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Thanksgiving: a holiday focused on family, feeling good, and feasting. But what about fitness? Look out your window in a major metropolitan area and you’re likely to see hundreds, if not thousands, of athletes active for the occasion. And what could be better for a Spartan than sweating hard and earning their meal? Today we share the Turkey Trot origins and crazy facts related to this epic Thanksgiving Day fun run. Plus, read about why you should celebrate (in Spartan style) with a Turkey Trot.
Turkey Trot Origins: The History
Running on Thanksgiving is nearly as old as the holiday itself. Prior to President Abraham Lincoln making the harvest holiday a nationally-celebrated day off (supposedly chosen as a Thursday to avoid conflicting with major religious observances — score for a four-day weekend!) in 1863, individual states hosted their own Thanksgiving holiday at different times. It was mainly a tradition in New England and other northern states, and it’s here that one of the earliest accounts of Spartan-esq off-road mud running was recorded in New York: The Westchester Hare and Hounds ran a three hour “chase” on Thanksgiving Day in 1878.
Marathon running wasn’t even a thing, yet, but let’s set the scene. For 48 hours leading up to the first Turkey Trot it rained heavily. But despite crappy weather, according to Outing Magazine, the runners just wanted to run.
“The young athletes were too interested in the novelty of the thing to care about a little mud, and a goodly pack stripped for it just to see what it was like.”
And yes, they do mean they stripped down for it. In New York City. In November. In a rainstorm. Here is a further description of the extreme follow-the-leader episode:
“The mud was ankle deep, even on the roads. The streams and creeks had overflowed, and the swamps and low-laying fields were all flooded... The [leaders] had an idea that the course must be made difficult, at all costs, and for three hours led the [runners] on a merry chase over sticky, plowed fields and through almost impassable swamps and underbrush… They had a grand feast that afternoon, and wound up the day with speeches and songs.” Sounds pretty close to a Spartan Race to us! Read on for some crazy facts and learn more about why people race the Turkey Trot.
Related: 8 Holiday Foods You Should Never Eat
Turkey Trot By the Numbers: Crazy Facts About Thanksgiving Day Fun Runs
Lucky for us, this kind of bizarre endurance-oriented celebration became an annual fixture. What follows are some insane stats related to the act of grouping up, running hard, and carving in:
- According to the CEO of Running USA, there were more than 1 million finishers at over 1,000 turkey trots in the U.S. as recently as two years ago. That's way up from about 680,000 in 2011.
- The oldest documented Turkey Trot is 123 years old, dating back to 1896...It’s still held by the YMCA in Buffalo, New York.
- Officially, a “Trot” (like the one in Buffalo) can have a just-long-enough-route-to-be-
hungry (theirs happens to be 8-kilometers — about 5 miles), although runs can encompass full marathons or be as short as a mile.
- The Atlanta Marathon ran on Thanksgiving from 1981 to 2009, and was the only full-length marathon on the holiday. It has since been reduced to a half-marathon.
- Speaking of the YMCA, in November 2011, the largest gathering of people dressed as turkeys appeared in Dallas, Texas, at the 44th Annual Dallas YMCA Turkey Trot. The final count was around 661. Yes, 661 racers showed up dressed as a bird. In order to qualify as raced in a turkey costume, runners needed to “include a turkey beak, a turkey colored bodysuit with plumes on the back, and webbed turkey feet.”
- Texas always does things bigger. The Austin and Dallas metropolitan Turkey Trots see more than 25,000 participants annually for each race...
- ...and Cuero, Texas, holds a Turkey Trot every November where hundreds of turkeys (birds) parade through the town — although — there has yet to be a race where participants chase the fowl through the streets.
- Poults is the name for baby turkeys...they’re cute.
- But more in line with Spartan, archeological evidence shows that Native Americans used cranberry sauce for war paint, to dye arrows, and heal wounds.
- In it for the food? The average American will consume about 4,500 calories on Thanksgiving, about 3,000 for the meal and 1,500 more just snacking (most people will only burn off between 300 and 400 calories running a 5K).
- So, this Thanksgiving, when someone from the family takes the knife to carve the bird, remember that the world record for running a mile (3:43, by Morocco’s Hicham El Guerrouj) is slower than the world record for carving a turkey (3:19, by Paul Kelly of Great Britain).
No matter if you celebrate the holiday by sleeping in and feasting big, or by lacing up and taking to the streets — know there are plenty of others doing the same, all setting records of their own.