5 Rules for Running a Turkey Trot When You Haven’t Trained At All

Kicking off Thanksgiving with a race? Don’t go in blind.


Nope, that’s not the amount of calories consumed at your Thanksgiving table last year (although it may be close). It’s the number of people who crossed the finish line of a turkey trot in 2014 while you were still sleeping off your hangover.

Typically a race on the shorter side (3 to 6 miles), the early wakeup call on a day off would seem like enough to deter even avid runners, let alone those who hit the treadmill on occasion. But there’s no denying the growing popularity of lacing up your sneakers before you chow down on turkey: The number of Thanksgiving-day races has almost doubled since 2011, and race participation is up 16 percent. This may be attributed to the fact that “many races include dressing up and fun, and have less of a focus on time and competitiveness,” according to Jason Jacobson, director of research at Running USA. “It’s a tradition for many families; a great way to connect and start off the day prior to eating.”

While there’s no denying the benefits of bonding with the fam while squeezing in an exercise session before you stuff your face, the downside of themed races is that they often bring inexperienced runners out of the woodwork, which can result in injury.

If you plan to log some miles next Thursday, it’s best to not celebrate turkey day running around like a chicken with your head cut off. With just a week out, there may not be much time for training, but your body will thank you for following these key strategies leading up to race day.

Skip the carbloading. Sorry, you’re not running a marathon here. While a 5k is a solid workout, it doesn’t justify a bagel binge. “You don’t need to eat much beforehand because of the distance, but it could take some people as much as an hour if not more to complete a 5K, so that person may want to consume something,” said Michael Conlon, physical therapist and owner of Finish Line Physical Therapy. “You definitely don’t need to be carb-loading as people do with marathons. For a 5K, having some water and a piece of fruit would be more than enough.”

Push through a hangover. The night before Thanksgiving is notoriously one of the biggest party nights of the year—and we don’t expect you to forgo the festivities. But those fireball shots may revisit you at the starting line the next morning. “I’ve been in that same situation as well,” Conlon admitted. “My advice is to go one for one with whatever you’re drinking the night before. Every time you have a beer, have a glass of water.” Inviting water to the party is key for keeping hydration levels up, which will save you from having to pound the pavement with a pounding headache due to dehydration. “Be sure to have a glass of water before you go to bed and when you wake up in the morning, too” said Conlon. “That will be key to getting through it.”

Ditch the static stretches. If your instinct is to grab your ankle and stretch your hammies to loosen up, it’s time to rethink your pre-race ritual. “Instead of focusing on one muscle group, it’s more effective to warm up your entire body to get it ready for the race by using dynamic movements like squatting and lunging,” said Conlon. “This will get your joints moving and prepared for running. You can add in a little plyometric movement like jumping jacks or even jumping up and down in place, too.” And if you have access to a foam roller, it’ll be your best friend the day of the race. “It works wonders in warming up soft tissue,” said Conlon. “Run it over your lats, quads, hamstrings, and glutes.” And don’t forget to give yourself a rubdown post race, too. “A dynamic cool down is also important—I would follow a similar routine to your warmup post-race.”

Be aware of where the pain may creep up. “The two most common complaints and injuries I see in newbies are related to knee pain and shin and calf pain,” said Conlon. “A lot of that has to do with not training or doing a proper warm up.” If pain creeps up during the race, this is the time to whip out your static stretches. To relieve calf pain, stop and stretch the muscle by hanging your heel off a curb, and try other isolated stretches that target the specific area that is bothering you. “For knee pain, dynamic movements like mini squats can help—they increase blood flow to the area and stretch out tissues around the knee, which may help alleviate pain,” Conlon suggested.

Chat it up for the first mile. “A lot of people who haven’t trained at all for a 5K will go out and try to race; they start the first mile at a dead sprint,” said Conlon. “For those who are new to it, avoid peeling out really fast—I tell my athletes to always pace themselves the first mile.” It’s important to keep in mind that three miles is still a significant distance, especially if you haven’t trained at all. “For a 5K I would recommend starting out at a conversational pace for the first mile; I would rather see people finish strong, then go out too fast and have a hard time finishing.”

Your Workout Plan for the Next Week

So your mom just informed the family she signed everyone up for the local Turkey Trot. That means you have one week to do some sort of training for this thing—what’s the best plan of attack?

“Even though a 5K is a relatively short distance, it can be long if you’re not training,” said Conlon. “Obviously with only a week to go, you don’t have very long to train, but it can be done for a 5k.” The good news is you don’t have to run the full distance of the race beforehand, so instead of focusing on mileage and pace, Conlon recommends working on time, since this late in the game it’s really about being able to complete the race without injury. “A run/walk approach is the most logical,” he said. “Run for as little as one minute and walk for a minute; or run for two to three minutes and then walk for two to three minutes.” He suggests starting with five or 10 minutes of run walking and increasing in small increments of duration from there: 10 or 15 minutes the next session, 20 the next.

And don’t run everyday. “Some might think they should be running everyday leading up to the race, but I would say they are better off doing every other day; 2 or 3 times total in the next week,” said Conlon. “If they want to do other exercise, they can add in the elliptical or some other form of cardiovascular training that’s not running.”