Health & Fitness

Turkey trots: More people huffin’ before the stuffin’

Runners line up at the start of the Tamarac Turkey Trot. The 37th annual race is Thursday, Thanksgiving Day.
Runners line up at the start of the Tamarac Turkey Trot. The 37th annual race is Thursday, Thanksgiving Day. Photo provided to the Miami Herald

When Didi Mantecon ran cross country at Florida International University, she competed in her share of major races. And at age 41 can still nail a 5K in 22 minutes. But on Thursday, she’ll slow down —for her favorite race of the year.

“I get to run with one of my kids,” says Mantecon, whose husband Alexis runs with their other two children. “It’s a tradition for our entire family.”

The Mantecons are among 6,000 or so registered to run in the Baptist Health South Florida Turkey Trot on Thursday at Tropical Park in Miami. There also are Turkey Trots in Fort Lauderdale and Tamarac, among other places.

Across South Florida, thousands of runners will run, walk or waddle on Thursday morning. Thanksgiving Day is the largest running day of the year, nationally and locally.

“By far,” says Rick Stern, who has followed South Florida running since creating the Weston-based Split Second Timing race company 39 years ago. He estimates that about 20,000 South Florida runners will hit the road on Thursday.

Participating in 5K and longer races has grown from the back end, Stern explains, meaning that while there are some greyhounds like Mantecon and her family — the three children ages 10, 9 and 7 should break 30 minutes — many of the newer participants are out there just for a smile and a sweat.

“Some finish a 5K in over an hour now,” Stern says. “And there are many casual walkers.”

And it seems everyone likes Thanksgiving morning: Family is in town, no one is working and there’s a huge meal coming up later in the day.

“I see families of 15 or more all running together, every year,” Stern says.

Running USA, a nonprofit promoting the sport, notes that in 2016 there were 726 Thanksgiving Day races, drawing 961,882 runners. Fifteen years ago, there were 490 races and 684,334 participants.

“While the sport of running is flattening out in some areas, Thanksgiving is a perfect example of the sport’s ability to bring family and friends together to celebrate through fitness and fun,” said Rich Harshbarger, Running USA CEO. “In many respects, well-organized turkey trots are the ideal blueprint for our sport to move forward with locally run races.”

(Some discouraging math, though: an average 5K runner will burn about 460 calories. But average calorie consumption on Thursday approaches 3,000.)

The Turkey Trot began at Tropical Park in Miami 13 years ago with about 690 runners, says Frankie Ruiz, who helped create the Miami Marathon and has his fingers in about everything to do with running. Turkey Trot registrations are 17 percent ahead of last year’s pace, he says.

“The finish line feels a little like the United Nations of local running,” he says. “Everyone’s in a good mood. No one’s entirely focused on their time, but they’re focused on the time.”

Some even dress as pilgrims or turkeys, but Ruiz notes the race also offers a 10K, for those ramping up for longer races in the coming months.

Ruiz also has seen the interest in holiday running, especially Thanksgiving, increase in recent years.

“The fortunate part about our holidays is we can almost guarantee the weather is going to be pretty favorable,” he says. “There’s a good chance you’ll see your Instagram friend up in, say Buffalo, N.Y., with gloves on.”

It’s also one of the rare 5Ks that allow strollers — an obstacle that serious competitors detest.

Armando Cruz pushes his children in a wagon, a scene so Norman Rockwell-like that his photo made the race advertisements.

“My dad made this wagon, maybe 31 years ago, and I really look forward to it,” he says. Although now his oldest son, 8, wants to race on his own.

Cruz, 37, also ran cross country at FIU and has moved to ultra-marathoning, with a personal best of 50 miles. He has plans for a 100K (62 miles) and a few other running adventures, but he wouldn’t miss Thursday.

“It’s my favorite race of the entire year,” he says. “What better way to start Thanksgiving?”

To sign up

▪ The 12th annual Baptist Health South Florida Turkey Trot 5K-10K, 7:30 a.m. Thursday, Tropical Park,

▪ The seventh annual Fort Lauderdale Turkey Trot, 7:30 a.m. Thursday, A1A and Las Olas Boulevard;

▪ The 37rd annual Tamarac Turkey Trot, 7:30 a.m. Thursday, Tamarac City Hall;