Correction: An earlier version of this column misspelled the name of a longtime race participant in Buffalo. Her name is Marie Snyder, not Mary Snyder. This version has been corrected.


Runners bundle up for the 2013 Bethesda Turkey Chase. (Cindy Bertaut)

For the health-conscious, Thanksgiving can present something of a challenge. Travel, cooking, family — plus all that football to watch — leave little time (or motivation) to exercise.

But for the truly dedicated, there’s a fun, simple solution: the turkey trot. Over the past few decades, this road race has become something of a national holiday tradition.

This year dozens of turkey trots are being held across the United States, several of them in the Washington area. The events are typically held Thanksgiving morning — perhaps to both whet the appetite and lessen the guilt of overeating later — and are often fundraisers and include events for children. For many participants, the race is an occasion to dress in an outfit that reflects the spirit of the holiday: a fuzzy-bird costume, say, or a pilgrim’s hat. One pair of racers have been spotted running with a canoe over their heads for the whole race.

But for all the whimsy surrounding this event, the turkey trot has a serious claim on running history: The race, which debuted in Buffalo in 1896, is older than the storied Boston Marathon, which began the following year. Indeed, the Buffalo Turkey Trot claims the title as the oldest continually held foot race in North America.

The inaugural turkey trot, sponsored by the local YMCA, was a decidedly low-key event. There were few racers — only six of the 15 registrants showed up for the five-mile race — and not one of them dressed for laughs. The race, along dirt roads lined with a few spectators on bicycles and in carriages, proved formidable for a couple of the participants, according to an 1896 account. One runner dropped out after two miles; a half-mile later, another withdrew after his “late breakfast refused to keep in its proper place.” The winner, Henry A. Allison, finished the race in 31 minutes and 12 seconds, roughly a six-minute-per-mile pace.

The YMCA Buffalo Niagara Turkey Trot is now one of the largest such races in the country, with registration capped at 14,000 runners this year. For many in Buffalo, the race is a family tradition. Marie Snyder, 76, has run the race since 1978 (women were forbidden to participate in the Buffalo event until 1972), when her husband drove beside her in the car; this year, she will run it with 12 grandchildren and later host a meal for 26. “It’s invigorating and fun,” she says, and a great way “to earn your dinner.”

How did the turkey trot grow from a sleepy late-fall race in Upstate New York to the nationwide extravaganza it is today? One guess: “It’s a catchy name for a race,” says running guru Hal Higdon, who has won many trots himself, including several years in which the prize was a free dinner. “It’s a holiday, everyone has a free day, so you can have your run, burn the calories and make room for the turkey,” he says.

Carla L. Larrick, who co-founded the YMCA Bethesda-Chevy Chase Turkey Chase in 1982, says that when the members of the Y’s board first discussed holding a race on Thanksgiving, they thought it would either “be a bust or everyone would come.” The latter turned out to be true, especially after the organizers eliminated swimming as part of the event after the first year. The race has raised more than $4 million for youth and families in Montgomery County, and attracts more than 9,000 runners, according to organizers.

Among the participants in the Turkey Chase next Thursday will be Lindsay Jauss, 38, of North Bethesda, who will be running it for her 10th straight year. Jauss, a human resources consultant and mother of two, typically participates in the 10K. Her parents, in their 60s, run the two-mile race, and her children, 3 and 5, participate in the 50-meter kids’ run. (Her husband stays home to cook.)

“It has become as much a  part of the tradition as sitting down to dinner with the family,” Jauss says. Whatever her pace, she says, “I come home feeling very victorious. Whatever happens for the rest the day, it’s all good,” including, she jokes, eating a slice of pecan pie “the size of my head.”

In fact, running a fast 10K is about as much as you’ll need to burn off a (typical) slice of pecan pie, which can contain roughly 500 calories, according to the USDA. The rest of the Thanksgiving meal can add up to as many as 3,100 (more if you count all the snacking), according to Jessica Matthews, an exercise physiologist and senior health and fitness editor for the American Council on Exercise. To burn off a 3,100-calorie meal, Matthews says, a 150-pound woman would have to run for approximately 5.5 hours at a 12-minute-mile pace. That’s a lot of trotting.

Local turkey runs

A few local events where you can burn off come calories before sitting down to eat:

●Thanksgiving Day Trot for Hunger

When: Nov. 27, 8:30 a.m.

Where: Freedom Plaza, Washington, D.C.

(corner of 13th Street, NW and Pennsylvania Avenue, NW)

Events: 5K Run-Walk; Kids’ one-mile Fun Run

www.some.org

●Turkey Chase Bethesda-Chevy Chase YMCA

When: Nov. 27, 8:30 a.m.

Where: YMCA Bethesda-Chevy Chase, 9401 Old Georgetown Rd., Bethesda

Events: 10K; two-mile race; 50-meter kids’ race

www.turkeychase.com

●Laurel Turkey Trot

When: Nov. 27, 8 a.m.

Where: First United Methodist Church of Laurel, 424 Main St., Laurel

Events: 5K; one-mile walk

www.laureladvocacy.org

●Arlington Turkey Trot

When: Nov. 27, 8 a.m.

Where: Christ Church of Arlington, 3020 N. Pershing Dr., Arlington

Events: 5K

www.arlingtonvaturkeytrot.org

●Alexandria Turkey Trot

When: Nov. 27, 9 a.m.

Where: George Washington Middle School, 1005 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria

Events: Five-mile race

www.alexandriaturkeytrot.com

●Fairfax Turkey Trot

When: Nov. 27, 9 a.m.

Where: 9330 Pentland Pl., Fairfax

Events: Four-mile race

www.fairfaxturkeytrot.com

And the day after Thanksgiving, you can do penance at these events:

●Burn the Bird at Willow Street Yoga

Instructors Sommer and Paul Sobin offer “a smorgasbord of all the delicious flavors that yoga has to offer.”

When: Nov. 28, 10 a.m.- 12 p.m.

Where: Willow Street Yoga, 6930 Carroll Ave., Takoma Park

Registration fee: $40

www.willowstreetyoga.com

●Burn the Bird at Fit360

This Mount Pleasant gym is hosting a fundraiser for Alzheimer’s research with two total-body strength and conditioning classes.

When: Friday, Nov. 28 at 10 a.m. and 12 p.m.

Where: Higher Ground Fitness, 3220 17th St. NW, Washington

Suggested donation: $20

www.fit360dc.com

●Trim the Fat Friday at Gold’s Gym

On Nov. 28,all locations of the gym are free to the public

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