The biggest US running day of the year impressed in 2023, with 920,761 people participating in 833 races across the country and raising more than $1.9 million dollars for charities. That represented record-shattering participation on the platform, with an increase of more than 160,000 compared to the previous record set in 2022. Further investigation suggest that the increase is due to increased market share on GiveSignup, new turkey trots entering the market, and per-race growth.
This weekend, we shared a few key stats looking at how the GiveSignup infrastructure handled the rush. Today, we look dive a little deeper into the participation numbers and trends. If you’re in a hurry, jump ahead to your key topic:
Thanksgiving By the Numbers
What is A Turkey Trot?
Thanksgiving Day 2023: By the Numbers
How Many Turkey Trots (and Turkey Trot Participants) Were There?
The headline of the day is simple: the popularity of Thanksgiving Day running has exceeded pre-pandemic levels and appears to still be growing – meaning this is the last year we have to compare the status quo to 2019.
The last time a national, cross-platform report on turkey trots was released, Running USA reported that there were 726 races and 961,882 finishers in 2016. While we think those 2016 numbers were likely an undercount due to the distributed nature of race data and looking at finisher data (not always released for untimed turkey trots), it’s clear that participation has continued to grow.
How Big Are Turkey Trots?
While most races throughout the year are small, Thanksgiving Day races are often big community affairs. 30% of Thanksgiving Day races exceeded 1,000 participants; comparatively, just 3.9% of all races between January and October of 2023 exceeded 1,000.
Despite this, there are still plenty of small, community turkey trots, with 48% of events have fewer than 500 participants.
Are Turkey Trots Actually Growing?
When looking at where the increase in turkey trot registrations came from, there are three buckets we investigate.
The first is that GiveSignup continues to increase registration market share. To the best we can ascertain, approximately 100 Thanksgiving Day races moved to GiveSignup from other platforms in 2023. While that’s great for us, it doesn’t tell us much about the national turkey trot numbers.
The second area of potential growth is from new races entering the market. We identified at least 25 races with more than 100 participants that appear to be inaugural turkey trots. On the flip side, fewer than 10 races with more than 100 participants in 2022 did not return in 2023. In other words, new turkey trots aren’t just replacing old ones; more turkey trots are entering the market.
Finally, we want to understand if per-race participation is growing. To better understand how individual races fared, we compare the participation numbers only amongst the cohort of races that were on our platform in two different years (2019/2023 and 2022/2023). This report shows strong improvement, with races up an average of 10% compared to 2022 and exceeding 2019 numbers by 2%. While the largest races still lag behind their 2019 numbers, races of up to 5,000 participants saw significant growth. Additionally, races of over 5,000 participants continue their upward trajectory from 2022..
This report only includes races that remained on the platform and renewed their race rather than creating a new race.
In 2023, the average turkey trot had 1105 participants, the most since we started tracking turkey trots. However, the average size of turkey trots has remained relatively steady since 2017 with the exception of 2020-2021.
Where Are The Turkey Trots?
Turkey Trots on GiveSignup took place in all 50 states. Pennsylvania, Texas, and Florida led the way with more than 50 turkey trots each, while Mississippi, North Dakota, and South Dakota each offered just one Turkey Trot on GiveSignup.
What Is a Turkey Trot?
There are races within a week of the Thanksgiving Day that are named “Turkey Trot” and some Thanksgiving Day races do not include that phrase. However, for the purposes of this report we consider turkey trots to be all races that take place on Thanksgiving Day.
What Distance Is a Turkey Trot?
We audited our in-person turkey trots to get an idea of the distances offered. Many races include multiple distance options, all of which are represented by this chart. A significant portion also include fun walk/run of indeterminate length; those are excluded. 5K’s lead the way, with 84% of turkey trots offering this distance, followed by 19% of races that offer a 1 Mile option. Typically, turkey trots are on the shorter side to allow participants plenty of time to partake in Thanksgiving traditions. There is no single distance that makes a race a turkey trot, though. Distance options ranged from 0.25 miles all the way to half marathons (and even one full marathon).
