The Enduring Power of the Turkey Trot: Why We Love This Thanksgiving Running Tradition

Photo: Getty Images/Caia Image
This Thanksgiving morning, millions of runners will gather to jog through their hometowns, connect with family, friends and neighbors, and procrastinate on their cooking. Local Turkey Trots have made the holiday the most popular racing day of the year.

And no, it’s not just because trotters want to feel better about their forthcoming afternoon feast. (PSA: You don’t have to “earn” your pie, holiday or not.) For many—whether they’re serious runners or only log these 3.1 miles a year—the Turkey Trot has come to be a ritual as integral to the holiday as watching the parade, eating mashed potatoes, or snoozing to the lullaby of a football game. We spoke to some devoted Turkey Trotters about their Thanksgiving running memories and what the tradition means to them.

Kimberly Cherington

Nags Head, North Carolina

“I don’t remember the first official Turkey Trot I did, but Thanksgiving is a very important day for me to run. Twenty four years ago, I was new to running and living in Fairfax Station, Virginia, where I would run at Burke Lake on the trails. I had four small children and running was my ‘me time.’ On Thanksgiving morning, I went out to get in a run before I started preparing the feast when I met a group of runners who became my inspiration, my coaches, and my friends in my running journey. They helped me train and got me to the finish line of my first marathon, and we are still friends today. Thanksgiving always reminds me of that beautiful, crisp day at the lake. After that year, I have been committed to running every Thanksgiving with friends and family.”

Maura Szendey

Andover, Massachusetts

“You show up and there are 10,000 of your closest friends out there—you see everybody in town. Our race has been around for 30 or 35 years, so there’s tons of stories of people who started as teenagers and now they’re bringing their own kids.”

“We get some pretty big-name runners showing up. Bill Rodgers usually comes. I think Matt Damon ran it one year. We’ve had Joan Benoit Samuelson run it a bunch of times—she usually wins.”

Meagan Brooks

New York, New York

“My first Turkey Trot was right after my first cross-country season. I was about 16, and I’d never been a runner but I had a friend who encouraged me to do cross-country. I signed up for the Turkey Trot, and I came in first for my age group and ended up winning a pie, which totally shocked me because I am not fast by any means. I think that’s when I started thinking of myself as a runner. I did a half marathon a couple months later, and I don’t think I would have done any of that if I hadn’t done the Turkey Trot. It was the beginning of everything.”

Ashley Shapiro

Charlotte, North Carolina

“I started running Turkey Trots around 2012 with my brother. We had been close, but we were living across the country from each other, so it was a nice way for us to find some connection—it would give us something to talk about leading up to it, talking about training and if we got a run in. So we did it for a few years, and then he passed away. My mom and I decided to carry on the tradition. The first year, we didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving because it was too painful, but we put on our shirts and went out to the Turkey Trot. The first few years were really rough, and we’d just walk. But it would still give us something to look forward to and a way to honor him.”

Paul Bui

Boston, Massachusetts

“After we moved to Boston, my wife suggested running for a free apple pie at a Turkey Trot. Being an immigrant, I was curious and willing to experience new traditions. It was cold and I was out of breath at the end, but there were many participants—friends, family, young, old—and this brought me warmth. I realized it was more than a race.”

“I like to run in costume—it provides an extra layer of protection against the wind and cold, and it lifts everyone’s spirits for the upcoming holidays!”

Karen Lewis

Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina

“The first Turkey Trot that I remember I ran with my dad and my sister. We were living outside of Dallas at the time and I was in high school. It was eight miles, and the longest race I've ever run. I have not been able to get back to eight miles since!”

“I particularly like the slogan that the Turkey Trot I've been going to has: Run, Eat, Sleep. Doing the Turkey Trot helps me feel like I'm doing something healthy to start the day. And of course it's all about the shirt!”

Alyson Seligman

Palm Beach Gardens, Florida

“I ran my first Turkey Trot in 2018, a major personal milestone after becoming suddenly paralyzed in 2010 and not sure if I would ever walk—let alone run—again. My brother visits each year for Thanksgiving so we decided to become one of those ridiculous families who wake up unnecessarily early on Thanksgiving to run a race. I felt so thankful to have the physical ability to run across that finish line, and having my brother with me made it that much more special. Since then, we've made it an annual tradition.”

“Each year, I run the Turkey Trot filled with gratitude that my feet can take me one step forward at a time, and that I get to run alongside my brother. We both listen to our own music and eventually run at our own pace. I joke that I'm a somewhat terrible runner who just loves to run. Or walk. Zero pressure—just cross the finish line.”

Mary Claire Pegram

Murrells Inlet, South Carolina

“Holiday races are my favorite—we have races on Memorial Day, July 4th, Labor Day and Thanksgiving where I live. I love seeing everyone dressed up. My sister made me a shirt that says ‘Burning Thighs Before Pies’ that I’ll likely wear to this year’s Turkey Trot.”

“The Surfside Rotary Turkey Trot starts and finishes at the Surfside Beach Pier. I love starting Thanksgiving by the ocean surrounded by my running friends and boyfriend. It’s such a great way to begin the holiday.”

Lindsey Quebedeaux

New Braunfels, Texas

“After college, I had a goal of breaking 20 minutes in the 5K. The Turkey Trot was the first place I did that, and I was really happy. Another fun memory is that my twin brother and I used to be competitive with each other—he beat me most years, but one year he didn’t train as much and I beat him. I got to tease him about it all day.”

Uma Staehler

Boston, Massachusetts

“It’s that family time together, especially if your kids are coming home, or your siblings are coming home, or you’re traveling home—it’s something fun people can do together and be outside. Many of them have fundraising that goes to supporting Thanksgiving meals. You’re gonna go home and eat this wonderful meal, so let’s make sure that everyone has a chance to do that.”

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