Flocks of runners in turkey and pilgrim outfits on Thanksgiving morn mean only one thing: “turkey trots” — the holiday-themed races that take place all over the country on Thanksgiving Day. They’re beloved, too: Thanksgiving Day is the most popular race day of the year with more than 1,000 events nationwide, according to Running USA — and that number is up more than 60 percent from just five years ago. Why the growth? Well, these races aren’t (just) about working off holiday calories.
“The air is crisp, the leaves are changing, and everyone is excited to be out celebrating with each other,” says Steve Ginsburg, CEO of RAM Racing, which holds festive races in cities including Chicago, Boston, San Diego, and Houston.
Turkey trots celebrate more than just the kickoff of the holiday season, though. “These events are also about celebrating yourself — about setting your intentions for the months ahead,” says Janet Hamilton, C.S.C.S., a running coach at Running Strong in Atlanta, GA.
After all, a fun run or walk can help you start the season on the, ahem, right foot. Plus, you’ll build memories as the races are very family friendly and fun with a crowd. According to Christine Benero, president of Mile High United Way, a turkey trot fundraiser in Denver, three to four times as many families participate in turkey trots compared to other race events.
Of course, there’s some prep to do. These races require running or walking for about 3.1 miles — or longer. So if the idea has perked up your tail feathers, (find one near you here!) it’s time to start training. Don’t worry about the calendar — just follow these six simple tips. Soon, turkey trots will be your new happy and healthy Thanksgiving Day tradition.
Find the right fit
A good run starts with a good pair of kicks. Hamilton suggests visiting a specialty running store that has experienced staff and basic evaluations, like running on a treadmill to look at your stride and footstrike. IDing how your foot hits the ground can help you find a pair of shoes that allows you to run with proper form, reducing your risk of injury. Even if you plan to walk, opt for running shoes — they tend to have more support and cushioning than walking shoes, she says.
Walk it out
Bundle up, get outside, and walk for 30 minutes, working up to 60, five days a week leading up to the big day. Think of it this way: If you choose to walk the entire 5K (which is totally cool!), the event will take about an hour, Hamilton says. Knowing you can walk for that long helps nix pre-race jitters. Use the extra outdoor time to take in the fall sights and smells (and play in a few leaf piles).
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Easily able to walk for an hour straight? It’s time to incorporate intervals. Start by running for one minute then walking for four, says Hamilton. As you progress, run for longer stints and walk for shorter ones. Depending on your fitness level and walk/run history, you might be able to jog most, if not all, of your training workouts. Aim to cover at least 3.1 miles per outing.
Keep the pace
A 5K is not a sprint. To make sure that you’re not pushing yourself too hard — a common offense Hamilton sees among women — pay attention to your breathing during your training. You should be able to carry on a conversation with any workout buddies, she says. If you can’t, slow down.
Make a race-day plan
Log onto your turkey trot’s website to check out the race map and figure out any logistics like bag checks, cheer zones, and hills, Hamilton advises. (If your course involves hills, make sure to integrate some hilly terrain into your training!) Also, even if the race offers hydration stations, plan on bringing a water bottle. Cool, crisp Turkey Day air dries your sweat quickly, so even if you don’t think you need it, Hamilton suggests eight ounces of water every 15 minutes.