The Turkey Trot Training Plan

Here's how to prepare for your Turkey Day 5k even when you're not the endurance athlete of the family.

Photo: Annie Cooper

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Thanksgiving is full of long-running holiday favorites. Indulging in delicious home-cooked meals, being surrounded by the smell of fresh pie and relaxing with family on the couch —  there’s no doubt it’s one of the best times of the year. And completing some form of physical activity in the morning has become increasingly popular before the feasting begins. A Turkey Trot is a great tradition to start or continue come Thanksgiving morning.

First thing’s first: Are you just starting out or have you been putting some miles under your belt? Regardless, a Turkey Trot is a great way to create a short-term goal from now until Thanksgiving Day to get yourself on a set training program until then. Or, if you’re already a runner, now is the time to show all the hard work you’ve been putting in and see how well you can do. Plus, it’s a fun, not overly competitive race.

Here’s how to prepare for your Turkey Day 5k even when you’re not the endurance athlete of the family.

If you’re just starting out, here’s what I recommend:

  1. Start going for morning runs. I always recommend training at the time of day your race will be at. 
  2. Don’t worry so much about your time. Your goal may be to run the race without walking, or to run two of the miles without stopping, so when you’re training, focus on those smaller goals rather than your overall time. You should be so proud of yourself for entering a race to begin with! 
  3. You do not need to run every day. It’s actually not a good idea to push yourself too hard too soon, because you’ll risk getting injured. If you’re just starting out, I’d recommend running every other day and cross-training on the in-between days to get extra cardio in such as swimming, biking, or the elliptical. 
  4. Drink plenty of water and make sure you’re recovering well. Begin stretching and foam rolling — especially your legs and hips — and sleep well and fuel your body. 

A sample week of training may look something like this:

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
Run 1 minute, walk 1 minute; alternating for 2 miles – Elliptical or Bike 20 minutes

– Core workout
Run 1:30, walk 1 minute; alternating for 2 miles Rest – Elliptical or Bike 20 min

– Strength workout
Run 1-2 minutes, walk 1 minute; alternating for 2.5-3 miles Rest

What I recommend for a beginner’s plan is this: Each week, decrease your walking time and increase the time running without stopping.

In week two, you can increase mileage by 0.5 miles to one mile, as well as remove one of the cross-training days on the bike or elliptical and replace that with a day of running, depending on how you’re feeling.

Week three, you may increase from one mile to one and a half miles while keeping your two strength-training or core workouts in. Again, this will depend on what level you’re at and how you’re feeling with your training.

These runs should be a 6-7/10 on the level of exertion, and it should not feel like a 9/10 on the level of exertion. If it does, this may be too much too soon for your level. 

(Photo: Annie Cooper)

If you’re more advanced and have been running already (maybe 15-20 miles per week), then your training might be a bit different. 

A sample week for someone that has been running might look something like this:


Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
Run 3-4 miles – 1 mile warm up + dynamic stretching

– Mile repeats (3x 1-mile repeat with a 3 min rest in between each at 80% of max 5k pace)

– 1 to 1.5-mile cool down

– Strength training
Run 3-4 miles – 1-mile warm up + dynamic stretching

– 2x800m sprints (with a 400m roll on in between)

– 3x 400m sprints (with a 400m roll on in between)

– 1 to 1.5-mile cool down

– Strength training
Rest or core work Run 5-7 miles Rest

For more experienced runners, you may decide to focus on increasing mileage each week and switching up your interval workouts. You may also focus more on your pace per mile and try to bring that down within your training runs.

Leading up to the race

The few days before the race should be light as far as training runs go. You don’t want to go into the race feeling fatigued or sore. I would remove your strength workouts and make sure you’re recovering well from your runs. The day before the race, you could go out and run a mile or two. However, if you’re a beginner, I would recommend resting and going for a walk and stretching out your muscles.

The day of the race

Make sure you wake up early enough to eat a small meal. This is not the time to experiment with your diet. Have what you normally would as a regular pre-race snack.

If you do not eat before running, I still recommend having a light snack before racing such as a banana or some oatmeal. Make sure you give yourself enough time to drink water, digest your snack and warm up. Give yourself time to do some dynamic stretching and warm up with a one or two-mile jog before you begin racing. Your muscles should be primed and ready to go!

Most importantly, enjoy the process. The run should be fun and serve as motivation to continue your running beyond the Turkey Trot. If it is simply a goal of yours to complete this type of morning run, then congrats! Cross that goal off the list and begin working on the next.

Happy Turkey Trot Training!

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