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Turkey Trot 101: Do A Race Before You Stuff Your Face

A woman, Jazmin Ortega, is facing the camera and smiling while wearing a turkey hat. She's at the Turkey trot in Downtown LA, surrounded by buildings.
Jazmín Ortega in her turkey hat at Turkey Trot DTLA.
(Sharon McNary
/
LAist)
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Thanksgiving weekend is coming, along with its traditional caloric overload and sedentary TV viewing of parades and football. But before you collapse into the BarcaLounger, how about starting a new tradition — like going out for a turkey trot on Thanksgiving?

A Turkey What?

A turkey trot is a run or walk you do on the morning of Thanksgiving Day. It's a reason to get up early, slurp down some coffee, put on your best holiday hat and go mingle with neighbors at a local fun run.

If you've ever thought about getting into recreational running or walking, a turkey trot is the perfect start. Turkey trots tend to be short running and walking events, typically 5K (3.1 miles) up to 10K (6.2 miles) distances, although some may be longer.

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Why Should I Do A Turkey Trot?

You burn calories! But let's be honest here —you're unlikely to burn a Thanksgiving dinner's worth of calories. A big guy runner will burn about 100 calories per mile, a small woman runner about 75, so you're burning maybe a few hundred calories at most in a 5K race. That's just a couple of dinner rolls and a scoop of green bean casserole.

You're supporting local causes! It can be a bonding experience with family and friends if you all register to participate. And it feels good to support the community organizations, small businesses and charities that benefit from your race entry fees.

It's outdoors! You might see neighbors or friends if you pick a race close to home, and it's a fun little road trip if you pick one that's farther afield.

It’s unlikely you’ll be last! Sure, turkey trots are races, and there are definitely competitive people eager to set personal records. But most of those lining up at the start are there to have a good time with friends.

You'll see people jogging or walking, pushing kids in strollers, or doing a run/walk interval. Some races have special early starts for handcycle or push-style wheelchair athletes to get their speedy selves out in front of the runners. It's all good —everybody's included.

You’ll be done before brunch! It takes the average runner about 30 to 45 minutes to run a 5K race, and a walker will spend about an hour to 90 minutes to complete a 5K course, so you're done with your exercise early in the day.

Two women stand with mock sad faces in a rainy Downtown LA street. One is wearing fake turkey drumsticks on her head; the other is wearing a turkey hat with long yellow legs hanging down by her face.
Angela Lee, left, and Teri Brantley Brown, right, at the 2019 DTLA Turkey Trot.
(Photo courtesy Angela Lee)

How Do I Get Started?

Search for a turkey trot in your area. I’ve listed several below, and you can find more at websites like runningintheusa.com, active.com and raceplace.com. Register online in advance — it's less hassle come race morning, and you're less likely to chicken — or turkey — out. These races typically cost $25 to $50 and up. Generally, the smaller the race, the lower the price.

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You can choose a big event, like the 44th running of the Dana Point Turkey Trot, which gets some 17,000 runners in a typical, non-pandemic year. Or you can choose a smaller race that has a more neighborhood feel, like the Brentwood Turkey Trot for Schools.

Talk friends and family into going with you and make it a new tradition for a fitter holiday season. Carpooling reduces your parking fees and traffic jams at the race site.

What Should I Wear To A Turkey Trot?

You'll want to wear comfortable running or walking shoes. These races happen rain or shine, and if it looks like rain, you can tote along a lightweight rain jacket or windbreaker, or you can be super-cheap: take a plastic poncho to keep you dry-ish waiting for the race to start. Some people cut head and arm holes in a big trash bag and wear that until the start.

A turkey trot is the absolute best place to wear your silly turkey hat, turkey feather tutu, pilgrim hat, holiday t-shirt, jingle bells on your shoes, elf or reindeer costume. Lots of people dress up in Thanksgiving-themed outfits, so if that's your thing, people will appreciate the effort. Or you can just wear your normal running gear. Like I do.

