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The Tradition Of The Turkey Trot Road Race

I wish I could remember the first Turkey Trot I participated in. It wasn’t always a Thanksgiving staple in my year, but now it is something I never miss. I'm not alone in this can't miss the Turkey Trot mentality. The traditional race marked by the uncanny number of people dressed up as turkeys has grown into the single biggest running “race day” of the year. For me, there’s something somewhat magical about getting up on Thanksgiving Day, putting on my running sneaks, and stomping around my local neighborhood streets. The tradition makes me wish every day could be so simple: run, then be with family savoring yummy food. It’s also not lost on me that this tradition is a luxury. In the spirit of the season where we are asked to be grateful, I am grateful for the simplicity of running and eating good food. I am grateful that during Thanksgiving, small towns and big cities alike open up their streets for camaraderie and friendly competition.


So what’s the story on Turkey Trots? I’ve read and heard many theories of its ever-growing popularity, from needing a reason to feel less guilty about a big meal to building community connectivity through food kitchens and charitable causes. To me, it is that community connectivity, and ultimately tradition, that keeps the Turkey Trot legacy alive and well. Case in point: In Buffalo, New York, the YMCA is hosting its 126th running of their annual Turkey Trot. You heard that right, 126th. This long-standing race claims to be the oldest continually running public footrace in the United States (yes, it started in 1896!). The race in Buffalo demonstrates the essence of community.


The most popular distance for a Turkey Trot is the classic 5K, but distances range and often include fun runs for children. I’m a graduate of the University of Wisconsin, Madison (GO BUCKY!) and I remember when a local friend decided to put on a more “serious” Turkey Trot. The Berbee Derby started in 2004, and I still remember that inaugural year with about 450 participants. The goal was to raise money for technology education and support a friend. Today, over 4,500 people participate and you’ll often see Olympic-level runners at the start line! Seeing the community come together and grow in this way is truly the spirit of the Turkey Trot tradition.

*My dad walking in the local Louisville Turkey Trot in 2018*


There are Turkey Trots across the country with 20,000+ participants (races like the Silicon Valley Turkey Trot and the Dallas YMCA Turkey Trot), making it a unique day where historically well over a million people are running with a little gobble-gobble to their stride. If you haven’t found a Turkey Trot to take part in and are still keen to, my favorite place to find races is Running In the USA’s race calendar. You can search by date and location easily and I can’t think of a time I didn’t find a race in their expansive database. If you’re a bit of a running nerd like me, you may enjoy reading about Turkey Trots in different states in articles like this one pre-COVID from Outside Online Magazine. 


Have I convinced you to trot with turkeys this year? I hope so. If you decide to, and you are a FitLife participant, be sure to post your bib in our “In Real Life” series. We will be drawing five people to win $200 simply for taking part in this annual tradition! As for me, I will be racing in my hometown of Fort Collins, CO. The Thanksgiving Day Run in FOCO will be in its 28th year! Once upon a time, I’m pretty sure I won a turkey at this race. Maybe that’s why my dad always made me run it? This year, I’m simply hoping to have fun with friends. A turkey prize will be a bonus :)

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