The History of the Turkey Trot and How to Participate
WASHINGTON — Have you ever been out for a walk on Thanksgiving Day and seen a crowd of people running in turkey costumes? You weren’t hallucinating — you saw The Turkey Trot. The costumes are a newer addition, but the Thanksgiving Day race is over 100 years old. The urge to exercise on the biggest day of eating all year is a century-old tradition.
It’s perfectly okay to spend the day relaxing but, if you want to throw on a costume and your running shoes, we’ve got you covered. We’ll explain the origins of this peculiar race, how to do it at any fitness level and where to check for official events in your area.
What is the Turkey Trot?
The first Turkey Trot was held on Thanksgiving Day in 1896 in Buffalo, New York. It was an eight-kilometer race hosted by the YMCA; six people participated, and only four finished. People have run the Turkey Trot every year since — through blizzards and pandemics — making it the oldest race in North America.
The Turkey Trot spread across the United States, and the number of participants continually increased. Thanksgiving Day is now considered the biggest running day of the year. In 2022, 756,894 people officially signed up, with more likely doing unofficial trots.
Wondering about those costumes? They became popular in the 1980s. People first dressed up as hockey players, but their costumes quickly evolved into ones that were Thanksgiving-themed. Turkeys (live and cooked), comfortable onesies, and even utensils now abound.
The Turkey Trot has three key components:
- Family-Friendly and Fun: Children are encouraged to attend and all fitness levels can participate.
- Charitable: Many Turkey Trots raise money for local organizations.
- Tradition: Holidays are all about traditions, and this is an old one. Many communities participate every year to dress up, spend time together and get some steps in for a great cause.
How to Do the Turkey Trot
Feel like participating? Here’s what to do.
Find a Local Event or Do it On Your Own
There are official Turkey Trots all across the U.S. If you’d like to participate, find one in your area and register. There may be an option to donate to a charity as well.
If there isn’t an event in your area or you don’t want to participate, just take a walk or run with your Thanksgiving crew and call it a Turkey Trot. Exercising outdoors on a colder day exposes you to sunshine and boosts your mood. Bringing your kids or family sets an excellent example of how exercise can be fun, healthy and help you feel great.
Don’t forget your costumes — they’re optional but can add to the festive atmosphere.
Preparing for the Race
Whether you want to take it seriously or just enjoy a walk, here’s what you need to know.
- Warm Up First: Warming up before any exercise helps prevent injuries and improve your performance. A warm-up gets your joints, muscles, and brain prepared and gets the blood flowing. Some dynamic (moving) stretches for your lower body will be great.
- Distance: The official Turkey Trot is eight kilometers or about five miles. Not everyone finished it in the original event, and you don’t have to either. If you’re a serious runner (or walker) who wants to complete the race, pace yourself by walking, jogging or running at a moderate speed that you can sustain. Official events will often have different distances to choose from for different levels.
- Cool Down After: Finish your walk or run with static stretches where you hold the position. Stretching your calves, hamstrings, quads and glutes after your hard work helps prevent stiffness later on.
Official Turkey Trot Events
If you want to do an official Turkey Trot, check with RunSignup to find one in your area.
Here are a few official Turkey Trots that will take place in major cities across the U.S.
- Washington, D.C. will host America’s Trot for Hunger, a 5K walk or run beginning at Freedom Plaza.
- New York City does a half-marathon beginning in Queens, New York.
- Boston has a 5K Turkey Trot beginning in Franklin Park.
- Philadelphia will have its 31st five-mile run (or one-mile walk), charitable Turkey Trot.
- Chicago hosts its 45th annual 5K and 8K Turkey Trot at Lincoln Park.
- Los Angeles has a charitable 5K or 10K Turkey Trot beginning at City Hall.
- San Francisco hosts its 21st Turkey Trot starting in Golden Gate Park.
- Portland hosts a four-mile Turkey Trot at the Zoo.
- Seattle has a 5K, 10K, or 15K Turkey Trot and kids dash at Magnuson Park.
Thanksgiving is a day to feel grateful and enjoy delicious food with your loved ones. If you feel like getting out for some exercise, join an official Turkey Trot, or simply take a walk, jog, or run to soak up some sun and fresh air. Happy Thanksgiving!
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