Running: A 118-Year-Old Thanksgiving Tradition

Download Audio
Costumed participants run along Delaware Avenue in 2005's Turkey Trot in Buffalo, N.Y. (Don Heupel/AP)
Costumed participants run along Delaware Avenue in 2005's Turkey Trot in Buffalo, N.Y. (Don Heupel/AP)

The Boston Marathon might be the oldest annually held marathon, but the oldest continually run footrace in North America takes place 450 miles west of Boston, in Buffalo, N.Y. The Turkey Trot, which benefits YMCA Buffalo-Niagara, predates the first Boston marathon by about six months.  Bill Littlefield spoke with Kathy Romanowski of YMCA Buffalo-Niagara.

BL: Kathy, Buffalo's first Turkey Trot was held in 1896. What can you tell me about that race?

KR: It was very different from today's race, that's for sure. We only had six runners out on the course that particular year, it was a cross-country race, and it was run on dirt roads. So, a big change from what we see today.

BL: What do you think inspired the winner of that first race, Mr. Henry A. Allison, and the five other people who laced up their running shoes — assuming there was such a thing as running shoes, on that Thanksgiving morning?

KR: Maybe they wanted to burn off the calories before they had their nice, big Thanksgiving feast. I'm not too sure. I wish I was a part of it that day to kinda see what was the brainchild behind all of this.

BL: Well, as you said, Mr. Allison and his co-competitors ran cross country on dirt paths on that day back in 1896. What else about this race has changed over the past 118 years — what a silly question, but go ahead please.

KR: No, it's not a silly question because a lot has changed, I mean obviously we started off with six runners back then and it has grown steadily over the years. We finally started to run on pavement in the early 1950s. Today we welcome 14,000 people out on the racecourse: some are runners, some are walkers, and we have lots of people who are spectators as well that join us on Thanksgiving morning.

BL: The first female runner did not compete until 1972. Was there a rule against women in the race, or was that just the first Thanksgiving that a man cooked a turkey?

KR: Maybe it was the first one where he stayed home and put the apron on, I'm not sure. I haven't seen any documentation that it said that no women were allowed, but yeah, that's our first documented female runner was in 1972.

BL: I understand that many of yesterday's runners were wearing costumes, as is the tradition in this race. What are some of the best that you've seen over the years?

KR: Well, because of Thanksgiving you definitely always have the Village People that come out because [of] the tie-in with the YMCA, of course, and Thanksgiving. So, we have pilgrims and turkeys and all that, but we have a flock of flamingos that come out every year. There's about 25 women in neon pink, and it's fantastic. And then we have people dressed up like the crew from Raiders of the Lost Ark, and it's just wonderful because it's almost like a parade going down Delaware Avenue here in Buffalo, versus a race.

BL: These days, Turkey Trots — and other Thanksgiving themed races — are held all across the country. I think here at Only A Game we actually lost track of them, but what makes Thanksgiving such a popular holiday for strapping on running shoes?

KR: I think a lot of people, they're home for the holidays. You have a lot of kids coming home from college as well, but just people are here to be with their families, and this is just a great part of a tradition for many people that they start their day off with us and then they get to go home and relax with their families. And they don’t feel maybe as guilty having that second piece of pie.

This segment aired on November 30, 2013.


More from Only A Game

Listen Live