The Turkey Trot Deserves a Place on Your Thanksgiving Agenda

Family doing a turkey trot

Getty Images / alvarez

The turkey trot has become as synonymous with Thanksgiving as turkey and cornbread. Getting out of bed, piling on extra layers for warmth, and meeting up with family and friends for a little morning activity—how did the turkey trot become such a deep-rooted tradition?

The origins of this race began way back in 1896 in Buffalo, New York with an 8K that included only six participants. The race has now taken place for the past 125 years, even despite a blizzard in 2000 that dumped 24 inches of snow on the trotters.

As word spread about this epic Thanksgiving day activity, more trots started popping up across the country. Turkey trot traditions began in New Orleans, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Dallas, with Dallas being the largest race in the country with over 20,000 runners. Turkey trot distances range anywhere from from a 5K to a full marathon, but most range from 3.1 miles to 8 miles.  

So, what makes a turkey trot different from other fun runs? Turkey trots are more about the family-friendly atmosphere than the competition of a typical race.

Turkey trots truly promote a positive mindset around exercise. Most individuals don’t go into a turkey trot wanting to achieve a specific time, they simply want to enjoy the festive spirit and participate in a fun community event. Whether you run or walk the turkey trot, all levels of athleticism are welcome.

Some turkey trots even encourage costumes—anything from turkeys and pilgrims to your favorite Thanksgiving side dish. When else do you get to dress up in costume to go for a walk or jog?! Turkey trots are a great time to be creative!

Here are five benefits of participating in your local turkey trot this Thanksgiving:

An Opportunity to Bond With Family and Friends

In a way, turkey trots are symbolic of Thanksgiving itself—getting together with family and friends in the community to have a feel-good start to your day. This may be a rare occasion for you to have the opportunity to run with your loved ones. Bringing everyone together can create new memories and traditions in a fun, relaxed atmosphere. 

Enjoy Some Fresh Air

Nothing smells better than fresh, crisp fall air. If you're lucky enough to get sunshine on Thanksgiving, this makes for ideal turkey trot conditions. Breathe deeply and take in the fall foliage before football begins. 

Start Your Day with Endorphins

We know that exercise influences mood—why not start your day with a rush of endorphins? Research shows an increase in those feel-good chemicals is linked to many psychological and physiological changes. So when your aunt gives you unsolicited critiques on your pumpkin pie recipe, your endorphins from the morning may help soften the blow and improve your mood. And it's always nice to have an active start to your day before lots of cozy lounging in the afternoon. 

If you're planning on walking the turkey trot instead of jogging, don't worry—there are still plenty of endorphins coming your way, too. Any form of exercise allows you to experience the pleasurable release of endorphins, so take your time to enjoy the trot.

Exercising in a group could make the activity even more enjoyable—the more the merrier!

Train for a Goal

Signing up for a turkey trot gives you a goal to train for without any pressure. Whether you’ve been contemplating a new fitness goal or you want to run a race for the first time, it always feels good to achieve something you've set out to accomplish. Who knows, running could turn into your new hobby, thanks to a turkey trot! 

Raise Money for Charity

Many times, turkey trots support a good cause and provide an excellent way to give back to the community you call home. Some turkey trots support organizations that feed the hungry or provide Thanksgiving meals for families in need—the Cincinnati trot encourages runners to bring a warm coat to donate before their race.

Find a turkey trot that donates to a charity or create your own tradition of giving back to an organization that is meaningful to you and your family.

A Word From Verywell

Running a turkey trot can be a fun tradition that your family and friends grow to love. The focus of the event should be enjoying the race—not burning calories for the sake of the big meal later in the day. While exercise has many benefits, it's important to maintain a healthy mindset about working out and food. If this is something you find yourself struggling with, confide in a supportive loved one. If the issue is threatening and/or persists, speak to a health care professional.

4 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. McCue M. Despite setbacks, nation’s oldest race to go on in Buffalo. Runner’s World. 2014.

  2. YMCA of Metropolitan Dallas. Turkey trot.

  3. Harber VJ, Sutton JR. Endorphins and exerciseSports Medicine. 1984;1(2):154-171. doi:10.2165/00007256-198401020-00004

  4. Thanksgiving Day Race Cincinnati. Charity Grants at Work.

By Rebecca Jaspan, MPH, RD, CDN, CDCES
Rebecca Jaspan is a registered dietitian specializing in anorexia, binge eating disorder, and bulimia, as well as disordered eating and orthorexia.