NEW YORK (30-Nov) -- In a promising sign for the running industry, participation in Thanksgiving Day races (commonly known as turkey trots) grew robustly in 2022 from a year ago and --surprisingly-- also from pre-pandemic levels, at least for smaller events. Analyses by both Race Results Weekly and the industry-leading registration platform, RunSignup, showed participant growth of over 20% from 2021 and over 40% from 2019.
PHOTO: The start of the 2022 Manchester Road Race (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)
"The biggest U.S. running day of the year had an impressive showing in 2022, with 756,894 people participating in 730 races across the country and raising more than $1.8 million dollars for charities," read a blog post from RunSignup which summarized their study findings. "That represents record participation on the platform, likely due to both an increase in market share and a strong rebound of the Thanksgiving Day running tradition."
RunSignup processed 538,611 turkey trot registrations in 2019, but that number plunged by 71% to 156,380 in 2020 as the pandemic caused most --but not all-- in-person road races to cancel or go virtual. There was a sharp rebound to 617,915 in 2021 setting the stage for this year's record numbers. RunSignup estimated that their figures represent 75% of the total registration market for Thanksgiving Day races.
About two-thirds (69%) of turkey trots had fewer than 1,000 participants, the RunSignup data showed. Indeed, it was smaller races that enjoyed the greatest percentage growth. Races with fewer than 500 participants grew by 35% from 2019 to 2022 and 21% from 2021 to 2022.
Virtual participation in turkey trots, which gave race organizers a lifeline in 2020, was almost non-existent in 2022, representing just 1.7% of total participants.
"Virtual participation has dropped precipitously since the return of more regular in-person racing, but the impacts of the pandemic continue to make it a common option for races," the Run Signup analysis said.
The one area where growth was not evident was in the largest Thanksgiving Day events. RunSignup noted that races with over 5000 participants had 17% fewer runners compared to 2019, although there was an 11% gain from 2021 to 2022.
Separate data from Race Results Weekly based on actual finishers backed-up the RunSignup data. The nation's oldest turkey trot, the YMCA Turkey Trot 8-K in Buffalo, N.Y., recorded 9534 finishers in 2022, up 12% from 2021. However, that was far below the 11,915 recorded in 2019 or the 11,057 who crossed the finish line in 2018. This year's race participation may have been affected by an unusual snow storm which dumped more than five feet of snow on Buffalo four days before, although the streets were clear for the race itself.
The Manchester Road Race in Manchester, Conn., New England's largest turkey trot, recorded 8271 finishers this year, up 11% from 2021. However, that was down 17% from 2019. Weather was excellent for this year's race, sunny and seasonably cold.
Other large Thanksgiving races recorded year-over-year increases in finishers. Here are sample data for 11 large events in nine different states (data from Race Results Weekly):
. Alexandria Turkey Trot 5-Mi. (Alexandria, Va.): 4459 finishers, up from 4086 in 2021
- . Dana Point Turkey Trot 10-K (Dana Point, Calif.): 7247, up from 6820 in 2021
- . Ashenfelter 8 km Classic (Glen Ridge, N.J.): 2527, up from 2368 in 2021
- . Troy Turkey Trot 10-K & 5-K (Troy, N.Y.): 4221, up from 3559 in 2021
- . Invesco QQQ Thanksgiving Day Half-Marathon & 5-K (Atlanta, Ga.): 6878, up from 5411 in 2021
- . Turkey Day Run & Gobble Wobble 5-K (Charleston, S.C.): 5842, up from 5227 in 2021
>LI> . Turkey Trot 5-K & 8-K (Chicago, Ill.): 5926, up from 4557 in 2021
- . Charlotte Turkey Trot 8-K & 5-K (Charlotte, N.C.): 6546, up from 5626 in 2021
- . Naperville Noon Lions Turkey Trot (Naperville, Ill.): 5187, up from 4755 in 2021
- . Thanksgiving Day 10-K (Cincinnati, Ohio): 6114, up from 4877 in 2021
- . Applied Materials Silicon Valley Turkey Trot 5-K & 10-K (San Jose, Calif.): 11,400 (race not held in-person in 2020 or 2021)
Perhaps most importantly, many Thanksgiving Day races are charity fundraisers for local causes. RunSignup reported that 571 turkey trots on their platform had their charity fundraising feature enabled. Across their platform 57,017 separate donors contributed a total of $1,891,110, an average of $3,312 per race.
"The big question of 2022 has been whether or not races can rebound fully to pre-pandemic numbers, and even continue to grow," RunSignup officials wrote in concluding their analysis. "While Thanksgiving Day is not always representative of general trends, the numbers this year show positive signs of regrowth for most events, with the largest races continuing to face challenges. We'll take a closer look at that phenomenon soon."