multiple times, and now he runs in memory of his friend Tanner Noble, who tragically passed away in July of 2017. Matt coached Riley and Tanner’s soccer team growing up, and the two families became close. The Nobles bought a house in Destin, and the two families began participating during the race’s first year. Riley and Tanner’s high school cross country team regularly won the state championship, so both the teenagers had fleet feet.

Riley (left) and Tanner participated in the 30A 10K since its first year. Now, the families run the race each year in honor of Tanner, who tragically died in a mountain biking accident in summer of 2017. Image: Submitted

Armed with an extinguisher in advance of a turkey fry, the Nobles and Markels gather for a pic. From left to right: Tim Sullivan, Riley Markel, Kevin Noble, Owen Markel, Matt Markel and Tanner Noble. Image: Submitted

The day after Tanner passed away on a mountain biking trip in Montana, the Markel family was at the beach in South Walton. They saw a poster advertising the 2017 10K and noticed that it featured pictures of Riley and Tanner together at the starting line. Matt and his family were inspired.

“We called [race director] Karen Meadows to see if we could get extra copies of the poster, and she of course said yes. She asked if there was anything else they could do for us. The organizers held a moment of silence for Tanner at the starting line before the race, and we all wore shirts to honor Tanner and promote the Live Noble Foundation that the families set up. The 30A 10K people also helped us with events throughout the year, including a charitable 5K that we put on in our hometown on New Year’s Eve.” The money raised from the Run Noble race was used to fund two scholarships, one for a student interested in pursuing STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics education, and another for someone who has engaged in continual acts of compassionate service.

The Live Noble Foundation was created to honor Tanner’s legacy and to raise money to fund two scholarships in Tanner’s name. Image: Submitted

According to the Foundation’s website, “Both of these scholarships were established so others can carry on Tanner’s dreams of exploring and loving our world.” Matt and his family remain dedicated to preserving this legacy. “It’s hard. Tanner was very close to our family, almost like our fifth child.” The Markels bought their own house on the Panhandle, so they’ll continue to return to the area, especially during Thanksgiving week.

“It’s a family tradition and an amazing event that has grown each year. It’s a great course for a race: flat and fast, sometimes warm, sometimes cool. We love hanging out on the beach, whether we can lay out or have to bundle up. With two kids in college now, we have to fly them in, but we’ll keep coming!”

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Danielle Miranda has been visiting 30A from Atlanta for years and has participated in almost all of the 10K events. And like the Markels, she and a dozen members of her extended family also run to remember someone. “I run because I lost my dad. We used to run the Turkey Trot together every year in Upstate New York where I came from. Then last year, my wife Pat’s father passed away after a long decline following a car accident. He was a 30-year military veteran, and we called him ‘Sparky’ because he was such a fighter. He fought everyone: doctors, nurses, us,” Danielle recalls with a chuckle.

Family members flew in from all over the country to join Team Sparky. They wore t-shirts emblazoned with the team name, and everyone ran or walked the race course. “2017 was a tough year, and we wanted to culminate it with something positive. We love all of 30A and have exclusively vacationed here for years. My sister’s kids are 25 and 26, and we have pictures of them on the beach in swim diapers,” Danielle shares. “It was a great experience, very cathartic. We love the tranquility of the beach, and I really believe that saltwater heals. We’re all really busy running our businesses in Atlanta, so we try to make sure we can get our toes in salty water as often as we can. We always say goodnight to the beach every night and goodbye to the ocean before we leave. It’s a special place for our family, and we couldn’t not be together.”

Danielle (left) is pictured here with Pat, Ava and her mom Barbara. Image: Submitted

Danielle and Ava Miranda show off their medals and their “Team Sparky” shirts, which were created to honor her wife Pat’s father, who they nicknamed “Sparky.” Image: Submitted

The 30A 10K is just one reason people are drawn to the area each year to remember family and create new memories, but there is plenty more to do than just run. The Visit South Walton website provides details about shopping, dining, nightlife, water and beach activities and other family-friendly fun plus a list of all the holiday events going on that week.

If you want to start your own family tradition of running in the 30A 10K, pre-registration is now open at the event website and is strongly encouraged as the races almost always sell out in advance. With three out-and-back courses beginning and ending at Barrett Square in downtown Rosemary Beach, the day’s festivities offer distances for all abilities, a one-mile fun run/walk plus 5K and 10K circuits for more ambitious athletes. The Wednesday before the race features a race expo where runners pick up their registration packets, enjoy live music, shopping and games and indulge in free food and drink tastings.

All ages enjoy the 30A 10K festivities! Image: Sherry Swanger

Find out more about the race, registration and more at 30a10k.com.

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