By Neville Caulfield
For most, Thanksgiving is a day to catch up with family, to be thankful for all that we have, and to eat to the point of bursting. For others, they have something else in mind.
The annual Turkey Trot is a road race that takes place early Thanksgiving morning, no matter the weather. It is not one race in particular, but a common name for a community race of varying distances that takes place on the fourth thursday of November. These ‘Trots’ take place all across America, from Portland, Oregon, to Wichita, Kansas, to Rochester, New Hampshire. Thanksgiving is a day off to get together with family and just relax, but many have opted to get up before the sun and run this race before the festivities begin, and all for different reasons.
The first turkey trot took place in 1896 in Buffalo, New York, one year before the first run of the noteworthy Boston Marathon. The Buffalo Turkey Trot is the longest running public footrace in the country. It is not uncommon to see runners dressed up in turkey costumes, wearing traditional pilgrim garb, or with a drumstick painted on their cheek. The annual Run to Feed the Hungry takes place on Thanksgiving in Sacramento, California, and is one of the largest road races in the nation attracting over 27,000 runners annually.
Each race has a unique course, some through fields and trails and other down neighborhood roads. The Free Fall 5k held in Rochester is just one of many. “It’s flat and fast, and an out and back so it’s nice to know how much you have left once you’re on your way back,” said Noah Strout (‘19), who holds the record for his age group in the Rochester Turkey Trot. “I really liked this race because I knew that at the end, there would be someone cheering for me,” said Flynn Grills, elementary schooler at Riverhead Charter School when asked about his experience at the Free Fall 5k this Thanksgiving.
Another popular Thanksgiving day race in the area is the annual Turkey Trot hosted by the Seacoast Rotary. This course sends runners streaming through the beautiful nature of Peirce Island, the colorful history of Strawbery Banke, and the old streets of downtown Portsmouth.
“I see the purpose of thanksgiving to be with family and stuff your face,” said Erin McDonough (‘17), “You are getting out and being active instead of sitting on your ass and doing nothing.” The concept of being active before eating possibly the biggest meal of the year is something that draws runners to Turkey Trots all across the nation. A typical Thanksgiving dinner can sum to as much as 3500 calories; that’s more than a typical athlete eats in an entire day. By jogging or running a 5k, one will burn up to 500 calories. That can make the difference between being able to drive home after the third slice of pumpkin pie, and not being able to move at all.
Because the holiday season in general is high in calories, some might decide it’s the right time to reach a fitness goal from the past new years. “I very much enjoyed the race. I’ve been doing this couch to 5k wogging (mix of walking and jogging) thing and I decided ‘I’m going to do this’,” said Ruth Davis of Durham, who enjoyed the race to the point of hoping to bring her family along and make it an annual tradition.
“I’ve run this race with my family for seven years in a row now; it’s a great tradition, good exercise, and a good cause,” said Mary Marren, who comes to the Rochester area to celebrate Thanksgiving at her sister’s home, and has run the race for seven consecutive years. Like many road races, the Turkey Trot is normally run to help raise money for a variety of causes. The money goes to a range of charities, from food for the hungry, to research for disease cures, to running gear for the needy. Most of us do not realize this because Thanksgiving is commonly a potluck with family, but the full meal can be extremely expensive, an expense that some families just can’t afford to pay. Some Turkey Trots are held the week prior to Thanksgiving in an effort to use the money raised to purchase and provide meals for low-income and less fortunate families. This year at the Portsmouth Turkey Trot, the two beneficiaries are The Birchtree Center, an organization that helps children with autism, and Seacoast VeloKids, which promotes bicycling to the kids of New Hampshire and Maine’s Seacoast communities.