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No, You Don’t Have to Run a 5k on Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Day is one of the most popular running days of the year, thanks to the beloved turkey trot. According to a report from RunSignup, 756,894 people participated in 730 races across the country on Thanksgiving morning of last year. And of course, that doesn’t even account for the thousands of families who wake up, don their running shoes, and jog around the neighborhood in their own rendition of this national tradition. 

So, how did the infamous turkey trot come to be? And why is the most indulgent holiday associated with exercise? We’re covering all that and more in today’s article. 

The Origins of the Turkey Trot

So, where did this Thanksgiving tradition originate? Well, the first documented turkey trot occurred on Thanksgiving Day, 1896 in Buffalo, New York. It was hosted by a local Y.M.C.A., and there were only eight runners (six of whom finished). In the years following, turkey trots slowly grew in popularity. However, they were extremely competitive, and women were not welcome – far from the inclusive, fun-loving atmosphere seen today.  

As running gained popularity as a sport and a pastime, turkey trots continued to grow alongside it. Nowadays, the average turkey trot draws anywhere from 500 to 1,000 participants. But of course, the larger races — like the Dallas Turkey Trot and the Silicon Valley Turkey Trot — boast over 25,000 runners. And while some races offer prize money, most are refreshingly inclusive and require zero training. People often dress up in silly, Thanksgiving-themed costumes; pie is a common prize. 

Reasons Why You Might Consider Running a Turkey Trot

So, should you round up the kids and run a turkey trot this year? Well, maybe. Here are some reasons why you should run a 5k on Thanksgiving: 

To Relieve Stress

Exercise releases endorphins, which boost our mood and relieve stress. Because the holidays are a notoriously stressful time — especially if you’re the one putting food on the table — running a 5k on Thanksgiving can be an excellent way to blow off steam. 

To Raise Money for Charity

Because turkey trots are so popular, local charities often use them as fundraising opportunities. Additionally, many turkey trots also have canned food drives or holiday toy collections set up in conjunction with the race(s).  

To Bond with Your Family

For some families, turkey trots are the only time they ever exercise together. And pushing one another to do challenging things — like running a 5k — is a great way to strengthen your family bond

Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Run a Turkey Trot 

As popular as turkey trots are, many people don’t run them for the right reasons. Here are some reasons why you shouldn’t run a 5k on Thanksgiving: 

To Make Up for Overeating

If you’re only running a turkey trot to make room for the calories you’ll consume later, you’re not doing it for the right reasons. Diet culture insists that we can “earn” our food by working out. However, that sends the harmful message that our bodies don’t deserve nourishment, which isn’t something we want to pass on to our children

To Please Someone Else

Believe it or not, “marrying into a Turkey Trot family” is trending – and not necessarily in a great way. Young people are expressing concern about being forced to participate in their in-laws’ turkey trot – whether they want to or not. 

Regardless of tradition, no one should have to do anything they don’t want to. And because everyone’s exercise regime is their own, each individual should get to decide how they move (or don’t move) on Thanksgiving morning. 

Turkey Trot Alternatives

Regular exercise is essential to our overall well-being. If you want to move your body on Thanksgiving — without necessarily jogging around the neighborhood — here are some suggestions: 

Take a Yoga Class

Yoga — especially hot yoga — is a phenomenal way to sweat and detox before your turkey dinner. Most yoga studios offer a morning class on Thanksgiving day. However, you could also opt for an online class and flow from the comfort of your own home. 

Go For a Walk or Hike

If running is hard on your joints — or you simply don’t like it — walking or hiking are both fantastic ways to get outdoors and commune with others. Plus, many leaves are changing during this time of year, making it a great opportunity to take in the gorgeous foliage. (You might even pick some for your Thanksgiving table.) 


Thanksgiving is a time of gratitude and giving back to your community. Therefore, volunteering is a wonderful way to spend Thanksgiving morning. Whether it’s at an animal shelter, homeless shelter, food pantry, or picking up trash along your roadway – find something that matters to you and round up your friends and family to join you. 

So, Do I Have to Run a 5k on Thanksgiving? 

While running a turkey trot is an excellent way to relieve stress, gather with friends, and boost your overall health, it isn’t for everyone. And just because someone else is running one doesn’t mean you have to join them. 

There are plenty of healthy, community-focused activities to do on Thanksgiving morning. We encourage you to figure out what that looks like for you. Then, go do it with those who matter most.