Alexi Pappas: Why I love Turkey Trots

I was introduced to the tradition of running “Turkey Trots” later in life. At first, the idea of running a race on Thanksgiving morning did not excite me: I’ve always been resistant to running on holidays, especially the one where I am meant to eat, take a nap, and then eat again. But now I’m hooked on the Turkey Trot tradition and it has become an indispensable part of what I look forward to when I think of Thanksgiving.

I ran my first Turkey Trot in the fall of 2016, shortly after the Rio Olympics. This was a large Turkey Trot with an entire field of elite athletes. But there was also an open race with hundreds of people, and I convinced my husband, dad, and best friend to sign up. After the elite race finished, I joined my family in the crowded open field. It was wonderful. We were surrounded by people, some serious and some running in turkey costumes, and the atmosphere was festive and playful. When my husband stopped to walk, I walked with him. It was so different from the sometimes stressful world of “serious” racing. It was a nice reminder that racing is FUN. After the race we drove back home and had our Thanksgiving feast, buzzing with the energy of having just run a race together. It was a bonding experience. I loved it.

When I reflect back on why I loved my Turkey Trot experience so much, I realized that it came down to a sharing of joy. First, fun-running in the open race with my loved ones reminded me of my love of running and the running community. Without the pressure to perform and run fast, I was able to enjoy all the little things that make running such a special group sport. Rather than zoom past the spectators and volunteers along the course, I could slow down – or even stop – to give a high-five and have a connection. I ran with my phone, snapping selfies along the way. I had a blast. And the next time I toed the line at a competitive road race that would have otherwise been nerve-wracking, instead I was reminded of all the FUN things associated with road racing and it brought a smile to my face.

But the joy isn’t one-way. I believe that by running in the Turkey Trot together, my loved ones also gained a deeper appreciation for the sport I love so much. Often, when my husband or dad is at a race, they’re there to watch and support me. They enjoy being there, don’t get me wrong, but frankly it can be a bit stressful. They know that I have professional and personal stakes in the race, so there’s a competitive anxiety in the air, which can be exciting but also not super joyful. And also, they are on the sidelines. Like many family members who come to support us runners, our loved ones are not able to run at the level we are. So when they come to a race to support us, they exist on the outside. But when we all run the Turkey Trot, stopping for walk-breaks as needed and just having fun, we are all in it together. They get to experience the joy of participating in a race themselves, no matter what their pace. And that personal experience of joy stays with them, helps them have a deeper appreciation for the sport, and ultimately brings them closer to you. In a sport that can so often feel isolating and individual, especially at the highest level, this kind of inclusion can be so important! It fuels your whole team. And when your team is strong, cohesive, and positive, that fuels you as an athlete.

For those of you still skeptical about taking the Turkey Trot plunge, I get it. I was once like you. But here are eight reasons why I love Turkey Trots and why I think you will too:

  • Everyone can participate together. My dad semi-walked it, my husband raced against my best friend, and I raced against elite runners when we all ran the Silicon Valley Turkey Trot. It was amazing to all toe the line together.
  • You can stay local. Most towns host their own Turkey Trots. There are large ones, and smaller ones, and they all feel like a community gathering.
  • It’s a holiday, so the atmosphere is festive! The thing about a Turkey Trot is that everyone’s there to have FUN. Sometimes road races can get intense, but that tends not to happen on a Turkey Trot. People are there to cheer and celebrate and get pumped up for dinner!
  • It’s short. Most turkey trots are short enough that there’s a race in there, but you’re still going to have energy for the rest of the holiday – maybe even more energy after that runner’s high! It’s the perfect amount of challenge to give you and your family that nice sense of accomplishment.
  • It’s genuinely healthy to move around before you feast. In fact, you might find that you enjoy your Turkey Day meal even more after that burst of excitement from your morning Turkey Trot. Don’t be shy about luxuriating in a post-meal nap – you’ll have earned it.
  • The weather can be awesome. It’s nice to have an excuse to get outside and spend time in the fall before winter sets in.
  • Race shirt with a turkey on it: I have so many race shirts, but one of my favorites is my Turkey Trot shirt because … it’s silly! It has an adorable turkey on it. Plus, if your whole family participates, then you all get to look super cool in your matching shirts.

So, if you’re on the fence, just give it a try – and I promise that you’ll have a good time, and maybe even discover a new tradition that you’ll look forward to for years to come.