Lessons From the Run: The tradition of the turkey trot

In just under a week, thousands of Americans will lace up their sneakers (however often or seldom used), pin a number to the front of their shirt and line up for the start of a road race just hours before the Thanksgiving feast begins. 

Although most of us tend to think of Thanksgiving as a day of gluttony, Thanksgiving day actually sees the largest number of Americans participating in road races, according to The Post Game. A morning Turkey Trot has become as much a part of the all-American holiday as the traditional bird itself. 

The first Turkey Trot, which doubles as the first continual road race in the U.S., began in Buffalo New York in 1896, according to YMCA Buffalo Niagara. The 5-mile race began with just six runners in a city that hadn’t even been paved yet. Today, the race attracts over 10,000 runners, ranging from professional athletes to those who exercise more that day than they do the other 364 days of the year. 

Despite coming from a fairly athletic and active family, the idea of running a race on Thanksgiving morning was unheard of throughout my entire childhood. Thanksgiving meant dozens of cousins, ultimate Frisbee and my Aunt Janet’s famous apple pie. 

Although it wasn’t organized with timers and bibs, my cousins and I would usually line up across the football field after we were tired of Frisbee and knew dessert couldn’t be far away, and race for the end line. It wasn’t official, maybe, but it was the only form of Turkey Trot I knew until the fall of my senior year of high school. 

That was the year my mom quit working. 

Unlike most of my peers whose mothers were just getting back into the swing of full-time employment, my mother was, for the first time in her life, getting out of it. Something that is a lot more difficult than it sounds. 

She was used to a 40 plus hour work week and four kids to take care of. Now she was home, with no formal responsibilities and just one 17-year-old daughter. She had to find something to fill those long hours of the day – and she chose the Turkey Trot. 

I would say she chose running, because to any casual observer it would appear as though my 57-year-old mother who had rarely run more than a mile or two in her life had suddenly decided to start exercising, however, to anyone who talked to her during those 3-months it was clear that she wasn’t set on becoming a runner, she was set on the Turkey Trot. 

Just as 5ks have motivated many across the country to start moving, the 5k North Reading Turkey Trot that my mother had signed my entire family up for had got her out the door and out of her post-working-life-slump. 

I have rarely seen anyone so motivated and determined. She started out slow – for weeks just laps and laps of the grassy park near our house. She calculated one lap to be 0.4 miles and therefore 8 laps was her goal. She started with two or three at a time until one day, I remember coming home from a particularly difficult cross country practice to a beaming mother. 

“I did it!” she said, the smile lighting up her eyes. “I think I’m going to be able to do this Turkey Trot for real now!”

And she did. 

Surrounded by people of all ages, bundled up with bright-red ear muffs and her forest-green Turkey Trot shirt already on, she blew away her goal of 10 minute miles and finished in less than 27.

My mom may now be a seasoned runner with more than a few 5ks and a half marathon under her belt, but there will always be something special about the idea of joining in the tradition of turkey trotting before turkey eating on every Thanksgiving Day.


Julia Werth is news editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at julia.werth@uconn.edu. She tweets @jboelwerth.