In many U.S. households, Thanksgiving isn’t Thanksgiving without a pre-feast turkey trot. In 2018, more than 1.17 million runners registered to run or walk one such race, making the fourth Thursday of November the most popular day of road racing all year. There’s something uniquely satisfying about kicking off the holiday season with a good sweat, alongside family members, running friends, local rivals, and hordes of costumed strangers.
This year, needless to say, will be different. With mass events off the table, large gatherings and travel discouraged, and a global pandemic to respect, turkey trots as we know them won’t be part of the Thanksgiving agenda like usual.
But that doesn’t mean we have to table the trot entirely until 2021. We’ve seen Zoom concerts, balcony celebrations, and drive-by birthday parties; all we need to keep the tradition alive is creativity and a willingness to adapt.
Here are some ideas for a 2020-style turkey trot.
Register for a Virtual Race
What they lack in atmosphere, virtual races make up for in their ability to get runners out the door on a set day in pursuit of a completed distance or fast time. Many of the biggest and longest-running races are going virtual this year, giving runners more flexibility and options than ever.
Keep your local turkey trot streak alive, if you can and want to, or choose one elsewhere that sounds like a fun shake-up of tradition. Some, like America’s Turkey Trot, are sending registrants pumpkin-pie-inspired medals and other swag. Others, like Dallas YMCA Turkey Trot, feature timed and untimed options over multiple distances. Most races donate a portion of their proceeds to a charity, whether that’s a food bank, rehab center, or youth running program.
If there ever were a year to branch out, this is it! Here are some virtual turkey trots that we recommend:
- Buffalo YMCA Turkey Trot—This is the oldest consecutively run footrace, in its 125th consecutive year!
- Des Moines Turkey Trot—Sign up to receive the “challenge box,” to make your virtual race even better.
- Manchester Road Race—New England’s most esteemed Thanksgiving Day race is celebrating its 84th year.
- Wisconsin Runs Turkey Trot—All registrants get a fun “smile medal.”
- NYC Runs New York City Turkey Trot—You’ll get a gaiter to wear while you trot—and in honor of New York, grab a bagel for when you finish.
- North Shore Turkey Trot—A full-zip jacket, a beanie, and a pie-inspired medal is all part of this race’s virtual swag bag.
Slow Down With a Walk
From our earliest jogs, many runners are taught that walking is an inferior activity, reserved mostly for elderly people and out-of-shape athletes. Why walk when you can run? There are plenty of reasons to keep moving even if you slow your roll, including aerobic work without much impact, an immune system boost, and improved cognitive functioning.
Most importantly in the context of a national holiday, walking is more inclusive than its quicker counterpart. Grandparents, children, pregnant sisters, and arthritic mothers can all participate—and that alone is reason enough.
An outdoor walk is an especially good option this year, as it gives families a safer way to get together than a close-quartered, indoor gathering. Grab a mask, pick a place to meet, socially distance, and savor this Thanksgiving like you may not have before.
Stage an Intrasquad Competition
Some families take their Thanksgiving Day races seriously: dedicated training, months of smack-talking, sneaky racing tactics, and firmly enforced bets on who will finish first and what the stragglers will owe them. If any of that sounds like the turkey trot you know and love, you may be a good candidate for an intrafamily competition. Depending on how many runners will be present and what your family’s style is, that could take the form of a head-to-head contest or a relay race.
For the first option, map out a course, clarify the rules (e.g., determine how much jostling is allowed), and battle it out for a year-long reign as family champion. If you go the relay route, divide your teams as evenly as possible, determine the distance of each leg, grab a baton-like object for each team, and save your ringers for last. Just don’t blame me if the dinner table conversation is a little more heated than usual this year.
Run a Time Trial
If you’re craving competition but prefer the internal type, there’s always the old-fashioned (and free!) time trial. With this option, you’re not only the racer, but also the race director, course marshal, and fluid-station volunteer. You decide when and where to run—track, trail, road, or treadmill, plus exactly how you want to test yourself.
Though time trials are traditionally run over a set distance, this Thanksgiving is your oyster: you could cover as much ground as possible in a certain amount of time, run maximal efforts over a few different distances (like a one-person track meet), or time your ascent up the biggest hill in town.
Whatever you choose, know that you’re still contributing to the nation’s biggest running holiday, official results or not.
Relish the Rest
Just because racing on Thanksgiving is something you’ve always done doesn’t mean it’s something you have to try to replicate this year—especially if it’s going to add to the stress or sadness of this already tumultuous time.
Maybe you can’t bear the thought of carrying on the family tradition without your typical tribe, isolated as everyone is. Or maybe, after nearly nine months of pandemic life plus an attempt at creating a “normal” holiday, the only reps you feel like doing are those between the couch and the table. Either way, honoring those feelings and relishing this rare opportunity to take a Thanksgiving off is as good a move as any of the racing alternatives above.