What is a Thanksgiving Turkey Trot?

A short quide to the running tradition that has become as much a part of America's favorite holiday as the turkey itself
Staff Writer

flickr_Joshua Bousel. Licensed under Creative Commons

What is a Turkey Trot?
A Turkey Trot is a footrace held on or around Thanksgiving Day, which is the last Thursday in November in the U.S. It can be a competitive race or a fun run/walk. By our rough calculation, more Americans take part in an organized run on Thanksgiving Day than on any other day of the year.

How far do you have to run?
The standard road-racing distances of 10K and 5K are popular, as are 5- and 3-milers, especially among the older-established events. The longest Thanksgiving Day race we know of is the Atlanta Half-Marathon—and from 1963 to 2009 there was a full marathon there, too. The shortest Turkey Trot we found is the Tot Trot in Charlotte, N.C., a "children's marathon" —26.2 yards—for six-year-olds and younger.

When was the first Turkey Trot run?
1896, and the Buffalo YMCA Turkey Trot is still going strong today. The 2014 race will be its 119th Annual and attract a field of 14,000. Not only is it the oldest Turkey Trot, but it also claims to be the oldest continuously run annual public foot race of any kind in the U.S. The Berwick Run for the Diamonds, a challenging 9-miler in Berwick, Pa, and the 10K Cincinnati Thanksgiving Day Race are two others that have been local traditions for more than a century.

How many people take part in a Turkey Trot?
It can be from a few dozen to tens of thousands. Dallas stages the largest Turkey Trot. Some 40,000 participants are expected for the 2014 event, which would make it one of the five biggest organized runs of the year in the U.S. Run to Feed the Hungry, in Sacramento, Calif. is another big Thanksgiving Day event. More that 25,000 take part. But there are many small local runs, too.

What makes Turkey Trots different from other running events?
Turkey Trots come in all shapes and sizes. See the accompanying slide show for our pick of some of the best of the variety America has to offer. But they all offer a rare chance to run with friends, family and neighbors across the generations. They also provide the opportunity to burn off a few calories to make room for those that you will take on through indulgences later in the day and to help out local charities, which nearly all Turkey Trots support.

What charities do Turkey Trots support?
All sorts. The Run to Feed the Hungry mentioned above, the Silicon Valley Turkey Trot in San Jose, Calif. and Fast Before the Feast in White Bear Lake, Minn. all support food banks. The Cincinnati race asks runners to wear a warm coat to the start line which they donate just before the gun to the city's Goodwill winter coat drive. Small races support all manner of local good causes ranging from school scholarships to food and shelter for the poor, homeless and hungry.

Do I need a costume?
Running in costume is not compulsory but encouraged. Turkey Trots often have prizes for the best costumes as well as for the best runners. Dressing as a turkey or a Pilgrim is popular.

Can I win prizes?
Beyond the standard race tee-shirt, which can plumb design depths to which even regular race tee-shirts don't often sink, overall and age-group winners often get frozen turkeys. The Feaster Five Road Race in Amhurst, Mass gives an old-fashioned apple pie to each of the first 9,000 finishers. The best bling we found was at the Berwick Run for the Diamonds: Yes, they really do run for diamonds. Top seven in the mens' and women's divisions win diamond jewelry.

Are Turkey Trots particularly American?
With its Puritan roots, Thanksgiving in the U.S. encompasses for more than just the harvest festival that it is in other countries that celebrate it. It has also become a huge family holiday in a way that it is not elsewhere. Similarly, Turkey Trots have become a particularly U.S. running tradition.

Why do Canadians run Turkey Trots on Columbus Day and Brits in December?
Most countries give thanks for their annual harvest immediately after the gathering-in of the crops earlier in the year. Canada's Thanksgiving Day is the second Monday in October, for example —Columbus Day in the U.S. Brits eat turkey at Christmas, so Turkey Trots in the U.K. are in December and have nothing to do with Thanksgiving; there is even one held in mid-summer.

Do turkeys Turkey Trot?
Cuero, Texas and Worthington, Minn. race champion turkeys to settle which is "America's Turkey Capital of the World." The now annual Great Gobbler Gallop takes place during Cuero's October Turkeyfest, but for six decades last century, tens of thousands of turkeys would be trotted down Cuero's Main Street at Thanksgiving.


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