Thanksgiving may be known as a holiday in the United States, but it’s also a national race day.

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Most years, nearly a million people follow the starting lines of the “Turkey Trots” across the country. All that rushing before the turkey hits the table makes Thanksgiving the most popular day of the year for running.

As you might guess, though, a good chunk of this crowd doesn’t exactly fall into the category of hard-core runners. For many it could be the only day of the year when they run.

If that describes you… well, this article is a must read. Exercise physiologist Katie Lawton, MEd, has some tips to help you cross the finish line while making the experience fun and energizing.

So here’s what you need to know before, during and after the race.

Preparation for a turkey trot

So you’ve decided to get up early on Thanksgiving Day to get some exercise before the big meal. First of all, welcome to road racing! You’re going to have a great time, especially if you follow these six tips.

  1. Choose a manageable running distance. Most Turkey Trots are 5K (or 3.1 miles). That’s a long distance for a beginner. Maybe save the half marathon, 10k or 5 mile for a future challenge.
  2. Practice a little. Prepare your body by logging a few miles of running or walking before the run. This is especially important if you live a relatively sedentary life. “Let your muscles know what you’re going to ask them to do,” advises Lawton.
  3. Gather a group. Turn your Turkey Trot into a traveling party by inviting family and friends to join you. “Make it fun,” Lawton says.
  4. Wear comfortable sports shoes. Treat your feet well by wearing shoes that provide support. Any athletic shoe will do for a single 5K. (Now if you’re going to start a functioning Where while walking program, get ready for a shoe designed to carry you for many miles.)
  5. Dress according to the weather. Take a layered approach to your outfit. “When you start moving, you’re warming up,” notes Lawton. “If you layer, it’s easy to take clothes off or put on depending on how you feel.” Some people also wear party costumes.
  6. Hydrate. If you expect to sweat, make sure your reservoir is full as far as fluids go. (Consider this doubly important if you plan to leave for a night of revelry the night before Thanksgiving.)

A Turkey Trot Race Guide

There is no need to think too much on race day. Basically, it’s left foot, right foot for 3.1 miles. So, to keep things simple, here are three keys to making the experience great.

  1. The starting line label. There is a set order in how runners line up to start a race. The simplest explanation? The fastest runners are in front…and some of them are moving really fast. “If you plan on walking a bit, start towards the back instead,” says Lawton.
  2. Your rhythm. The energy pulsates through the races. You will also feel it on the starting line. “It’s easy to get carried away with excitement and run too fast, which can lead to difficulties later on,” warns Lawton. At the end of the line ? Set a comfortable pace and stick to it.
  3. Enjoy! A Turkey Trot is an experience. Soak up everything!

Tips for the finish line

Congratulation! You did it! Now let’s talk about your next steps. (Don’t worry. These steps cover less ground than what you just covered.)

  1. Keep moving. Resist the urge to let yourself down after crossing the finish line, Lawton says. Walk for five or 10 minutes to let your muscles cool down. A little stretching is good too.
  2. Have a drink and a snack. There’s usually a small end-of-race buffet of recovery drinks and snacks (think water, bananas, and granola bars.) Plan to snack and refuel, but leave room for that big Thanksgiving dinner.
  3. To celebrate. Smile and laugh… a lot.

Build healthy habits

Turkey trots are definitely healthy and fun. Do you want to know a secret? Any workout can follow this pattern if you make it both a social and fitness activity with your family and friends.

So if you enjoyed the running vibe, keep going! Ask a buddy to join you or look for a running club. The hardest part of starting a running program is the first step, and you’ve overcome it with the Thanksgiving run. Learn how to keep moving forward with these Running 101 tips.

Want to try something else? Dark! Gather some friends and try:

  • While walking. A mile is a mile whether you run or walk, right? Walking deals a host of health benefitsincluding stress reduction, cholesterol lowering and weight loss.
  • Bike. Whether on the trail or in a cycling studio, cycling can improve your health and give you time to chat.
  • Yoga. There’s a reason this meditative practice dates back thousands of years. Try it and you will understand why. (Use these tips to start.)
  • Bodybuilding. Maybe you’ve always wanted to try weight training, but you’re dreading fitting into a gym. Start a lifting program with a friend is a good way to overcome this obstacle.
  • Trampolines. Remember how fun it was to jump up and down when you were a kid? It’s also fun when you’re an adult – and it’s a great way to exercise.

At the end of the line ? “It’s always easier to stick to a fitness routine if you do it with someone else,” Lawton says. “Make exercise fun and social and you’re more likely to stick with it.”

So maybe talk ideas over Thanksgiving dinner. After sharing your morning run story, of course.