What Is a Turkey Trot? [A 5k Race Before You Stuff Your Face!]

While folks from the early 20th century might have enjoyed the turkey trot dance. Today, it’s more likely to refer to an annual Thanksgiving footrace. But, what is a Turkey Trot and should you be interested?

A turkey trot is an annual footrace held on Thanksgiving Day. It is typically a shorter race and may include a 5K, 10K, or 15K race as well as events for kids. The first turkey trot was held in New York City, but there are now races around the United States and even the world. Like many races, runners often wear fun costumes, including turkey hats.

Are you the type of person who wants to go for a run before the biggest meal of the year? Keep reading!

What is the purpose of the turkey trot?

So, why do a turkey trot?

Holidays and traditions go hand in hand. Whether it’s eating turkey on Thanksgiving, drinking eggnog at Christmas time, or watching the ball drop on New Year’s Eve, every holiday has traditions that most of us hold sacred in one sense or another. 

A unique holiday tradition that has sprung up all over the United States and the world over the last century is the Thanksgiving day turkey trot. But what is the purpose of gathering to run on this day of feasting anyways?

While there is not one stated purpose for the organizing of a turkey trot, the race has become synonymous with raising money for charities around the world. The 2022 Beverly Hills Turkey Trot focused on raising money to combat pediatric cancer, while Baltimore’s race raised nearly $700,000 for the local chapter of the YMCA the same year. But while charity giving is usually connected, many participants are also motivated by the opportunity to do something active with family members, while burning some calories in preparation for a huge meal!

The modern practice of running a turkey trot on Thanksgiving day began in 1896 in Buffalo, New York. It was founded as an 8-kilometer cross-country foot race by the Buffalo YMCA. Many refer to the Buffalo iteration as the “oldest consecutively run footrace in North America.” In fact, the Buffalo turkey trot is so old that it began one year before the first Boston Marathon was held! 

In addition, turkey trots are usually sponsored by local community organizations. They give people a chance to connect with their neighborhoods, cities, and towns in a unique and fun way.

Each individual participant decides to run in a turkey trot for different reasons, but the reasons listed above are some of the most common motivations for waking up early on Thanksgiving morning and lacing up the running shoes!

what is a turkey trot race

What do you wear to a turkey trot?

What you wear for a turkey trot really depends on what type of climate you live in.

Folks running in the Minneapolis, Minnesota Turkey Trot will likely be wearing a base layer, a coat or sweatshirt, wool socks, gloves, and a toboggan, while participants in Boca Raton, Florida, can probably get away with shorts and a tank top. Many local Turkey Trots include a special t-shirt with the registration fee bearing the event’s name and the logos of certain event sponsors. A turkey hat is always a great touch, no matter what you’re wearing!

Just make sure to consult the forecasted weather, and remember to consider the type of pace you plan to run. You don’t want to find yourself over-heating or under-clothed for the type of running intensity you plan to engage in. 

via GIPHY

What does the winner of the turkey trot get?

There are various types of prizes for turkey trot winners.

Some events offer medals, others trophies, and still others offer prizes such as gift cards, cash awards, or other desirable items. It’s important to remember that most turkey trots are primarily for charity and family-oriented fun events. They do not tend to be as competitive as larger, more formal events. 

With that being said, there can be some perks to winning a turkey trot. For example, the male and female winners of the Alexandria, Virginia Turkey Trot in 2015 each came home with a $600 cash prize. If you’re in the D.C. area and think you can run a 5-minute mile, you might want to join in next year!

Prizes are not all the same, and most events do not offer this type of prize money; however, the winners of each event are usually awarded some sort of special prize. 

How many miles is a turkey trot?

So, how long is a turkey trot?

A turkey trot is not a single event, but many events with the same theme. Because of this reason, any two races may not have a lot in common.

Most turkey trots are 5K events, or approximately 3.1 miles. With that being said, some can be as long as 5 miles (8k) or even 9.3 miles (15k). Many larger cities will host 3 or 4 different levels of competition for various levels of running experience. 

While a turkey trot is not usually a specifically designated distance, the original race in Buffalo, New York is an 8K (5 mile) event. Usually, you can find a turkey trot event to fit your level of experience and ability.

Many participants even walk their event rather than jog or run. Typically a turkey trot race will be a family-friendly event, and will focus less on the competitive aspect of running. Participating in a turkey trot can simply be a fun way to get active with the whole family.

starting a turkey trot race

Can you walk a turkey trot?

Although the turkey trot is technically a race, you’re welcome to take it a run, trot, or even walk.

You can walk a turkey trot, and many participants decide to do that. This is particularly the case for entire families that decide to bring young children or elderly relatives along.

A turkey trot is nothing like most competitive long-distance races. However, for the more experienced racers, there are usually a group of participants who attempt to run faster times. 

kids getting ready for a turkey trot

Popular turkey trots in the United States

There are hundreds of turkey trots held each year throughout the United States.

Take a look at this list to learn more about a few popular iterations of the event:

  • Buffalo, New York – The first Turkey Trot was held here, and the event continues annually each year. It is known as “the oldest consecutively run foot race in North America.”
  • Manchester Road Race – This Turkey Day event held in Manchester, Connecticut boasts nearly 15,000 annual participants and hands out $4,000 cash prizes for male and female winners. 
  • The North Shore Turkey Trot – This Chicago-based race is held in the freezing annual conditions on the North Shore of Lake Michigan. All participants receive a pie for their efforts and typically over 10,000 runners are in attendance each year. 
  • Coronado Turkey Trot – This California Turkey Trot takes place on Coronado Island outside of San Diego. The race boasts beautiful ocean views with the finish line in gorgeous Tidelands Park.
a group finishing a turkey trot race

How to organize a turkey trot?

To organize a turkey trot, you will want to make sure you connect with a number of people and organizations in your community.

Check out the list of tips below (in no particular order) to get you started with organizing your own Turkey Trot:

  • Create interest by creating a social media page or website and talking the event up to friends and family. 
  • Nail down a location in your city by talking to relevant government officials or owners of sizable pieces of private property.
  • Determine a charity to raise money in support of. Make sure to pick something that everyone can rally around.
  • Set up a registration page or hold in-person registration. Be sure to determine a fee, and think about printing t-shirts or some kind of goody package for participants.
  • Enlist a group of sponsors such as local businesses or nonprofit organizations to help get the fundraising started and to get you the resources you need to get your event off the ground.
  • Show up and enjoy the race!
race registration for a turkey trot