Go on, do the turkey trot this Thanksgiving

Runners head out on the 15th annual Long Beach Turkey Trot
Runners head out on the 15th annual Long Beach Turkey Trot (Image credit: MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images / Contributor)

Yes, you probably associate Thanksgiving with feasting. The day, after all, centers around turkey and casserole, sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie. It’s wonderful! So wonderful, in fact, that it’s a tradition I’ve continued since moving back to Scotland, much to the joy (and slight confusion over the odd food combinations) of my local friends. And while it’s true that the day is more associated with eating than exercise, there’s an active tradition to Thanksgiving that’s as old as, well, the state of Utah, anyway. In this article, we discuss the origins and history of the world’s longest consecutively run annual foot race in the world, the turkey trot, plus why you should give it a go this year. 

Runners completing the London Marathon

The turkey trot is an annual tradition of running events held across the US on Thanksgiving Day (Image credit: Getty)

How did turkey trots start? 

The turkey trot is an annual tradition of running events held across the US on Thanksgiving Day. The first turkey trot took place in Buffalo, NY all the way back in 1896 and involved a scant six participants who took part in a five mile race downtown on dirt roads that have since been paved or reconstructed (shame that trail running shoes hadn’t yet been invented). The race was organized by the YMCA Buffalo (opens in new tab) and the winner that year was one Henry Allison. Since then, the event has endured and proliferated, with Americans of all ages and abilities pulling on their running gear and hitting the roads and trails first thing on Thanksgiving morning, through blizzards and heat waves, in towns large and small in every state across the country. 

Today, turkey trots may take the form of a race of anywhere between 5km and a half marathon, while many are fun runs and walks that can be as little as a mile in length. It’s common to see participants take part in costumes, dressed up as superheroes or turkeys, and with the whole family in tow. The biggest turkey trot in the country takes place in Dallas, TX, which claims some 20,000 trotters!

Marathon runners

The first turkey trot took place in Buffalo, NY all the way back in 1896 (Image credit: Getty)

Why should you run (or walk) a turkey trot this year? 

To be honest, I lived in America for over a decade before I tried my first turkey trot, so I can understand if you’re hesitant. I always thought Thanksgiving was all about eating and drinking, so why would I want to go outside in the cold and run when I could be drinking eggnog in the warm? But once I tried it, I was instantly hooked on the tradition and did it every year before getting the bird in the oven. Here are some of the best reasons to run (or walk) a turkey trot this year: 

1. Get moving 

Lots of people take part in a turkey trot to burn off the calories they’re about to consume, but you can’t actually outrun a bad diet, according to the British Medical Journal (opens in new tab). Nor can you negate a 3,000-calorie feast, which is the amount the average American eats that day, according to the Calorie Control Council (opens in new tab). You can learn more about this topic in our article on running and calories, but suffice to say that you can’t just do a massive workout then eat whatever you want without health consequences.

So does that mean you should skip the trot, grab a large bag of Doritos and head for the couch? Definitely not. There are loads of other benefits to exercise, such as reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Forget about the calories – it will do you good to get your body moving on a day where otherwise, the most exercise you’ll get is moving from the dining table to the couch. It will get your heart rate up, move lymph and get some endorphins flowing, which might boost your mood before spending the day with your in-laws. If you’re not a runner, no problem, you can still get loads of benefits from a brisk walk. And if nothing else, it will probably help you work up an appetite to better enjoy a second helping of stuffing and green bean casserole.

A group running in the park

If nothing else, it will probably help you work up an appetite to better enjoy a second helping of stuffing and green bean casse (Image credit: Hinterhaus Productions)

2. Fresh air and sunlight

Thanksgiving is more of an indoor event in most places, taking place as it does at the end of November, so getting outside in the fresh air and catching some sunlight has loads of benefits, from improving your immune system to your mood, according to Harvard Health (opens in new tab). This is especially important as the days get shorter. Getting some exercise while you’re doing it is known as green exercise and only increases your dividends. 

3. Make friends 

With the exception, perhaps, of a few more competitive races, most turkey trots are fun-filled, community affairs intended to bring people together rather than pit them against each other to try and win a medal. Taking part in a turkey trot is a nice way to spend time with your family and neighbors and meet new friends before you all hole yourselves off for the day. This can be extra important for those in your community who don’t have a family to spend the day with. 

Two men running outdoors wearing fitness trackers

Taking part in a turkey trot is a nice way to spend time with your family and neighbors and meet new friends (Image credit: Getty)

4. Raise money 

Setting the gorging and football aside, the sentiment of the holiday is all about gratitude and giving, so it’s an important time of year to support those in need. Turkey trots are usually organized for charity, and may either have a registration fee or suggested donations. These shouldn’t preclude you from taking part if you’re unable to offer a donation this year, but if you can, you can feel great knowing you’ve helped out an important cause.

races

You’ve got the whole day off, and turkey trots always take place first thing so you can still get dinner organized and have lots of relaxation time (Image credit: Tobias Mews)

So there you have it. You’ve got the whole day off, and turkey trots always take place first thing so you can still get dinner organized and have lots of relaxation time. What’s holding you back? Grab your running shoes and wear a running jacket if it’s chilly where you live and get going. If you’re not already a runner, remember you can walk or just go at your own pace and have fun. Find your nearest turkey trot over on Active.com (opens in new tab) to give your Thanksgiving an extra kick.

Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Advnture.com and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.