Above all, wear whatever you would be comfortable running or walking in. Run shorts, athletic tights, baggy shorts, tank top, t-shirt, sweatshirt, it doesn't matter, as long as you're comfortable. Non-cotton fabrics are best because they wick sweat and dry quickly.

Should I Train Beforehand?

Sure, you should be able to walk for about an hour or jog for about 30 to 45 minutes. But don't hurt yourself with too much, too hard, too soon. These events are supposed to be fun and accessible to people of all abilities.

Start at a pace you can sustain, and if you're running your first 5K or it's been a long while since you’ve done a distance like that, it's okay to take periodic walk breaks. A steady pace with walk breaks of a minute to every three to five minutes of running will make for a much nicer first run than trying to do the whole thing running. Plenty of people walk the entire distance.

You may find that doing the turkey trot ignites your thirst to do another race, like a Jingle Bell run coming up in December.

What Should I Expect?

Get to the starting area about an hour early, so you can scope out the starting line and register and pay for the race. Or if you're pre-registered, pick up your race bib and any swag they are giving out, like a t-shirt. Take all the extra stuff you don't want to carry on the race route back to your vehicle, or stash it at a gear checkpoint if they have one.
Pro tip: Most runners and walkers do not wear the giveaway race shirt until after they have completed the event, but no judgement, you do you.

It's a good idea to go through the porta-potty lines a few times, just because you don’t want to have any surprise stops during the race. A 5K race might not even have porta-potties along the way, but if you're desperate, look for a local park or a Starbucks or grocery store to duck into.

About 10 to 15 minutes before the start of the run, head to the start corral. It is polite to move to the front if you are a very fast runner, and toward the middle if you're a moderate speed runner or jogger, and toward the back if you're walking. If you're pushing a stroller, be aware that runners around you will fear for their ankles, so be alert and they won't get hurt.

Before the race starts, the local mayor or the race director might give a quick speech and a few safety instructions to participants. The Star-Spangled Banner and God Bless America might be sung and the crowd will stand silent for that, and some people might remove their silly turkey hats.

Then, the starting gun goes off. Most turkey trots pound the pavement on closed-off city streets, but a few, like the College of the Canyons Turkey Trot, are on a cross-country course that’s softer underfoot, but have more things like rocks and tree roots to trip on.

What About COVID Risk?

Local health officials have encouraged us to stay fit and to feel safe when we're exercising outdoors. That said, if you're going to stand in a friendly crowd of people for the 15 minutes before the start of a race, many of those individuals will wear face masks. That's my strategy, and once the race starts and I've got more space away from other people, I pull the mask down for the duration of the run.

Once I cross the finish line, the mask goes back on, and I go in search of post-race treats, like a banana, bag of chips or donut.

Many of this year's Turkey Trots include both in-person and virtual options, and let's face it, the pandemic is not over. So if your running/walking posse is more comfortable doing a socially-distanced yet formally-recognized event that supports a small business or local charity, virtual is the way to go.

That means that you register online, do the distance on your own on any route you choose, and you receive your race medal and t-shirt or other commemorative item in the mail

For example, the Burbank Turkey Trot is virtual this year.

Find Your Turkey Trot

Here are a few turkey trots. You can find more more at runningintheusa.com, active.com and raceplace.com.

Big Bear Lake

Brentwood

Claremont

Irvine

Dana Point

Long Beach

Los Angeles — Downtown

Los Angeles - North Hollywood Arts District

Redlands

Santa Clarita

Oceanside

Torrance

Virtual Only Turkey Trots

This event, from Beyond Virtual Races is an all-virtual race. Sign up in advance, do your selected mileage, from 5K up to a full marathon between Nov. 25 and 30 and get all the race swag, like medal, race bib and even a T-shirt. By the time this article runs, though, those items might not arrive in the mail by Thanksgiving Day.