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How the turkey trot became a Thanksgiving staple throughout all types of weather

By Mark Puleo, AccuWeather staff writer
November 21, 2018, 7:55:27 AM EST

While Thanksgiving is popularly known as the day Americans consume an incredible amount of calories, a growing fad in recent years also has Americans burning calories on the annually beloved turkey day. Turkey trots are 5k road races that take place all around the country every Thanksgiving, with seemingly every town or county having its own variety.

Remarkably, the history of the turkey trot goes back even further than the Boston Marathon, which is considered the oldest and most prestigious road race in the world. Since the local YMCA in Buffalo, New York, held the original turkey trot in 1896, the idea has spread to all 50 states and, because of the races popularity, has made Thanksgiving the most popular running day of the year.

Turkey trot1

A runner with a hat shaped into a piece of pumpkin pie with whipped cream takes part in the 40th annual Turkey Trot to raise money for the Denver chapter of the United Way in south Denver on Thursday, Nov. 28, 2013. Close to 10, 000 runners took part in the race in and around Denver's Washington Park. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Throughout the years, the original turkey trot in Buffalo has maintained its 5-mile distance and continued to hold the event through weather of every variety. In 2002, the city was hit by over 2 feet of snow in the days leading up to the race. Over 5,000 runners shrugged off the blizzard and still competed.

In the 122 years since that first Turkey Trot, the holiday races held in Dallas, Texas, and in California's Silicon Valley, have become two of the largest races in the country. Both races attract over 25,000 runners and benefit charitable causes, such as YMCA After School programs. This year, the Silicon Valley Turkey Trot is supporting victims impacted by the Camp Fire.


Despite the concerns regarding air quality from the blaze’s smoke, Silicon Valley Leadership Group CEO Carl Guardino announced last week that the turkey trot would go on as planned. Helping clear the smoky air in the region is a midweek rainstorm, although that could also cause some flooding issues in areas.

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Across the country, runners in the Northeast will be greeted on Thursday morning by a strong blast of arctic air. With winds whipping from 15-30 mph and temperatures hovering in the low teens, runners will need to bundle up with a few extra layers to stay warm for their races. A hat and gloves will certainly be necessary. At the home of the original turkey trot, in Buffalo, New York, runners could be met by snowfall in the morning.

"Runners in Buffalo will want to put on some extra layers, as temperatures will be over 20 degrees below normal for Thanksgiving," said AccuWeather Meteorologist Bill Deger. "At the start of the trot, the mercury will be no higher than the mid-teens, and will crawl up to about 20 [degrees Fahrenheit] closer to midday. While those temperatures are shockingly cold, the RealFeel® Temperature will be even worse when a breeze is factored in; it'll feel like it's in the single digits above zero all morning. In such conditions, it can take only a half hour for frostbite to develop on exposed skin."

Static RealFeel NE Thursday 2 pm

At the country's largest trot, in Dallas, runners will find a pleasant morning of mid-50s to start their race. Runners wearing their normal shorts and t-shirts should feel plenty comfortable.

"It'll be near ideal weather conditions for runners on Thanksgiving morning in Dallas, with cool weather anticipated," said Deger. "Temperatures at the start of the trot will be in the mid-40s, and will rise into the 50s during the race as the sun shines. Only a light breeze is anticipated, so the RealFeel® Temperature will be close to the actual thermometer reading."

While the weather for this year's Thanksgiving may be some of the most unpleasant in recent memory for some areas of the country, history says that won't stop hoards of runners from stepping foot on a starting line this week. It may not be pumpkin pie or mashed potatoes, but turkey trots have certainly become an American Thanksgiving staple.

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