To Turkey Trot or not?

Turkey Trot Draws Thousands in Towson
Turkey Trot Draws Thousands in Towson

Have you ever thought about signing up for an organized running race but never taken the plunge? If your community holds a "turkey trot," the Thanksgiving tradition is a great place to start.

Participating in a fitness event on Thanksgiving is a wonderful way not only to improve your health, but also to spend time with your family. Many turkey trot participants are home for the holiday and looking to put in a few miles before sitting down at the dinner table to feast. Most turkey trots are geared toward fun – as opposed to competition – so it's not uncommon for racers to wear costumes or for families to register as a team.

I know what you're thinking: How do I get all of the food preparation done andrun a race? One strategy I use is preparing as many side dishes the night before as possible and making sure my turkey is thawed. If you have an 8 a.m. race start, you should get home by 10 a.m., which is plenty of time to cook a 15-pound bird in time for 4 p.m.!

Convinced? Here's what to know before you go:

1. Don't overdo the distance.

Make sure you can run or walk at a comfortable pace for the length of time it will take you to complete the course. It's not a great idea to sign up for a 10-mile race when the farthest you have run is 2 miles; likewise, if you have not walked around the block in two years, a 5K would be a bit ambitious. Also, check the course map online and ask yourself: Are there hills? Are there water stops along the way? What is the best location to ask family members to cheer me on?

2. Wear appropriate shoes.

Just buying athletic shoes doesn't mean they are right for running and walking. It's important to buy shoes that accommodate the way your foot hits the ground. Try going to a specialty running store, where employees can analyze your walking or running style, and help you select the correct shoes.

3. Dress for the weather.

You want to dress as if it is approximately 15 degrees warmer than what the thermometer reads since you will generate heat while you run and walk. Technical apparel that's worn next to your skin pulls, or wicks, moisture (that is, sweat) away from your body. Clothing made of cotton, by contrast, holds sweat, which can actually make you cold and miserable – even on a warm day. Technical clothing also dries quickly, a benefit no matter the temperature.

Dressing in layers is also a great idea. If you want to remove a layer of clothing, make sure you can tie it around your waist for easy carrying. A breathable hat and pair of cotton gloves are great additions to your running attire when the temperature dips below 40 degrees.

4. Manage your expectations.

Turkey trots offer camaraderie, costumes and crowds. Families often do these races together, so first-timers, children and walkers are typically welcome. One warning for racing veterans: It might be difficult to set a personal best, and you may be running beside people who do not know race etiquette, so you might need to do a lot of bobbing and weaving.

5. Be aware of your surroundings.

During the race, be careful of leaves – many turkey trots take place on neighborhood streets where leaves have fallen and become tripping hazards.

6. Pace yourself.

Don't go out too fast. You should be able to hold a conversation at any point during the race. Also, don't stop immediately upon crossing the finish line – you should be able to walk for 5 to 10 minutes afterward to cool down.

7. Get the family on board.

Many turkey trots allow jogging strollers, so even the smallest members of the family can join in the fun. Not everyone is the same speed, but don't worry – that spread creates a built-in pep squad and photographers. Those who finish faster can come back out onto the course to cheer on the rest.

If you have reluctant family members, make the race a focus of the day. One tradition my family shares is wearing our race shirts at the dinner table. That way, we're already matching when we go to take family photos! Another bonus? These races are often associated with a charity, so your entry fee helps those in need and reminds you of the true spirit of the holiday. If you don't think you're quite ready for the turkey trot this year, get the family together to cheer – it's fun and just might inspire you to partake next year.

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