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. Approximately 870,000 people throughout the country participated in Thanksgiving races in 2013, compared to 698,000 in 2011, according to Running USA and The Wall Street Journal. 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. — listed in alphabetical order by state — all taking place on Thursday, November 27, 2014.
1. Dana Point Turkey Trot
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 and the Dana Point 5th Marine Regiment Support Group among others, the event includes a 5K, 10K and a “Gobble Wobble” run for kids.
2. Applied Materials Silicon Valley Turkey Trot
Location: San Jose, CA
Now in its tenth year, the Applied Materials Silicon Valley Turkey Trot has raised over $4 million for local charities including the Second Harvest Food Bank. In 2013, it became the largest timed turkey trot in the country with 20,159 finishers — 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.”
3. Run to Feed the Hungry
Location: Sacramento, CA
With all proceeds going toward the Sacramento Food Bank and Family Services, the 21st annual Run to Feed the Hungry will host more than 28,000 runners and walkers at this year’s 10K and 5K. 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.
4. Turkey Trail Trot XI
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 more than 1,200 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” and 100-meter kids’ “Gobbler Chase.” The bad news is the 12th annual event just announced it’s already “stuffed” (sold out). But the good news is the winners of the races will take home prizes of turkeys, Schubert’s Bakery pies and plenty of wine!
5. Mile High United Way Turkey Trot
Location: Denver, CO
Celebrating its 41st year, the Mile High United Way Turkey Trot is the top fundraiser for the United Way. More than 10,000 runners and walkers will participate in this year’s 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, Renegade and Wynkoop) at the finish line.
6. Manchester Road Race
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 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. In 2013, it donated more than $120,000 to charities including the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
7. Atlanta Half Marathon
Location: Atlanta, GA
Overachievers, this one’s for you! The Atlanta Half Marathon will definitely burn the most calories of all the 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, Piedmont Park and Oakland Cemetery. The Atlanta tradition also includes a 5K, “Mashed Potato Mile” (ages 7-12) and the “Gravy Gallop” (ages 6 and under) and collects food donations to benefit the Salvation Army.
8. New Orleans Athletic Club Turkey Day Race
Location: New Orleans, LA
The New Orleans Track Club has been hosting the annual New Orleans Athletic Club Turkey Day Race for 107 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 and New Orleans City Park. Join more than 2,000 runners at the starting line at Tad Gormley Stadium in City Park, named after Francis Thomas “Tad” Gormley, the race’s original founder.
9. Feaster Five Road Race
Location: Andover, MA
Dessert comes early at the 27th annual Feaster Five Road Race, where runners are rewarded with an old fashioned Table Talk 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, Ironstone Farm and the Bellesini Academy.
10. Plymouth Turkey Trot and Thanksgiving Day Pilgrim 5K
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 second annual (and hilly) 5-mile Plymouth Turkey Trot, which takes runners past historic landmarks like Plymouth Rock and the Mayflower II. And then there’s the fifth annual flat and fast Thanksgiving Day Pilgrim 5K course which includes a stretch on Old Sandwich 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. Fifth Third Turkey Trot
Location: Detroit, MI
Before their beloved Lions take the field, more than 21,000 Detroiters lace up for the Fifth Third Turkey Trot, which claimed the title of largest race in Michigan last year. Now in its 32nd year, it’s piling more fun onto its plate with the new “Drumstick Double” — a challenge for runners to race both the 10K Turkey Trot and the 5K “Stuffing Strut” course. There’s also a “Mashed Potato Mile” for the littlest turkeys, and an after party.
12. Fast Before the Feast
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 set a new record of a ten-thousand pound food donation to the White Bear Area Emergency Food Shelf and the Hugo Good Neighbors Food Shelf. In the past six years, the race has donated more than 20,000 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 (and hot cocoa) at the finish line and entries into the thousands of dollars’ worth of door prizes.
13. Charlotte Southpark Turkey Trot
Location: Charlotte, NC
The 26th 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 medallion . The event supports charitable partners including the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Partners for Parks and the Sharon United Methodist Church Youth Ministry.
14. Six Tunnels to Hoover Dam Turkey Trot
Location: Las Vegas, NV
Eighteen miles off the Las Vegas strip, there’s a turkey trot that runs along Lake Mead and 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 eighth year with participants competing in a 12K, 5K and 1-mile stroll.
15. Buffalo Niagara YMCA Turkey Trot
Location: Buffalo, NY
Created in 1896, the Buffalo Niagara YMCA Turkey Trot is the oldest consecutively run footrace in North America. Not even a freak snowstorm in 2000 kept runners off the streets of Buffalo! This year, expect 14,000 runners and walkers to come dressed to impress, ready to take on the 8K course and the second annual costume contest. The event supports local YMCA programs and hopes to top last year’s 4,600 pound food donation to the Food Bank of WNY.
16. Western & Southern Thanksgiving Day Race
Location: Cincinnati, OH
Runners brave 30-degree temps at Paul Brown Stadium, home to the Cincinnati Bengals, for the annual Western & Southern Thanksgiving Day Race. This year marks the 105th 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 Barrett Cancer Center and many other charities.
17. Ohio River Road Runners Club Turkey Trot
Location: Miamisburg, OH
It’s been around for 36 years now, but the Ohio River Road Runners Club Turkey Trot is introducing a brand new course this year. Why? To accommodate its growing number of 10,000-plus participants! Runners can all expect speedy times on the new 98 percent flat and/or downhill course, too. 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 more the casual trotter.
18. Run for the Diamonds
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 and soda to look forward to!
19. Arlington Turkey Trot
Location: Arlington, TX
Texas sports fans will love the fifth 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 1,100 timed runners at last year’s trot and even more toeing the line for the “Puffin’ and Stuffin’” 1-mile fun run. Race proceeds support the Shoe Bank, a local charity that provides shoes for 25,000 people in need each year.
20. Capital One Bank Dallas YMCA Turkey Trot
Location: Dallas, TX
Also benefitting the YMCA, the Dallas Turkey Trot really proves that everything’s bigger in Texas. The 47th annual race expects nearly 40,000 runners for its 8K run and 5K run/walk this year, making it one of the largest multi-event races in the country. 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.
Originally posted on November 25, 2013. Updated November 18, 2014.