At Thanksgiving dinner, the average American eats more than twice the number of calories recommended for an entire day. (Reports vary from 4,000 to as many as 7,500 calories.) Rousing the family early and heading out for an invigorating turkey trot sets the tone for a day of healthy, balanced celebration. These community events often include face painting, music, healthy snacks and a festival atmosphere. As part of a holiday tradition, children won’t balk at getting up early to start the day at a party.

Turkey Trot, Turkey Chase, Gobble Hobble

A turkey trot, also called a “turkey chase” or a “gobble hobble” is basically just a race and fun run/walk held early in the day on Thanksgiving. Usually there is a 5K and a 10K option. The faster, more serious runners start at the first gun. The slower joggers and walkers start shortly after at a second gun. Sometimes runners and walkers dress in costume for the occasion. When it’s called a Turkey Chase, it often involves a mascot in turkey garb taunting the runners before the first gun and then jogging briefly in front of them as if being chased (always to the raucous cheers of the spectators).

Runners and walkers of all ages join in. Parents of young children are usually welcome to bring strollers or baby joggers, and there are no age limits for participation.

Tradition with A History

Thanksgiving morning races are a staple autumn activity at many YMCAs across America; perhaps because one of the oldest, if not the first turkey trot was hosted in 1896 by the YMCA in Buffalo NY. At that time, it was purely a running race, but it gradually morphed into the fun run/walk common around the country. Today, they are also hosted by cities and municipalities, boys and girls clubs, local running clubs, even radio stations.

Start Them Young

For running parents, a turkey trot is a great way to introduce children to running. Start them young by bringing them in a baby jogger and graduate to walking part of the way & try these best workout routines. The festive atmosphere and excitement of the other children will encourage them and it will be more play than challenge. By the time they are old enough to jog alongside, they will be begging to join in with the big kids.

By the time they’re nine or ten, they may even be ready to run the entire course. (see Running with Children)

A Healthy Attitude, Not A Free Pass

It might get the heart pumping, but a turkey trot won’t pre-empt the gastronomic offenses of holiday abundance. Walking for an hour at a moderate pace (about the time it takes to walk a 5 kilometer (3.1 mile) course will burn about 236 calories (according to ESHA Research). That’s roughly equivalent to one cup of home made mashed potatoes–no gravy. Running it instead of walking will burn enough to take care of the gravy (according to the United States Department of Agriculture National Nutrient Database).

So, it isn’t a pass to eat more or an absolution so much as it is a commitment to a mindset. It is about teaching the family that balance is important, that fresh air and exercise is a part of a healthy lifestyle. What better way to re-enforce that idea than to beginning the whole holiday season with a festive hour of exercise.

To the Starting Line

Walking a 5K amounts to about an hour-long walk. Running at a slow to moderate pace appropriate for most children it will take about 35 to 40 minutes. For a healthy person who has never run before, it only takes about 10 to 12 weeks to train for a 5K.

Check local newspapers and online event calendars for turkey trot listings. If there are none close by, consider starting one. Of course, in the absence of an official turkey trot, a thanksgiving morning walk on a local trail with the whole family is still an excellent option.