If you think the only race that happens on Thanksgiving Day is seeing who gets a second helping of pumpkin pie first, guess again. Before lifting a fork, watching football, and taking a post-turkey snooze, hundreds of thousands of Americans start their holiday by giving thanks — with a turkey trot.
Because It’s Hot to Trot
These popular running events, traditionally held before the feast on Thanksgiving morning, have grown tremendously in recent years. More than 780,000 people throughout the country finished a Thanksgiving day race in 2014, compared to nearly 678,000 in 2011, according to Running USA. Turkey trots are typically tied to a charitable cause, have a flair for costumed fun, and sometimes give out turkeys and pies to top finishers! Plus, experts say light cardio is one of the best remedies for those inevitable hangovers from Thanksgiving Eve partying. But the turkey trot’s most appetizing draw is obvious. Run a race in the morning and trotters can feel guilt-free about gobbling down later on!
Of course, with an average Thanksgiving Day meal weighing in somewhere between 2,500 and 4,500 calories, you’d have to run a full marathon (and then some) to really burn it all off. There are unfortunately no turkey trot marathons at this time, but runners around the country agree that even a few miles is the best way to kick off the holiday.
The Best Turkey Trots in America
Lucky for you (and your love of pumpkin pie), it’s easy to find a local race of your own! To get you and your flock of friends and family inspired, here are 20 of the most popular turkey trots in the U.S. all taking place on Thursday, November 24, 2016.
Location: Dana Point, CA
You’ll find one of the country’s largest and most scenic turkey trots right in the heart of the OC. Established in 1977, the Dana Point Turkey Trot encourages its 11,000 runners to “run the race before you stuff your face.” Benefitting the Boys & Girls Club of Capistrano Valley, among other charities, the event includes a 5K, 10K and a “Gobble Wobble” one-mile run for kids.
Location: San Jose, CA
The Applied Materials Silicon Valley Turkey Trot has raised $5.9 million since its start for local charities including the Healthier Kids Foundation Santa Clara County, Second Harvest Food Bank and more. Last year, 24,901 people participated — a long way from the 1,900 participants its first year! Elite runners, weekend warriors and kids alike join in the fun cruising through the flat and fast downtown area. There is a 10K for runners and wheelchair athletes, a 5K and multiple kids’ runs. In addition to an epic costume competition, this turkey trot also gives out prizes in categories like “Fittest Firm” and “Quickest Cop/Fastest Firefighter.”
Location: Sacramento, CA
With all proceeds going toward the Sacramento Food Bank and Family Services, the 23rd annual Run to Feed the Hungry will host more than 28,000 runners and walkers at this year’s 10K and 5K. (Last year, this race became the largest T-Day run in the country, with 28,644 runners.) The loop courses start near the Sacramento State campus and run through the cozy tree-lined streets of East Sacramento, with plenty of music and lots of spectators who take a break from the kitchen to come out and cheer.
Location: San Francisco, CA
At the quirky Turkey Trail Trot XI, don’t be surprised to see a giant costumed turkey leading the pack of participants in silly costumes of their own. Benefitting the Lowell High Track & Field team, the cross-country course in Golden Gate Park features a 5-mile trot, 3-mile “Pilgrim Promenade” (aka a walk) and 100-meter kids’ “Gobbler Chase.” The winners of the races will take home prizes of turkeys, Schubert’s Bakery pies and plenty of wine!
Location: Denver, CO
Celebrating its 43rd year, the Mile High United Way Turkey Trot is the top fundraiser for the United Way. More than 20,000 people head to Denver’s Washington Park for the 4-mile race or ¼-mile family fun run. Those of drinking age can enjoy the craft beer garden party (featuring local breweries like Great Divide) at the finish line.
Location: Manchester, CT
What began on a rainy day in 1927 with just 12 runners is now one of New England’s most famous road races and the largest race in Connecticut. The Manchester Road Race’s (almost) 5-mile course attracts up to 15,000 runners, including Olympians, locals and at least one Runner’s World editor, as well as nearly 20,000 spectators each year. Last year, it donated more than $100,000 to charities including the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
Location: Atlanta, GA
Overachievers, this one’s for you! The Atlanta Half Marathon will definitely blast more calories, compared to most of the other trots on our list. Did you know Atlanta originally hosted a Thanksgiving Day full marathon from 1981 to 2009? These days, you’ll have to settle for the still-awesome 13.1-mile course. It winds its way past city landmarks like Centennial Olympic Park and Piedmont Park. The Atlanta tradition also includes a 5K, one-miler and 50-meter dash.
Location: New Orleans, LA
The New Orleans Track Club has been hosting the annual New Orleans Athletic Club Turkey Day Race for 109 years. One of the oldest and continuously held non-marathon races in the country, the 5-mile run and half-mile race for kids benefit Spina Bifida of Greater New Orleans. Join more than 2,000 runners in a trek to the finish line at Tad Gormley Stadium in City Park, named after Francis Thomas “Tad” Gormley, the race’s original founder.
