Every November, thousands of turkey trots are held across the United States either on Thanksgiving or the weekend after; runners gather, dress up like turkeys and pilgrims, and run a race that’s usually a 5K or 10K. While many might register as a way to prepare their bodies for the copious amount of calories they are going to consume later that day, what they don’t know is that the anksgiving tradition is not just rich in mashed potatoes and gravy – there’s actually a lot of history behind it.
In 1896, Buffalo, N.Y. hosted the first-ever YMCA Turkey Trot, which is also known as the first official road race in the United States, even older than the Boston Marathon, according to www.arrs.net/LongRunR.htm. Only six runners participated, and they ran five miles down dirt roads. In the early 1900’s the course was moved to pavement, but women did not compete until 1972. In 2015, 12,834 people competed, and the race has become a national historical event, attracting people from all over the world.
Louisiana was next to adopt the idea in 1907, creating the New Orleans AC Turkey Day Five Mile in City Park. The 109th annual race will take place this year, and continues to be hosted by the New Orleans Athletic Club.
The oldest Midwest race is also a Turkey Trot; Cincinnati, Ohio started the Thanksgiving Day 10K in 1908 with only 21 runners, and now has about 13,000 each year. That same year, Poughkeepsie, N.Y. started a Turkey Trot as well, but ended in 2007 right before its 100-year mark.
Chicago is no exception in the trend: the Mount Prospect Jaycees Turkey Trot, which began in 1963, is the oldest continually running event in the Chicagoland area, according to its website. The Dan Gibbon’s Turkey Trot 5K began in 1984 in Elmhurst as a mission to stop hunger, and has raised over $3.5 million to date.
Over a century later, the Turkey Trot phenomenon has not faded; in fact, it continues to grow, with more participants and races every year, growing more than 400 percent over time, according to ACTIVE.com. Running USA reports that 870,000 people ran in a Turkey Trot in 2013. Currently, San Francisco, Calif. has the largest anksgiving Day race, the Feed the Hungry 5K/10K, which had 22,546 participants in 2012.
The reason it remains so popular? The Daily Herald attributes it to the races’ catchy name and being on a holiday morning when most have to work. Plus, people have to make room for turkey (which isn’t realistic, the same article reports … shhh.)