The Best U.S. Turkey Trots

10 of the best Thanksgiving Day races and fun runs
Staff Writer

flickr_Julio González. Licensed under Creative Commons

Buffalo YMCA Turkey Trot, the oldest annual Thanksgiving Day race in the U.S.

Count them on, but you won’t be counting them off. You will likely consume 2,500-4,500 calories at your Thanksgiving meal. You’d have to run a marathon to burn that lot off. Good luck! The longest Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot you can find now is a half-marathon in Atlanta.

A morning foot race has become as much a part of the holiday tradition as the turkey itself, a rare chance to race, run or walk with friends and family up and down the generations. More Americans participate in an organized running event on Thanksgiving Day than on any other day of the year, according to our back-of-an-envelope calculation.

We count more than 1,000 Turkey Trots across the U.S., typically 5Ks or 5-milers, and ranging from the seriously competitive to serious fun. You can find one near you here

Some of these have been trotted for more than century. The Buffalo YMCA Turkey Trot started in 1896 and claims to be the oldest continuously run public footrace in the U.S. 

There are many, many small local events. Fields can number a few hundred or even a few dozen. We like the Montauk Turkey Trot held on the eastern tip of Long Island, N.Y. for that reason. As at many small Turkey Trots, winners get frozen turkeys instead of medals. The local joke is that the turkeys arrive fresh, but the cold Atlantic winds soon take care of that. Tradition dictates the prizes are immediately donated to a local seniors home. The same community experience is found at hundreds of such small Thanksgiving Day runs across America.

The Texas-sized Dallas Turkey Trot is at the other end of the scale. It is expecting more than 40,000 participants this year, making it one of the five largest running events in America at any time of the year, and sufficient to put it in the top 25 in the world. In 2011, the event set a record for the largest gathering of people dressed as turkeys. Six hundred and sixty-one, since you asked, according to the Guinness Book of Records. 

Costumes are a big part of Thanksgiving races, and can win you prizes at many events. As well as turkeys, there will be plenty of male runners dressed in black breeches, black top with a square white collar and cuffs, wide buckled belt and black steeple hat—even though the first Pilgrims are now thought not to have dressed like that, or at least not until it became high formal wear in Boston from the mid-17th century onwards. 

Don’t let a little historical inaccuracy put you off. Pilgrims didn’t wear Nikes or any other modern shoe brand either, though you likely will be dressed as a pilgrim, turkey, Native American or just recycling your Halloween costume. Runners are naturally frugal folk, right?

The main aim of Turkey Trots is to run with family, friends and neighbors, and to start off a day of indulgence by combining exercise with good works for local charities. Some communities hold their Turkey Trot the weekend before Thanksgiving so that the money or food raised can get to its intended recipients on the day itself.

One of the biggest charitable events is the Run To Feed the Hungry, held in Sacramento, Calif. since the 1990s and organized by the city’s Family Services department. Tens of thousands of runners turn out to support the Sacramento Food Bank to which all proceeds from the race go. 

South along the California coast, the Silicon Valley Turkey Trot in San Jose, is another large-scale race that supports a food bank. It has donated $4 million to the Second Harvest Food Bank and other local charities over its 10-year history. If you can't make the race in person, you can still run (and donate) remotely.

Fast Before the Feast, a 10K, 5K and fun run at White Bear Lake, Minn., goes for weight. This year it is aiming to donate 10,000 lb of food —that is 5 tons—to stock the shelves of local food banks. 

We have picked 10 of the most iconic, offbeat and challenging Turkey Trots, which you can see in the accompanying slide show. As well as the longest, shortest, largest and most historic, they include one where the first across the line rarely wins and one with real turkeys.

Closest To Where It All Started
Plymouth Turkey Trot and Pilgrim Thanksgiving 5K, Plymouth Mass

You can’t get much closer to the first Thanksgiving than this pair of races. The Plymouth Turkey Trot starts at Plymouth Rock, where the Pilgrims reputedly landed; the Pilgrim 5K runs down the oldest road in America, one that would have been familiar to settlers and Native Americans in the 1600s. The two races start three hours apart so you can run them both—Turkey Trot second helpings.

The Largest
Dallas Turkey Trot, Dallas Texas

More than 40,000 are expected for this year’s races, an 8-miler and a 5K fun run/walk. The unusual distance came about because at the first race in 1968 the 107 participants were told to run along the shores of White Rock Lake “to the big oak tree and back.” Turned out that was 8 miles. In 2011, the race set a record for the largest gathering of people dressed as turkeys, according to the Guinness Book of Records.

Click here to see the remainder of our top 10 Turkey Trots.


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