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Tips for Running a Turkey Trot

What you should know before hitting a race before the big Thanksgiving meal

A group of adults racing on a path lined with autumn leaves.

Thanksgiving may be known as a day of feasting in the United States, but it’s also a national day of running.


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Nearly a million people toe starting lines at “Turkey Trots” across the nation most years. All that running before the turkey hits the table makes Thanksgiving the most popular day of the year to race.

As you might guess, though, a good chunk of that crowd doesn’t exactly fall in the hard-core runner category. For many, it might be the only day of the year that they race.

If that describes you … well, this article is a must-read. Exercise physiologist Katie Lawton, MEd, has some tips to get you across the finish line while making the experience fun and energizing.

So, here’s what you need to know before, during and after the race.

Prepping for a Turkey Trot

So, you’ve decided to wake up early on Thanksgiving for a little exercise before the big meal. First, welcome to road racing! You’re going to have a great time, especially if you follow these six tips.

  1. Pick a manageable race distance. Most Turkey Trots are 5K (or 3.1 miles). That’s a great distance for a beginner. Maybe save the half-marathon, 10K or 5-miler for a future challenge.
  2. Train a bit. Prep your body by logging a few miles of running or walking ahead of the race. This is especially important if you live a relatively sedentary life. “Let your muscles know what you’re going to ask them to do,” advises Lawton.
  3. Get a group together. Turn your Turkey Trot into a traveling party by inviting family and friends to join you. “Make it fun,” says Lawton.
  4. Wear comfortable athletic shoes. Treat your feet right by wearing shoes that offer support. Any athletic shoe will do for a one-time 5K. (Now, if you’re going to start a running or walking program, get fitted for a shoe designed to carry you over many miles.)
  5. Dress for the weather. Take a layered approach to your outfit. “When you start moving, you’ll warm up,” notes Lawton. “If you layer, it’s easy to take clothes off or put them on to match how you feel.” Some people wear festive costumes, too.
  6. Hydrate. If you’re expecting to get sweaty, make sure you’re tank is topped off when it comes to fluids. (Consider this doubly important if you plan on heading out for a night of revelry on Thanksgiving Eve.)


A Turkey Trot race guide

There’s no need to overthink race day. Basically, it’s left foot, right foot for 3.1 miles. So, to keep things simple, here are three keys to make the experience fantastic.

  1. Starting line etiquette. There’s a definite order to how runners line up to start a race. The easiest explanation? Faster runners are in the front … and some of them move very fast. “If you’re planning on walking a bit, start more toward the back,” says Lawton.
  2. Pace yourself. Energy pulses through races. You’ll feel it at the starting line, too. “It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and just take off running too fast, which can lead to struggles later,” cautions Lawton. Bottom line? Set a comfortable pace and stick to it.
  3. Have fun! A Turkey Trot is an experience. Soak it all in!

Finish line advice

Congrats! You did it! Now, let’s talk about your next steps. (Don’t worry. These steps cover less ground than what you just traveled.)

  1. Keep moving. Resist the urge to just plop down after crossing the finish line, says Lawton. Walk around for five or 10 minutes to let your muscles cool down. A little stretching is good, too.
  2. Grab a drink and snack. There’s usually a small end-of-race buffet of recovery drinks and snacks (Think water, bananas and granola bars.) Plan to nibble and refuel — but leave room for that big Thanksgiving dinner.
  3. Celebrate. Smile and laugh … a lot.

Building healthy habits

Turkey Trots are definitely healthy and fun. Want to know a secret? Any workout can follow that pattern if you make it both a social and fitness activity done with family and friends.

So, if you enjoyed the vibe of running, keep it going! Get a buddy to join you or look for a running club. The hardest part of starting a running program is the first step, and you took that with the Thanksgiving race. Learn how to keep moving forward with these Running 101 tips.

Want to try something else? Go for it! Get some friends and try:

  • Walking. A mile is a mile whether you run or walk, right? Walking offers a host of health benefits, including reduced stress, lower cholesterol and weight loss.
  • Cycling. Whether it’s on a trail or in a cycling studio, pedaling can boost your health and give you time to chat.
  • Yoga. There’s a reason this meditative practice dates back thousands of years. Try it and you’ll learn why. (Use these tips to get started.)
  • Weight lifting. Maybe you’ve always wanted to try strength training but are worried about fitting in at a gym. Starting a lifting program with a friend is a good way to overcome that obstacle.
  • Trampolines. Remember how fun it was jumping up and down as a kid? It’s fun when you’re an adult, too — and it’s a great way to get exercise.


Bottom line? “It’s always easier to stick with a fitness routine if you’re doing it with someone else,” states Lawton. “Make exercise fun and a social event and there’s a better chance you’ll stick with it.”

So, maybe talk about ideas over Thanksgiving dinner. After you share the story of your morning race, of course.


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