Who would have thought that a Thursday in late November would be the most popular running day in the world! More than a million people take part in organized races on Thanksgiving morning each year, in around a thousand events across the US. The appeal is the low-key, community vibe. Turkey trots are a heart-warming annual ritual, rather than a one-time bucket list item.
So it’s little surprise that parkrun events are spreading rapidly across the US. They’re like a Turkey Trot, but more so. And they’re every single week of the year. (Plus Thanksgiving and New Years in many cities.) They’re small, but participation is roughly doubling annually.
Everybody seems to agree that the US Thanksgiving race tradition started with the Buffalo YMCA 5-mile race, which has been held every year since 1896, the year before the Boston Marathon started. In the first year it had 6 participants. Nowadays, participation is capped at 14,000.
Buffalo-Niagara YMCA Turkey Trot – since 1896!
While participation in running events overall is more-or-less flat, Turkey Trots continue to grow. The steady growth indicates that they’re doing something right.
The appeal of the Turkey Trot is the community aspect. It’s about doing something healthy outdoors with family and friends. (Ahead of maybe eating quite a lot with family and friends.) It’s not about being first. Nobody expects you to have the latest fancy gear or to be super fast. It’s ok to kick back and run with a friend or relative. Got a costume – so much the better! It’s local. And it’s fun to keep coming back year after year.
New York Times: How Turkey Trots became a Thanksgiving tradition [11/21/18]
Runners’ World: How the Turkey Trot became the most popular race in America [10/26/17]
Vox: How Turkey Trots became a Thanksgiving tradition [11/20/18]
Quantico, VA Marine Corps Turkey Trot
Low-key, local, inclusive, community-driven. That is what parkrun events are all about.
parkrun events are free, weekly, timed 5k run/walk events held year round on trails on Saturday mornings.
Clermont Waterfront parkrun (Clermont, FL)
parkrun events are super low-key. There are no prizes or swag, and no fees. One time registration gets you a free personal barcode, then you can “just show up” at any of 1,500 parkrun events worldwide.
parkrun events are super inclusive. There are some crazy fast finishers, but the walkers get at least as many cheers as the speed demons. US participants have ranged from age 4 to 100, and come in all shapes and sizes.
College Park parkrun (College Park, MD)
parkrun events belong to the community. They’re not fundraisers, they’re not about sponsors, they’re not beholden to a specific group. They’re organized by a rotating cast of volunteers drawn from the community of participants. Everybody is helping each other out.
And parkrun events are not just a once-per-year affair. They’re every single week, everywhere. From July mornings in Tucson, AZ to January mornings in Madison, WI. This means that you can show up any week when you’re available. And if you keep coming back you’ll get to know people who will support you.
Himmel parkrun (Tucson, AZ)
Howard Temin Lakeshore Path parkrun (Madison, WI)
It’s like 50 Turkey Trots per year. All for the price of none.
The Hustle had an interesting breakdown of the cost of putting on a typical Turkey Trot race. No wonder that a family of four might need to pay an average of $150 for the local Turkey Trot.
parkrun aims to make all of it free. This is possible by using a super simple front-end: smartphone apps and barcodes, and traffic free trails, paired with a robust IT backbone shared across 2,000 adult and junior events worldwide.
In the US parkrun events are still largely unknown. But participation is roughly doubling every 14 months. In 2018 the count of runners, walkers, and volunteers passed 50,000 for the first time. In 2019 that number will pass 100,000 for the first time.
There are now over 40 weekly parkrun events in the US, with dozens more at various stages of development. Growth is even faster than doubling among walkers and seniors.
The year-round aspect of parkrun events helps them to take the social, community vibe of a Turkey Trot to the next level.
A typical Turkey Trot might see 500-1000 people take part once per year.
A typical US parkrun event might see the same 500-1000 different locals take part over the course of a year. But since the events are taking place every Saturday, that might amount to 40-100 people taking part every week, and a few thousand 5Ks completed over the course of the year. So that’s a lot more physical activity overall.
Some people come back almost every week, some come occasionally when other constraints allow. The chances to get to know familiar faces and to chat before or after the parkrun are especially high. And the post-parkrun coffee meetup is a great way to talk with people in your community who you might not otherwise meet.
Anacostia parkrun (Washington, DC)
Volunteering at your local Turkey Trot is a great way to contribute to your community. But you have to choose between running and volunteering, and you might be just another face in the crowd.
At a typical US parkrun event around 8-12 people volunteer each week. But different people take turns volunteering and running or walking from week to week. Over the course of the year 100 or more different people would volunteer over 500 times. Thanks to the regularity and the familiarity the volunteers are familiar faces, and hundreds of participants can get to feel a sense of shared ownership of the event.
Des Moines Creek parkrun (Des Moines, WA)
Even with continued doubling every year, it will be a while before parkrun events reach the visibility of this week’s one million Turkey Trotters. And there’s always something special about Thanksgiving morning. But the potential to create sustainable, healthy communities across the US is huge.
On Thanksgiving morning 2019 a dozen US parkrun events will be holding special parkruns. Then two days later on Saturday 11/30 all US parkrun events will be going ahead as usual.
If you enjoy the community vibe of your local Turkey Trot and wish you could have more of it, and every week of the year, get in touch!
Social media: @parkrunUSA
Jamaica Pond parkrun (Boston, MA)
parkrun Founder Paul Sinton-Hewitt CBE is honoured with the Royal Society of the Arts’ prestigious Albert Medal. Awarded each year for innovation in the fields of creativity, commerce and social improvement, Paul received the incredible accolade for building a global participation movement. Presenting the award, RSA Chief Executive Matthew Taylor praised Paul and…
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