Location: Andover, MA
Dessert comes early at the 29th annual Feaster Five Road Race, where runners are rewarded with an apple pie at the finish line! Running legends like Bill Rodgers, Joan Benoit Samuelson and Team Hoyt have all raced toward that pie, and more than 10,000 other participants will take on the 5-mile, 5K and kids’ fun runs (100-600 yards for ages 4-12) this year. Proceeds from the turkey trot benefit local charities including the Merrimack Valley YMCA, Challenge Unlimited at Ironstone Farm and the Bellesini Academy.
Location: Plymouth, MA
We don’t think the Pilgrims started the first Thanksgiving with a running race. But in present-day Plymouth, the place where it all began, they start with two turkey trots! Both collect food donations to support the Greater Plymouth Food Warehouse. There’s the (hilly) five-mile Plymouth Turkey Trot, which takes runners past historic landmarks like Plymouth Rock (where the race starts), Forefathers Monument and the Mayflower II. This year, they also added a three-mile course. And then there’s the seventh annual flat and fast Thanksgiving Day Pilgrim 5K course which includes a stretch on Old Sanswich Road, the oldest road in America. Run both and you get — what else? — a giant turkey trophy in honor of your “Second Helping” accomplishment!
11. Strategic Staffing Solutions Turkey Trot
Location: Detroit, MI
More than 21,000 Detroiters will lace up for this trot, which kicks off the city’s T-Day parade. Now in its 34th year, it offers a 10K run, 5K run/walk, a “Mashed Potato Mile” and a “Dumbstruck Double,” which includes both the 10K and 5K distances. This year, they also added another two-race deal to the fun, dubbed the “Cranberry Combo” — it includes tackling the one-miler and 5K.
Location: White Bear Lake, MN
Some runners might have personal racing goals for the 10K, 5K and fun run at the Fast Before the Feast. But there’s another lofty goal for all participants this year — to donate 10,000 pounds of food to the White Bear Area Emergency Food Shelf and Hugo Good Neighbors Food Shelf. Since its start, the race has donated more than 29,000 pounds of food to these local charities. The mostly flat neighborhood courses are really secondary to those donations. Bring ‘em and trotters are guaranteed free Caribou Coffee treats at the finish line and entries into the thousands of dollars’ worth of door prizes.
Location: Charlotte, NC
The 28th annual Charlotte Southpark Turkey Trot is one of the city’s longest-running events and Thanksgiving Day traditions. It’s so popular, the field has to be capped at 11,000 participants for the 8K, 5K, 1-mile and 26.2-yard “Tot Trot.” Finishers of the loop course around South Charlotte go home with a special medal. And whoever wins the costume contest goes home with some awards, too. The event supports charitable partners including the McClintock Partners in Education and the Christ Lutheran Church in Charlotte.
Location: Las Vegas, NV
Eighteen miles off the Las Vegas strip, there’s a turkey trot that runs along Lake Mead and along the Historic Railroad Trailhead. It has not one, not two, but six tunnels on the menu before making its way to the Hoover Dam! The Six Tunnels to Hoover Dam Turkey Trot is now in its ninth year with participants competing in a 12K, 5K and 1-mile stroll. This year, they want runners to take it a step further: Now participants can sign up for the half marathon option.
Location: Buffalo, NY
Created in 1896, the Buffalo Niagara YMCA Turkey Trot is the oldest consecutively run footrace in North America. Not even a record-breaking snowstorm in 2002 kept runners off the streets of Buffalo! This year, expect 14,000 runners (the cap) and walkers to come dressed to impress, ready to take on the 8K course and the fifth annual costume contest. The event supports local YMCA programs.
Location: Cincinnati, OH
Runners brave freezing temps at Paul Brown Stadium, home to the Cincinnati Bengals, for the annual Western & Southern Thanksgiving Day Race and McDonald’s Kids Run. This year marks the 107th annual running of the 10K event, making it the oldest road race of any kind in the Midwest, the sixth oldest race in the country and perhaps the only turkey trot around to cross the Ohio River — twice! The race proceeds go toward the Ronald McDonald House, Girls on the Run, the UC Barrett Cancer Center and many other charities.
Location: Miamisburg, OH
It’s been around for 38 years now, but the Ohio River Road Runners Club Turkey Trot introduced a brand new course just last year. Why? To accommodate its growing number of 10,000-plus participants! New this year: a comfy hoodie that comes with your registration fee, a step up from the typical T-shirt. The event is the largest 5-mile race in the eastern half of the U.S., but also hosts a 1-mile non-timed run for the more casual trotter.
