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Ah, Thanksgiving. That glorious splurge-day each year where yes, it's okay to dial back on strict diets and loosen your belt a few notches. Guzzling pounds of turkey meat, indulging in succulent sides (who eats mashed potatoes everyday, anyways?), and dousing your piled-high plate in hot gravy is pretty much what it's all about. For us fitter folk, the holiday can be welcome time off from intense training programs — 24-hours of football, family, and fatty-food bliss. But rather than succumb like a sucker to the Thanksgiving spread, earn your plate first by signing up for a local turkey trot.
This time-honored running tradition—rising to popularity in the ’80s—is typically just a simple road race held on the morning of Thanksgiving. Depending upon the community, distances can span as little as 1 mile and go up to a half-marathon. The big appeal for the fun run is that it can add a little calorie-burning break to the all-day food fest, helping to keep consumption down and metabolism up, all while engendered a sense of community with your fellow trotters—just like the family fun atmosphere that can be found at a Spartan Race!
Why Every Spartan Should Do a Turkey Trot
Trot Your Way to a Fit Holiday
For athletes wanting to hit their first Spartan Race, the annual turkey trot can be a great way jumpstart your fitness gains. “For someone wanting to train for a Spartan OCR, they need to begin by getting the body moving and increasing overall aerobic endurance,” says Katrina Pilkington, NASM-CPT, PES, CES, CNC, women’s and youth training specialist. “A turkey trot, no matter the distance, can kick off that physical shift in a positive way and start with a baseline.” Since they occur on a holiday, these fun runs are light-hearted fitness affairs with a low amount of pressure to perform, so it’s an especially great time for beginners or Spartan hopefuls.
Related: 8 Holiday Foods You Should Never Eat
And for those hardcore Spartans, don’t just look at a turkey trot as a lark, or a distraction on a day of indulgences, says Rich Fahmy, M.S., NASM-CPT, CES, PES, a NASM master instructor. “It can serve as a recovery workout—a light bout of activity in the midst of high-demand training — or as part of their overall endurance conditioning necessary for successful completion of a Spartan OCR.”
Combat Diet Disaster with a Run
Turkey Day, with glorious mounds of food and bottles of booze, is not a day when moderation is celebrated (five types of pie for dessert, anyone?) and although turkey meat itself is healthy — high in protein, and low in carbs, fat, and calories — the numerous sides can quickly accumulate on your plate into a fattening and calorie-crazy heap. “When you think about the Thanksgiving holiday, you think about all of the fixings that come with the day,” says Pilkington. “But many of these menu items are loaded with sugar and fat—it all tastes delicious but doesn’t offer much in terms of helping us with our goals.”
It’s obviously a time when it’s easy to turn off our nutrition and fitness goals. But Pilkington says that participating in a Thanksgiving morning turkey trot can help us shift our mindset into a “behaving better attitude” for the remainder of the day. “When you’ve made a decision to partake in physical activity to start the day, you’re more likely to not want to waste our hard work on a full day of over-indulgence,” she says.
Trot At Your Own Pace
“If you can’t remember the last time you ran 5k [that’s 3.1 miles] continuously, a longer turkey trot isn’t the time to start back up,” says Fahmy. “You also don’t want to be spent and exhausted during Thanksgiving celebrations, so choose a distance that you feel you can recover from adequately by the time dinner comes around.” The trots over a mile distance are perfect for beginners. Use walking and jogging intervals during the race to keep yourself at a doable, yet challenging pace. “During the race, stay at a pace that’s comfortable for you so you don’t overexert yourself,” he says.
Seasoned Spartans looking to keep their OCR conditioning tuned up over the holiday should opt for a 5k or 10k, while more ambitious athletes may even want to attempt a half marathon turkey trot. “Something to also consider is terrain,” says Fahmy. “If you’re looking to use a turkey trot as part of your preparation for an OCR, seek out ones that take place in varied conditions, as opposed to flat road.” Trail undulations and unexpected terrain place higher demands on your body, making this workout more similar to what you’d experience during a Spartan Race.
Make Them a Time For Family Fun
Let's get one thing straight: turkey trots are not for breaking a personal record, so bring your family along for the fun and fitness. Tackle a turkey trot together to help start the holidays off in a healthy way. (And yes, kids can do it, too!) “Training can be done with the family and you won’t have to miss out on quality time,” says Pilkington. “Also, after getting in your physical activity, the whole family will be more prone to make better decisions on your food intake for the rest of the day.” Turkey trotters also dress up in costumes (think: a goofy, human-sized turkey!), so the pageantry of turkey trots can get kids excited about running outside. Skip laying around playing video games or slouching on the couch staring at smartphones, and go work up an appetite worthy of your big spread.
Take a Break and Race for Fun
“Turkey Trots often foster intangible aspects of performance, such as working with a sense of purpose within a community, the camaraderie of competition, or just plain having fun with a group of like-minded folks,” says Fahmy. So go ahead, whether you’re a seasoned Spartan warrior or a newbie wanting to conquer your first OCR, sign up for a Turkey Trot in your town this year. Mainly because it’s a great time and it will help you stay true to your goals on a gluttonous, but glorious, holiday. Not to mention, if you put in the work, you'll have an excuse to try ALL five flavors of pie your grandma brought!