My Love/Hate Relationship with Turkey Trots

turkey trot medal

For the past several years, my mom and I have run the Dallas Turkey Trot Thanksgiving morning.  I love running in Dallas, so it’s something I’ve looked forward to every year.  We’ve already started our trip to Dallas (we break it up by stopping for a few days at my dad’s house) for Thanksgiving, and it’s got me thinking about my love/hate relationships with Turkey Trots.  While I have had nothing but great experiences running the Dallas Turkey Trot, I’m not a fan of the way these events are often marketed, and I think it’s something that’s important to explore. 

I want to start with the positive aspects of these runs, because as I’ve said I’ve had nothing but great experiences first hand.  Turkey Trots are a great way to introduce someone to the sport of running, and I am always for that.  They are popular, and not like Gretchen Weiners from Mean Girls popular, more like Reese’s Bells.  A wholesome type of popular that we can all appreciate.  Many Turkey Trots also have much more of a family-friendly vibe than other races, which I think is great.  Fewer and fewer half and full marathons allow strollers, and almost none allow wagons or anything similar.  Make your way to the local trot, however, and I will bet that you will see more strollers and wagons filled with children than you even knew existed in your home town.  Large crowds filled with kids aren’t typically something I’m all that interested in, but dragging your clan down to the Turkey Trot is a great way to role model healthy living.

The last two things I love about turkey trots are that they’re a lot of fun and they usually raise money for some worthwhile causes in the local community.  The Dallas YMCA Turkey Trot benefits YMCA’s within the metropolitan area, the Thundercloud Subs Turkey Trot in Austin benefits the local nonprofit Caritas of Austin, and the Turkey Trot Chicago donates all proceeds to the Greater Chicago Food Depository.  Turkey trot races come in all sizes, but they are all fun events.  They are more focused on the spirit of fun and entertainment than the spirit of competition.  While I almost never stop to snap pictures during a regular race, I spent several minutes waiting to get a picture with the group of Mariachi’s below.  Most of these races have bands, huge crowds of spectators to cheer, and finish line treats like hot chocolate and food trucks.  I’ve definitely run my fair share of “just for fun” races, but what I love about Turkey Trots is that everyone there is just having a good time.

Dallas turkey trot
Our family Turkey Trot

On to what I’m not a huge fan of.  What’s frustrating for me is not the races themselves, but the way that these races are often marketed and talked about.  Which brings me to the thing I hate about turkey trots: I almost always hear these races advertised as a way to burn some calories before Thanksgiving dinner, or a way to earn your meal.  There are lots of things you have to earn in life.  Like money, respect, or a college degree (unless of your course you mother is Lori Loughlin).  Food on the other hand is required for survival; it’s not something that needs to be earned.  Also, if your diet is moderately healthy throughout the year, there’s no way one day of eating, even over eating, is going to do much of anything. Thanksgiving happens once a year, every year, and should be a time to enjoy the company of your friends and family and have a great meal that takes a whole lot longer to prepare than the average Thursday evening dinner.  Just like there’s no reason you need to earn your food on Wednesday, there’s no reason you need earn your food on Thursday.

My final thought is that looking at a Turkey Trot as a way of “earning” your Thanksgiving meal is just another reinforcement of diet culture.  Now, there are few things I take a hard and fast stand against, and quite frankly my stance on diet culture is one. I know there are a lot of people who stand firmly in their belief that no one should do any sort of exercise that is solely motivated by body composition goals, but if physical appearance is what motivates someone to explore running, or cycling, or CrossFitting, then I am for it.  I truly hope these people eventually find an activity that brings them so much fulfillment and joy that their goals shift to exercising out of the love of the sport.  I’ll never begrudge someone who starts out wanting to lose weight or “tone up,” because I think it’s such a common place to start.  There’s a lot of room for improved education around healthy eating habits, and I also think it’s important to understand just what your body does with the food you eat. Where this gets convoluted is related to all of companies who profit off of ridiculous products that do nothing beneficial in the name of health.  It’s become the equivalent of snake oil sales in my opinion. 

So what does all of this have to do with Turkey Trots?  Well, when you market a race as a means of offsetting the consequences of a large meal, the message that you are implying is just inaccurate.  An average American meal is usually around 600-750 calories, a typical Thanksgiving meal is probably upwards of 1000 calories.  The average American woman would burn approximately 300 calories by running a 5k.  All of these are nice round estimates, but you get the picture.  By implying that a 5 or 10k race is going to “make up” for a day of Thanksgiving indulgence is just silly.  Continuing to promote unrealistic ideas around food and exercise supports the diet culture that is founded on those same principles.  Are Turkey Trots some sort of evil cog in the wheel of diet culture conspiracy?  I don’t think so, but I think there’s a lot of room for continued conversation that is more grounded in factual information.

Dallas YMCA Turkey Trot
My mom and I after our first Turkey Trot in 2016

So, if you are interested in having a more mindful approach to a holiday that is somewhat centered around food, here are some things I personally keep in mind:

  • You can have treats any day of the year, even holiday themed treats.  I promise you that no one will come slap a slice of pumpkin pie out of your hand on Saturday.  Don’t feel like you need to make yourself uncomfortably full just because it’s Thanksgiving.
  • If there’s something particularly delicious that is super involved to make, just eat the damn dessert.  None of us are making it out of this thing alive in the end, so eat the dessert.
  • Eat what you actually want to eat, eat as much as you actually want to eat, but don’t turn into a food vacuum and make yourself uncomfortably full just because of a day on a calendar.
  • Always remember, everything in moderation, especially moderation.
  • Last and most importantly, be sure you have a good exit strategy, for when you’re weird Uncle Scott brings up his thoughts about Donald Trump. 

Happy Thanksgiving ya’ll!

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