For many, Thanksgiving morning means layering up, lacing up and heading to the starting line. The Turkey Trot, a Thanksgiving day race, has spread in both popularity and size throughout the United States. With many runners showing up in festive costumes, these events are a spectacle for racers and non-racers alike.
When did this unique tradition begin?
The first Turkey Trot was hosted in Buffalo, New York in 1896. Starting off with only six participants, the Buffalo trot has grown exponentially, hosting an impressive 14,000 runners about 125 years later. According to their organizers, YMCA Buffalo Niagara, their race is the oldest consecutively-run footrace in North America.
Since 1896, many other cities and towns have embraced the Thanksgiving day race. The U.S. boasts more than a thousand Turkey Trots, and the race now spans every corner of the country.
Here in Somerville, the Somerville Road Runners Gobble Gobble Gobble Turkey Trot is running for its 27th year this Thanksgiving, Nov. 23.
Starting in Davis Square at 9 a.m., participants will run a four mile road course through Somerville which will lead them back to Davis Square for a post-race party hosted by The Burren.
This will be the Gobble’s biggest year yet. According to the Somerville Road Runners, 3,200 runners will start from the Davis starting line on Thursday, and the race is entirely volunteer-run.
The Somerville Road Runners race directors, Bradley Harris and Jess Petersen, both emphasized the importance of volunteers in bringing the race to life.
“[We have a] really big volunteer recruitment effort because we literally could not put this race on without hundreds of volunteers helping us,” Petersen said. “Having a completely club-run race of this size that donates this much money to charity is a pretty cool thing [and] definitely means a lot to us.”
Petersen also acknowledged the responsibility of organizing the race that she and Bradley have.
“It’s a lot of responsibility,” Petersen said. “This is something that’s been going for 27 years and we’re trying to keep it going and that tradition means a lot to a lot of families.”
Harris also discussed the joy that race day brings to him and the community.
“On race day, just having a moment to step back and look at the 3,000 people and the families that are really enjoying this experience … that’s the thing that makes me go home at the end of the day on Thanksgiving and tell myself that I want to keep doing it, because it’s very rewarding,” Harris said.
The Gobble, like many Turkey Trots, is a distinctly community-based event. The race serves the Somerville community with proceeds benefiting the Somerville Homeless Coalition, the Somerville High School track team and Stride for Stride.
Harris described the race’s relationship with the local track team as “a healthy and happy partnership.” For years, the track team has sent students to run the Trum Field water stop at mile two. Harris recounted a moment from the 2018 race, which was an especially cold morning.
“We made a couple of adjustments to the race and one of them was to cancel the [Trum Field] water stop because we didn’t want to have the students out there in -20 [degrees], handing out frozen water to no one who wanted it,” he recalled.
Harris then recalled that the students wanted to continue to be involved in the race, despite the freezing temperatures.
“They still wanted to be involved, so a number of them showed up and helped us hand out hot chocolate in Davis Square,” Harris said.
Not only does the race inspire involvement from the community, but its partnership with the Somerville Homeless Coalition aims to give back to Somerville, especially during the holiday season.
The SHC works towards its goal of fighting homelessness via two main focuses: short-term and long-term relief.
The SHC’s short-term emergency street homelessness and rapid response teams help people in crisis, while long-term teams provide permanent supportive housing and rehabilitation efforts. The SHC also runs the largest food bank in Somerville and provides many other services.
The Turkey Trot proceeds, which used to be directed solely towards the food bank, have been changed to support any part of the SHC.
Felicity Beal, director of development at the Somerville Homeless Coalition, highlighted the importance of their partnership and praised the SRR for their efforts.
“In the four years that I’ve been here, the relationship [with SRR] has just gotten better and better. They are very community-minded, run by a group of volunteers … who all come together because they absolutely adore running. And they just have a very philanthropic kind of mindset, specifically with this Turkey Trot,” Beal said.
Beal is a Gobble runner herself, and described it as a friendly and well-organized race, with a great community and many costumes.
A common thread found across Turkey Trots is a type of positive atmosphere.
Sarah McVey, a first-year student at Tufts who enjoys running the turkey trot with her family, described the experience of running the Manchester Road Race in Connecticut.
“It was just such a positive experience … there would be people that would stand outside their houses or set up chairs to watch people run by,” McVey said. “I think there were even bands playing.”
McVey expressed that she will definitely keep participating in future turkey trots, whether in a large race or just with her family.
“It’s a tradition that we’ve had and it kind of marks the day in another way aside from the big meal,” McVey said.
The Somerville Gobble Gobble Gobble is currently looking for volunteers to help run the event. The race has an astounding 90 intersections that need manning and other volunteer positions as well.
Felicity Beal of the Somerville Homeless Coalition also encouraged members to get involved in the SHC by helping to cook and serve dishes at their community meals, which happen twice a week.
In the midst of the Thanksgiving season which can often be hectic, the Turkey Trot provides community members with an opportunity to come together, have fun and give back. For walkers and runners of all ages, both costumed and uncostumed, the Turkey Trot is for everyone, as long as you’re willing to layer up.