The Terror of Marrying Into a Turkey Trot Family

If the internet is to be believed, families who run on Thanksgiving are one of the greatest phobias among American youth

Updated November 23, 2022 8:14 am
turkey trot families
Photo By RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via Getty Images

For better or worse, the internet has become a place to commiserate over obscure fears.

Like: “listening to music with earphones on public transport and finding out everyone can hear it,” or “getting into an accident while driving somewhere I’m not supposed to be,” or, simply, “closely-packed holes.” The idea in sharing these phobias isn’t exactly to replace or downplay more conventional fears (like losing a loved one, Alzheimer’s or public speaking), but to have a bit of a nervous laugh. They’re a call for solidarity in the name of shared day-to-day agony, and more often than not, tens of thousands of people heed them, with a like, repost, “so true!” or follow.

This time of year, there’s one such pseudo-fear that always seems to make the online rounds. On Instagram, Twitter, Reddit, what have you, twenty-somethings like to claim that their “biggest fear” is “marrying into a family that does the Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving mornings.”

According to Outside Online, there are more than a thousand Turkey Trots across the country. That number is likely much larger, considering how many families stage their own unsanctioned “races” around the neighborhood. The tradition has been going strong since the very first trot (held in Buffalo in 1896; the city hasn’t missed a year since, even staging a scaled-down race during the pandemic), and is usually anywhere from a one-mile run to a half marathon, though the standard distance is a 5K.

The goofiest of families wear turkey or pilgrim costumes during the run, but most people just wear a race-sanctioned shirt. The weather is crisp but tolerable. Depending on where you’re running, the foliage can be dazzling. There’s a decent chance you run into other friends or family while out on your run, which can also be a nice thing. And the average adult 5K time, for those curious, is a little over a half hour, while walking that distance takes around 45 minutes. We’re not really talking about that much time outside or an especially rigorous challenge. So why in the name of Snoopy’s secret Thanksgiving feast is the tradition so appalling to younger generations?

Allie, a publicist who asked to remain anonymous for this article (Turkey Trot blasphemy is a serious offense), has some ideas. After all, she did the exact thing the entire worldwide web was shouting at her not to do, and married into a Turkey Trot family. “I come from a stay-in-your-pajamas-all-day, mimosas and movies family,” she says. “Some questions that come to my mind when seeing my husband’s family members run: ‘Is this your one chance a year to show off?’ and ‘There’s no way they actually like this, right?’”

Allie speculates that her husband’s family members might just be in it for the hardware. “Yes, you do get medals. I’m not sure why, and I’m not sure if this is supposed to be encouraging, but I’ve been to Turkey Trots in Colorado, Kansas City and South Carolina, and they all give out medals. Rain, snow or sleet, or mono (which I did find out the hard way one year), we will be Turkey Trotting.”

Fortunately for her, her husband doesn’t run anymore, so she’s been able to stay safe on the sidelines. “If you can’t tell by my tone,” she says, “I do believe it is slightly horrible. If it’s a beautiful day and the sun is shining, my attitude may change, but the second it starts to precipitate, I am confused and irritated as to why in the world we would choose to do this on a holiday. Whatever you do, marry into a mimosa and pajamas family. ”

“Slightly horrible” appears to be the key takeaway here. Holidays are billed as relaxed and easy, but as SNL laments every single year, they inevitably descend into intergenerational chaos around the dinner table. So it’s somewhat understanding that adding more “forced family fun” to that cocktail is less than desirable for some. It is a physical activity, and for non-runners or those who would rather not sweat in front of people they see a handful of times a year, the idea of an impromptu gym class is mortifying. This is where the whole spousal nightmare really crystallizes: Who’s eager to measure their cardiovascular endurance against a significant other’s Uncle “Tough Mudder” Todd?

There’s also the timing. Turkey Trots invariably happen in the morning, so everyone has enough time to shower and put on a scratchy sweater before the real festivities start. But the night before, most young adults are either taking shots at a local pub with a bunch of people who haven’t seen each other since high school (Thanksgiving Eve is the biggest bar night of the year) or finishing a long, torturous travel day only to sleep in a depressing hotel bed.

Plus, the main reason most people stump for Turkey Trots is problematic. Publications like to run the numbers on exactly how many miles runners should complete in the morning to offset all those starchy sides and a slice of pecan pie (The consensus? Five miles.), but as we’ve pointed out for Halloween and the Super Bowl, calorie-counting your way through special events is a silly, self-defeatist and even scientifically flawed way of living.

That said — and take this with a grain of salt if you like, coming from a single man who runs every single day — the Turkey Trot can absolutely be a positive tradition. Medal or not, the feeling of accomplishment is real, and if you’re anxious about making small talk with relatives (especially after not seeing them for 18 months, due to the pandemic), it’s a pretty low-stakes way to rip the band-aid off.

Runners often talk about a “conversational pace,” which, as the name suggests, is the running tempo at which they feel comfortable holding a conversation with a companion. Why not spend the Turkey Trot catching up with a cousin? Or if you’re the poor sap who fell into the in-law trap, by bonding over your misery with a sibling or teen who threatens to boycott it every year? Lost in the shuffle of all the “never ever ever” doomsday tweets on the subject is that you don’t actually have to like the Turkey Trot.

As one woman wrote on Reddit: “I dated a guy who literally got up at 6 am on Thanksgiving to run a 5K. There is nothing on earth that sounds worse to me.” Right, fair enough. That man sounds absolutely psychotic. His Chris Traeger impersonation is giving the rest of the yearly trotters (a shade shy of one million, according to Runner’s World) an undue rap. But in reality, getting outside on chilly days when the sun sets around 4 p.m. is one of the best things you can do for your mood. Three miles of jogging will better equip you for a marathon of chitchat and gluttony, and while the “earn your food” mentality is silly, you will be hungrier for it — which will make hard-working grandmas the nation over extremely pleased.

Social media culture delights in overdramatizing dorky dad culture. Having to play board games or take family photos is akin to laying one’s head on the guillotine. And here, that sentiment collides with a young person’s preference for presenting oneself as an absolute mess: “I’m so hungover”; “Omg what did I do last night”; “If you need me I’ll be in bed all day.” Getting up for that run feels like something the do-gooding valedictorian’s family would do on Thanksgiving. And marrying into one of those families? Good luck. Swallowing your own personal pride to impress your future in-laws is an American tradition so storied it spawned a billion-dollar movie franchise.

I know I probably can’t convince you otherwise, but trust me, it will be okay. I’d even wager that once the rest of the holiday’s lovely accoutrements are tallied up — the canned cranberry sauce, the “touch” football game in the yard, the weird shit someone’s dad starts saying about vaccines after his fifth glass of wine — you’ll look back longingly on the morning, when things were easier, and all you had to do was lace up, pretend you didn’t have a hangover and jog a couple measly miles.

The InsideHook Newsletter.

News, advice and insights for the most interesting person in the room.