And no, it’s not just because the trotters want to feel better about their upcoming afternoon feast. (PSA: You need to “earn” your pie, holiday or not.) For many—whether they’re serious runners or just those 3.1 miles a year—the Turkey Trot has come as a ritual. Holidays like watching a parade, eating mashed potatoes, or snoozing to the lullaby of a football game. We spoke with some dedicated Turkey Trotters about their memories of the Thanksgiving run and what the tradition means to them.
Nags Head, North Carolina
“I don’t remember the first official Turkey Trot I did, but Thanksgiving is a very important day for me to run. Twenty-four years ago, I was new to running and living in Fairfax Station, Virginia, where I ran trails at Bark Lake. I had four young children and running was my ‘me time’. Thanksgiving morning, I was out for a run before I started preparing for the feast when I met a group of runners who became my inspiration, my coach, and my friend on my running journey. They helped me train and got me to the finish line of my first marathon, and we’re still friends today. Thanksgiving always reminds me of those beautiful, crisp days at the lake. After that year, I committed to running every Thanksgiving with friends and family.”
“You show up and there’s 10,000 of your closest friends — you see everybody in town. Our race has been going for about 30 or 35 years, so there’s a lot of stories of people who started as teenagers and now they’re bringing their own kids.”
“We’re showing some pretty big-name runners. Bill Rogers usually comes. I think Matt Damon ran it for a year. We’ve had Joan Benoit Samuelsson run it many times – she usually wins.”
New York, New York
“My first Turkey Trot was right after my first cross-country season. I was about 16, and I had never been much of a runner but I had a friend who encouraged me to do cross-country. I signed up for the Turkey Trot, and I came first for my age group and won a pie, which totally shocked me because I’m not fast by any means. I think that’s when I started thinking of myself as a runner. I did a half marathon a few months later, and I don’t think I would have done any of that if I hadn’t done the Turkey Trot. That was the beginning of everything.”
Charlotte, North Carolina
“I started running Turkey Trot around 2012 with my brother. We were close, but we were living across the country from each other, so it was a nice way for us to find some connection – it gave us a chance to talk about leading it, talk about training, and if we get one so we have a few years. After doing this, he died. My mom and I decided to continue the tradition. The first year, we didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving because it was too painful, but we did wear our shirts and go on the Turkey Trot. The first few years were really rough, and we would just walk. But it will still give us a way to wait and honor him.
“After we moved to Boston, my wife suggested running for free apple pie at the Turkey Trot. Being an immigrant, I was curious and willing to experience new traditions. It was cold and I was short of breath by the end, but there were many participants – friends, family, young, old – and it warmed me. I realized it was more than just a race.”
“I love running in clothes – it provides an extra layer of protection against the wind and cold, and it lifts everyone’s spirits for the upcoming holidays!”
Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina
“The first turkey trot I remember running was with my dad and my sister. We lived outside of Dallas at the time and I was in high school. It was eight miles, and the longest race I had ever run. Since then I have not been able to go back eight miles!
“I especially like the slogan of the Turkey Trot I’m going to do: Run, Eat, Sleep. Turkey trotting helps me feel like I’m doing something healthy to start the day. And of course it’s about the shirt!
Palm Beach Gardens, Florida
“I ran my first turkey trot in 2018, a big personal milestone after being suddenly paralyzed in 2010 and not sure if I would ever be able to walk—let alone run—again. My brother visits every year for Thanksgiving so we decided to be one of those ridiculous families who wake up unnecessarily early to run errands on Thanksgiving. I felt so grateful for the physical ability to walk across that finish line and having my brother with me made it even more special. Since then, we’ve made it an annual tradition.”
“Every year, I run the turkey trot filled with gratitude that my legs can carry me one step at a time, and that I can run alongside my brother. We both listen to our own music and eventually run at our own pace. I joke that I’m a bit of a terrible runner who just loves to run. or walk Zero stress—just cross the finish line.”
Mary Claire Pegram
Murrells Inlet, South Carolina
“Holiday races are my favorite—where I live we have races on Memorial Day, July 4, Labor Day and Thanksgiving. I love seeing everyone dressed up. My sister made me a shirt that says ‘Burning Thighs Before Pie’ that I’ll probably wear to this year’s turkey trot.”
“The Surfside Rotary Turkey Trot starts and ends at the Surfside Beach Pier. I love starting Thanksgiving by the ocean surrounded by my running friends and boyfriend. It’s a great way to start the holiday.”
New Braunfels, Texas
“After college, I had a goal of breaking 20 minutes in a 5K. Turkey Trot was the first place I did it and I was really happy. Another funny memory is that my twin brother and I used to compete against each other – he beat me most years, but one year he didn’t train as much and I beat him. I have to pester him about it all day.”
“It’s family time together, especially if your kids are coming home, or your siblings are coming home, or you’re traveling home—it’s something fun that people can do together and be outside. Many of them have fundraisers that support the Thanksgiving meal. You’re going to go home and eat this great food, so let’s make sure everyone has the opportunity to do that.”