What’s In the Name “Turkey Trot”?
Of the races on GiveSignup on Thanksgiving morning, 62% include the actual words “Turkey Trot”, while 10% reference the Thanksgiving holiday. The next most common naming convention is the “Gobble Wobble”, with 4% of all races. Other turkey-related names like Drumstick Dash and Strut are less commonly seen.
Virtual participation has dropped precipitously since the end of COVID restrictions. However, they remain a common option for races looking to maximize participation options. In 2023, 22% of races offered a virtual option, and just over 1% of participants elected to run virtually. In comparison, just 0.1% of participants ran virtually in 2017.
The Charitable Impact of Turkey Trots
The vast majority (79%) of all turkey trots were supported one or more charity through donations. All-told, 61,658 donors raised a total of $1,990,867.74 for charity via races held on Thanksgiving Day. That total represents money donated, only, not additional charity contributions raised through event sponsorships or operations. That’s an average of $3,034.86 per race with donations enabled, but some races that engage participants as fundraisers raised $80,000-$170,000 for their cause.
Who Runs a Turkey Trot?
Anecdotally, we know that turkey trots are seen as multi-generational family affairs. To back this up, we looked at the demographics of the top 100 Thanksgiving Day races to see how they compare with races throughout the year. The most noticeable difference is with younger runners, a group that the industry has struggled to attract in recent years. While it’s clear that kids are also a part of turkey trot traditions, the most encouraging number is that 20.7% of turkey trot participants were 18-29, compared to just 13.9% throughout the year. The next challenge: turning those once-a-year turkey trotters into regular event participants.
The gender breakdown, on the other hand, was similar to what we see throughout the year. Female runners make up a small majority of participants both throughout the year and on Thanksgiving Day. It’s worth noting that only 1/3 of the races reviewed had enabled the option for non-binary runners; of that subset of races, non-binary participants made up 0.25% of their race participation.
Turkey Trot RaceDay
RaceDay CheckIn App
Turkey trot participants want to get in and out quickly on Thanksgiving morning – after all, they have a turkey to worry about. The RaceDay CheckIn App is a perennial favorite of GiveSignup timers, and it’s adoption continues to increase. In 2023, 57% of races used the app to check in 60% of Thanksgiving Day participants. That’s more than half a million participants checked in by the RaceDay CheckIn App in a single day.
One of the questions we typically can’t answer for races is “how many registered runners usually show up?” Because races use a variety of results platforms and check-in formats, we don’t always have data to answer that question. However, this year we did have a enough volume using the RaceDay CheckIn App to get some idea of the no-show rate.
From races that appeared to have used the CheckIn App throughout their race pickup, an average of 93% of all participants showed up on race morning. Even if we assume no user error causing missed check-ins, that’s an impressive turnout.
Results notifications sent (by email or SMS) also continued to increase in 2022, with a record 161 races sending notifications to 323, 800 participants. These notifications allow a race to both provide instant results to their participants, and offer spectator engagement.
The RaceDay Photo platform is a great way to bring them back to your race website even as the turkey is being served. On Thanksgiving Day 2023, 59,690 photos were uploaded by 122 different races.
Summary: 2023 Thanksgiving Races
With big numbers across the board, Thanksgiving Day 2023 is a true signal that the running industry can not only return to 2019 numbers – it can exceed them. We’ll leave this post with a few of our favorite inspirational stories about Turkey Trots in 2023!
- Record-Breaking Funds Raised at 21st Wheeler Mission Drumstick Dash
- Montco’s Gobble Wobble Race Celebrates 20 Years of Thanksgiving Tradition by Raising Over $200,000
- Austin’s Turkey Trot Saw 18,000 Runners Head to Texas for Annual Event
- 4,000 ‘Turkeys’ Trot Through Downtown Lansing
- Turkey Trot 2023 a Tradition For Most Runners