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The Cold Duck Run - huh?

(Originally published in November/December 2016 FootTrails)

It’s been 40 years since this Thanksgiving Day tradition started.  What is the “Cold Duck” run anyways?  It’s something many new (and not-so-new) members have wondered.  Where did the peculiar name come from? It’s on Thanksgiving morning—shouldn’t it be a turkey run?  SRRC member and newsletter contributor, Megan Styles, gets to the bottom of it for us.


    From the 2004 Cold Duck Run (L to R): H.M. Stephens, Dr. Stuart Yaffe, and Randy Witter.

Celebrating Running & Creating Community with Cold Duck

By Megan Styles

Frank “Coyote” Copi had never tasted cold duck wine, but he liked the name. “We didn’t do things as runners on holidays, and I was thinking about what we could do on Thanksgiving,” explains Copi. “So I got ahold of a few of my cronies and we agreed to meet at Washington Park.” When they arrived, he told them the rules. “It was patterned after an Easter egg hunt. I hid the wine, and when they finished running, they had to find it. It was a cold duck hunt.”

Frank didn’t know it then, but he had started a tradition. What began as a gathering of friends in 1976 has grown into the annual SRRC Cold Duck Run. The Thanksgiving morning run features a bonfire provided by the Springfield Parks Department, potluck dishes, and as much or as little running as you like.

“Back then we didn’t have a bonfire,” Copi says, “We finished the run, and everyone found their bottle of cold duck. I remember vividly, we sat in the car together for warmth and used the dashboard for cheese and crackers.”

Although cold duck wine still makes an appearance, the hunting part of the event didn’t last long. SRRC member Phil Peterson remembers, “The second year, we didn’t really want to hunt for the bottles. So one guy doubled back and watched Frank hide them. We found them fast and just got on with the party.”

The Parks Department started providing the wood for the bonfire in year three. Copi recalls, “At one point there, we had four fires. The weather has changed, but back then it was cold and the ground would be frozen. The area around the fires would get muddy, so they built us plywood platforms to stand on.”

What started with cold duck and a fire grew into a popular potluck with a sometimes elaborate menu. Copi, who was the principal at a local school, got up at 2AM to cook duck soup in the school kitchen. “I got the ducks from a local farmer, and I would make sixty gallons of it. There was never any left by the end.” Phil Peterson remembers the soup fondly. He laughs, “It was the worst stuff you ever tasted! It was duck with a lot of fat.” Other members brought white bean chili, monkey bread, and even turkey.

Cold duck always remained central to the celebration. “One year, we made a semicircle out of snow in the shape of a turkey, with the empty bottles of cold duck sticking out as the feathers,” Copi laughs. “Another time, we issued awards based on the duck theme. There was Wobbly Duck, Quacken Duck, Mr. and Mrs. Duck, and an award for the biggest Duck-Up.”

Occasionally, the party would last longer than expected. “There was more than one turkey that was in the oven too long, and some runners that got in a little trouble for coming home too late,” says Copi. “But the best story was the time a runner who lived directly across the street from the shelter managed to get lost on the way home.” His wife came looking for him, and the runners found him wandering with a smile on the other side of the park. Phil Peterson laughs, “There were some wives who were a little unhappy with their husbands. If someone got a little carried away one year, you wouldn’t see him the next year.”

Copi describes those early runs as a wonderful celebration of running and friendship. “It was a precious time, a happy time. No one got out of line. It was great food, and great drink. Many of the club members were people with clout and recognition in the community, politicians, doctors, lawyers. The Parks Department showed us nothing but respect and was always very supportive.”

The run didn’t stay a Springfield secret for long. One year Runner’s World included it in a column on “strange” running events. Copi recalls, “They said they were interested in the event and asked for the details, so we sent in our little deal. Thanksgiving Cold Duck Run. No awards. No times. No distance. No course.” Runners’s World published the details as submitted, but runners still came from as far away as Hannibal, MO and Rockford, IL expecting a competitive race. Copi laughs, “I don’t know what they were thinking!”

Phil Peterson came every year until three years ago when a friend started hosting a regular Thanksgiving morning brunch. “Even people who had moved away from Springfield would come back to visit their parents here for the holiday,” says Peterson. “It’s always been like a reunion, a great way to see everyone.”

Randy Witter, who started coming just a few years after the event started, says, “It’s a thanksgiving for each other and for the benefits of running, a thankful recognition of the comradery that exists among us. We’re all part of a group of runners who support each other, and it’s a place for us to celebrate with our friends and family, people who have also been touched by the running community.”

“I hope it can always continue,” says Copi. “The fellowship is outstanding. No matter who you are, we’re all the same. We’re all runners. Let the good times roll!” Copi, who is now 88, plans to attend this year for the first time in a long while, and he looks forward to meeting the younger runners who are carrying on the tradition that began forty years ago with a bottle of cold duck and a bit of mischief.  

A group photo from the 2015 Cold Duck Run, and Frank Copi (L) with Bryan Glass and the Cold Duck.

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