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Turkey Trots: A Thanksgiving morning tradition

Runners get ready to begin the Sacramento Food Bank's 2012 Run to Feed the Hungry.
Runners get ready to begin the Sacramento Food Bank's 2012 Run to Feed the Hungry.
Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services/Flickr

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Thanksgiving is a day of traditions. There’s turkey, of course, along with football, apple pie and parades. And for more and more Californians, there’s the early morning turkey trot. For the California Report, Scott Detrow has the story.

Last year, more than 100,000 Californians kicked off their Thanksgivings by running a road race, affectionately known as turkey trot.  Thanksgiving day races are becoming more and more popular: participation has more than doubled over the past five years, with more than 800,000 finishers nationwide last year.

RELATED: Thanksgiving Turkey Trot: Newest running event is in Downtown LA (map)

“In 2013 what we might see for the first time is 1 million finishers in turkey trots in this country,” said Ryan Lammpa of Running USA, which collects data on running trends.  In fact, Thanksgiving is now the top race day of the year. And more people are trotting in California than any other state.  In addition to the top participation totals, California hosts the first and fourth-largest Thanksgiving races in the country.

What’s behind the trend? Lammpa said it’s part of a larger running boom, and that Thanksgiving is a good day for a low-key 5K  – your family is in town, there’s not much programmed for the morning. And there’s this factor: Lammpa said a lot of people are thinking, “’I can eat a little more today because I ran a 5K or an 8K.’ And as you know, humans are very good at rationalizing things.”

Sacramento Is Top Turkey

It certainly makes sense to me.  The turkey, stuffing, wine and everything else I’ll be downing later in the day were top of my mind when I signed up for the number one turkey trot in the country: Sacramento’s Run To Feed The Hungry. (San Jose's turkey trot ranks number four, nationally.)

Kelly Siefkin is with the Sacramento Food Bank and Family Services, which has put on the race for 20 years. She said the nearly 30,000  runners also want to help their community. “The feeling in the air Thanksgiving morning is really unlike anything you’ve experienced before,” she said. “Everyone is so excited and so happy to be surrounded by people who care.” The run has become a Sacramento institution. It’s clearly an important part of the organization’s identity: Race shirts and posters from previous years line its walls. More importantly, race proceeds fund 20 percent of the food bank’s annual budget, allowing it to provide food assistance, along with a wide array of other educational programs and services.

“You’re Trotting, Not Running”

There’s one more reason why Thanksgiving races are popular – they’re low-key and fun. No one’s out there with belts of water bottles. No one is scarfing down Gu energy shots, or trying to break personal records. Running USA’s Ryan Lammpa said,  “A trot is kind of a fun run. It’s a trot. You’re trotting, not running. You’re trotting.”

Not a bad reason to get up early and run on Thanksgiving.