Location: Berwick, PA
We’re still not sure what diamonds have to do with Thanksgiving, but the bling sure gets 2,000 runners up and at ‘em! The top seven male and female winners of the challenging 9-mile Run for Diamonds (the fourth oldest road race in America), take home diamond rings and diamond pendants, respectively. And for those who miss out on the prized jewels, there’s always free post-race pizza to look forward to!
Location: Arlington, TX
Texas sports fans will love the seventh annual Arlington Turkey Trot, which gives runners a chance to race past Rangers Ballpark and Cowboys Stadium on the out-and-back 5K loop. There were more than 1,000 timed runners participate in the trot and even more toe the line for the “Puffin’ and Stuffin’” 1-mile fun run. Winners get a free pair of sneakers and race proceeds support The Shoe Bank, a local charity that provides shoes for 25,000 people in need each year.
Location: Dallas, TX
Also benefitting the YMCA, the Dallas Turkey Trot really proves that everything’s bigger in Texas. The 49th annual race expects nearly 40,000 runners for its 8-mile run and 5K run/walk, making it one of the largest multi-event races in the country. (And if you can’t make it to Dallas, you can also join in virtually.) This trot attracts elite runners and regular ol’ birds alike. In fact, in 2011, it set a world record for the largest gathering of people dressed as turkeys.
Location: Boise, IA
With races in five locations across the country, the Life Time Turkey Day 5K is all about family and friends kicking off the holiday together in a healthy, happy way. (Besides Boise, the race also happens in Chicago, Miami, Minneapolis and Phoenix.) The Boise course, which is fast and flat, is ideal for runners and walkers alike. Bring canned foods to the start area — they’ll be donated to the pantries of Boise Rescue Mission and City Light Home for Women and Children — and you’ll be entered into a special prize lottery, just for doing good.
Location: Omaha, NE
Weekend warriors will flock to this trail half, but thanks to the 10K and 5K distances, anyone can join in on the action. In fact, even kids can join the fun with the Lil Gobbler Trot — a free race, as long as you bring five cans of food to benefit the Food Bank of Heartland. Of course the 5K loop is easiest, but the half provides some of the best views of Cunningham Lake (and extra room for stuffing).
Location: Knoxville, TN
Held annually by sportswear shop Fleet Feet Knoxville, this race is all about community. Not only was there a friendly contest for runners to design this year’s official logo, local handmade pottery will serve as trophies. Also, all proceeds benefit A Hand Up For Women, a charity that focuses on mentorship, education and development for girls and women.
Location: Naperville, IL
Organized by the local Lions Club, this flat course is great for those looking to nab a PR. Now in it’s 19th year, 7,500 runners are expected to hit the course this Thanksgiving. And because you deserve a delicious breakfast after a solid run, there’s a pancake feast served afterwards — free of charge.
Location: Washington, DC
Raise money and awareness for DC’s homeless population by registering for the 15th annual Trot for Hunger, where race proceeds help thousands of families in the DC area. Things kick off first for the kids’ one-mile Fun Run, then the 5K, all starting from Freedom Plaza. You have the option to run with a chip or without, so use the day to PR or just shake out your legs on a good powerwalk.
Location: Pensacola Beach, FL
With a gorgeous, coastal course, the Trot for Thought is easily the most relaxing and scenic 5K — you run right between the serene shorelines of the Santa Rosa Sound and the Gulf of Mexico. Proceeds from the race benefit brain cancer research by the Preston Robert Tisch Tumor Center at Duke University. Oh, and this race is dog-friendly — just make sure your pooch is up for 3.1 miles beforehand!
Location: Oklahoma City, OK
Run around downtown Oklahoma City for this 5K or one-mile Fun Run. But before you start stepping, be sure to drop off a new, unwrapped gift with the US Marine Corps Toys for Tots Foundation drop. Organizers hope to give 1,000 Christmas toys to needy children in the Oklahoma City area.
Location: Albuquerque, NM
If you’ve ever seen epic photos from the annual hot-air balloon festival, you know Balloon Park, which serves as a border for this Turkey Trek. With a 5K run, a fitness walk and a Fun Run, the whole family can get involved in a race that meets his or her individual fitness level. Even more fun: a costume contest with a male, female and kid winner.
Location: Bay St. Louis, MS
Only in its fifth year, this Trot is all about our furry friends, as every race participant (and spectator!) is asked to bring canned pet food, treat or toy for donation. In addition, all proceeds will benefit the local animal shelter. Let’s face it: Although pets are such an important part of the family, Thanksgiving may be the one day we forget that. This Turkey Trot is the perfect reminder.
Location: Bismarck, ND
Fun, frosty beards and snowy streets aside, this Turkey Trot is an important one as it is held by (and all proceeds go toward) the Cystic Fibrosis Association of North Dakota. With a 10K run, 5K run, 5K walk and a fun walk, there’s a race for everyone in the fam. Just make sure you dress for the weather — recent years have been frigid and snowy.
Originally posted on November 25, 2013. Updated November 2016.