It’s one of those famed events for people who hail from Buffalo, N.Y. You’ve either participated, know someone who has participated, or spectated the annual YMCA Turkey Trot. Held like clockwork each Thanksgiving morning, thousands from Western New York arrive in North Buffalo to run (or jog or walk) down Delaware Avenue arriving downtown to a large party in the convention center.
It is the longest continuously held running event in North America. For some, it’s a tradition with family and friends. For others, it’s a competitive race. For still others, it’s a reason to begin drinking beer at 9:30 in the morning and justify a third helping of pie later in the day.
While everything I need to know I did not necessarily learn at the Turkey Trot, it has created and reinforced some of the most important (and entertaining) life lessons:
Sometimes, you make your own rules
Ask anyone in the greater Buffalo-Niagara region if they’ve ever lined up at a race at the appropriate pace marker. Usually it happens once. You’re honest. You line up where you think your ability that day rests, only to find yourself trapped behind leisurely walkers wearing jeans and Skechers Shape-Ups. The race becomes frustrating. You then learn that nobody lines up “properly” at this race. The second time you feel guilty standing around those 6-minute milers, but finish the event much happier.
Manage the crowd
Sometimes a large race will cause you to go out too fast, creating a danger of burning out near the end. But if you mange the pull of the field wisely, you can use that momentum and energy to pull your forward. Similarly, don’t give in to what others are doing. Some people will go out fast and you will feel disheartened. Wait it out. Chances are you will see those people walking later on. Conversely, others will kick in at the end and pass you. Looking to other people for motivation and inspiration is fine — but don’t judge yourself by their standards.
You will get passed by the guy dressed as a Christmas Tree
Many people run the Turkey Trot in costume, ranging from topping off their running gear with a Santa hat to full-on costumes. Gimmicks galore pepper the route — including the high school guys who run the race by taking turns pushing each other in a shopping cart. Some of these guys (and the elaborate costumes and gimmicks are almost always worn by guys) are pretty fast. Laugh when they pass you. They are the great cosmic reminder to not take life too seriously.
Your family will always be there
This race is a point-to-point race. So how does one return to their car if they parked at the starting line? Sure, you can use the bus transportation provided by the organizers. Or you can have your dad come and pick you up. And at times when those blood relatives aren’t in the immediate area, the Turkey Trot reminds you that family is what you create. I am lucky to have my parents and my brother, sister-in-law and nice. I’m also lucky to have aunts and uncles and cousins. But I am also fortunate to have friends who have become extended family members, to have found my place in a community which accepts and celebrates the things I value most.
Start from your place of intention
There are dozens of ways to approach the Turkey Trot. Run it with friends. Make it a family tradition. Run it in costume. Walk it with someone trying to start (or restart) their fitness routine. Pace a friend through their first road race or to a new PR. Race it yourself for the challenge (and extra pie). It doesn’t matter why you participate or what constellation of intentions you have for the day. The key is to know what it is you want. Then, allow yourself to enjoy it.