WORTHINGTON — Founded in 1980 by members of the Okabena Bay Area Striders, a local running club, the King Turkey Day 10K has earned a rich history as an annual September event for many runners — of all ability levels.

A total of 101 runners completed that first KTD 10K. By 1988, the number of participants had grown to 433, and the peak year in 1997 had a whopping total of 709 finishers.

The event will take place for a 40th consecutive time Saturday, with a 9 a.m. start time on the corner of 10th Street and Seventh Avenue. Now organized and run by the Worthington Area YMCA, another huge crowd of competitors is anticipated at the start and, as always, they will become quite spread out as they make their 6.2-mile trek up 10th, around Lake Okabena and back to 10th Street for a slightly uphill finish in front of lots of cheering spectators.

“It’s been a great experience, being able to run in all 39 previous King Turkey Day 10K road races,” says the recently retired Wayne Drealan, who lived near Fulda and worked as a certified public accountant (CPA) in Worthington before moving west with his wife, Heidi, to the northern Black Hills area (Belle Fourche, S.D.) to be near their daughter, Erica. “I have been lucky to stay injury-free and not miss any of the races since the first one in 1980.”

Drealan is registered to run again — for the 40th time — as is Chandler native Steve Vlieger, who also has never missed, despite a serious motorcycle accident in 2014 that forced him to mostly walk — with his family — in the event that year.

After graduating from Chandler High School in 1969, Vlieger spent the next two years as a student at what was known then as Worthington State Junior College before he completed his degree in fish and wildlife biology at South Dakota State University in Brookings, S.D. After working with natural resources for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) out of Mitchell, S.D. for 39 years, Steve retired in 2012 and continues to live in Mitchell with his wife, Verla, and works part-time as a crop adjuster while still running year round.

He has recovered well from his accident and after walking the distance five years ago, is back to running the course — although not nearly as fast as he did when he was in his 30s and 40s.

“I ran track in high school, but never started running seriously until the late 1970s,” said Vlieger, who was quite competitive in the early years of the KTD 10K. “I liked coming back, competing and comparing times from year to year against some of the Turkey Day regulars.

“At age 68, I have slowed down a lot from when I used to be able to run the course in the high 38s or low 39s (minutes). I still enjoy the scenic course and the nice crowds who cheer you on as you make your way around the lake. The Turkey Day 10K has become a real family affair for us, as Verla — who has been to nearly every one of my races — always comes along, and I have had two sons and two nieces who have run the course, too.”

Steve and Verla’s son, Todd, ran cross country at both Mitchell High School and SDSU. He was the winner of the 2017 KTD 10K, running the course in 35:27.

Drealan has been one of the best of the best

Drealan, a 1970 graduate of Fulda High School, ran the half-mile for the Raiders as a freshman, but didn’t like running the mile in the Seven Star Conference Meet and opted for baseball the next three years. He also did some conditioning runs with the FHS cross country team (to prepare for basketball) but never competed in any meets.

“Maybe the coaches didn’t see any racing ability in my runs,” Drealan says now. “I know that Fulda had some good cross country teams a few years after I graduated, but the program was disbanded in the late ’70s.”

Like Vlieger, Wayne went to WSJC for two years (graduating in 1972) before getting his degree in accounting from Mankato State in 1974. After living and working in St. Paul, Drealan moved to Worthington and established his own CPA firm on Aug. 1, 1980.

Having begun serious running three years earlier in 1977 at age 25, “primarily to maintain and improve my fitness level,” Drealan joined the local “Striders” (OBAS). He entered the first KTD 10K and finished near the front (ninth) with a time of 35:45.

Three years later, in 1983, he ran his personal-best KTD 10K clocked at 32:26. He teamed with Adrian’s Doug Peterson (30:00) and Worthington’s Jerrold Wynia (all-time record-holder, 29:37) to set the three-runner time record (1:32:03) that lasted for over 30 years before being bettered.

In addition to running each of the past 39 years, Drealan has also been responsible for compiling the results, which has been a huge task. Along with Jerry Fiola, Tom Navara, Owen Van Essen, Stan Haas and Dr. Robert Aby, Drealan was an original member of the OBAS, which started and continued organizing the popular event.

Drealan relates how over the first decade, an “Iron Seven” of every-year competitors emerged. In addition to himself and Vlieger, Worthington runners Brad Witzel and Lawrence “Midg” White were regulars, as were Dave Bushard from Marshall, Bob Hanson of Rushmore and Don Ramler from Cottage Grove.

As the years progressed, the “Iron Seven” remained intact until Hanson and Witzel did not return for Year 21 in 2000. Ramler’s last year was in 2008 and Bushard completed 30 years in his last KTD 10K in 2009.

White, who had achieved a remarkable accomplishment of running at least four miles every day for 13 straight years, finished 35 consecutive Turkey Day races in 2014, being one of just three to accomplish that.

Now, five years later, it’s just Vlieger and Drealan who have never missed one.

Over the years, Drealan has run the Worthington course in less than 40 minutes 22 times (the last year was in 2003 at age 51 when he zipped the route in 38:54). He has been under 50 minutes 38 of the 39 previous runs, missing only in 2010 (age 58) when, coming off a back injury, it took him 53 minutes and 30 seconds. Wayne has nine KTD 10K age-group wins, been second in his age group 10 times and has four third-place age-group finishes.

“What an absolute pleasure and honor to have the Worthington area community and all the individual and organizations, like the Okabena Bay Area Striders and now the YMCA, related to the King Turkey Day 10K experience be part of my career,” summed up Drealan, who is one of 14 individuals who has never missed a Twin Cities Marathon since its inception in 1982.

“Now in the Black Hills, my first Sturgis Bike Rally in 2019 was quite an experience, but will never replace the great Worthington atmosphere. There have been so many wonderful, varied and unique experiences over my 39 years involved with the 10K on Turkey Day.”