The average American consumes about 3,000 calories at Thanksgiving dinner, so it is no wonder that Turkey Trots have caught on around the nation. Thanksgiving has now eclipsed Independence Day as the most popular day to run a race, according to Runner’s World, drawing more than one million people to over 1,000 events nationwide. It’s a fun time for walkers and runners of all ages. But as everyone knows, Thanksgiving is not a fun day for turkeys — hence, Tofurky Trots.

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Sponsored by the maker of the preeminent faux turkey on the market, the Tofurky Trots, a vegetarian alternative race, lag way behind the Turkey Trots in popularity. But they are already become a Thanksgiving tradition for a small group of people.

In Portland, Oregon, Northwest VEG is in its sixth year of partnering with Tofurky to host a Thanksgiving race. “It’s my favorite event,” said Jaclyn Leeds, executive director of Northwest VEG. “It’s just a really fun, wholesome way to start off Thanksgiving. And it combines all of my favorite things: food and community and nature and doing something good for animals. And it’s dog-friendly.”

Northwest VEG is a nonprofit dedicated to bringing awareness to the power of a plant-based, vegan lifestyle and helping support people in their transition toward making healthier, more sustainable and compassionate food choices. Founded in 2003, it is based in Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, Washington.

people in green Tofurky Trot T-shirts smiling

Tofurky Trot history

The first recorded Thanksgiving Day race took place in 1896 in Buffalo, New York. It was an 8K with only six participants and four finishers. But the tradition took hold, eventually leading to the many Turkey Trots of today.

Portland’s first Tofurky Trot in 2012 was also an informal event, with just 43 racers. Leeds participated as a trotter that year. She’d just graduated from law school, and she, a few of her classmates and Tofurky founder Seth Tibbott put the race together.

“The next year, Tofurky got a little more proper about the whole thing and invited Northwest VEG to be the race organizer,” Leeds said. “So it was Tofurky’s event with Northwest VEG organizing. Now, it’s Northwest VEG’s event with Tofurky as the title sponsor.”

While Tofurky Trots have caught on strongly in Portland — the large number of vegetarians and vegans plus the proximity of Tofurky’s headquarters in Hood River, Oregon probably have something to do with that — southern California has also hosted the races. Pasadena organized one in 2013, and this year, Los Angeles vegetarians will trot on November 23.

People with race bibs smiling

Tofurky Trots in 2019

More than 600 trotters braved Portland’s late-November weather in the last two years. This year, record numbers have preregistered for the race. “This is the first year that we added a promotional turkey trot tee if they signed up by VegFest,” Leeds said, referring to an annual Northwest VEG-sponsored festival in early October. “So that inspired a lot of earlier registrations.” The collectible T-shirt angle is a little sneaky. “I want people to register before they can see the weather forecast,” Leeds said. Indeed, Thanksgiving morning can be rainy, icy and generally unpleasant in Oregon.

Trotters are doing more than getting exercise. Their $35 registration fee benefits local animal sanctuaries as well as Northwest VEG. The five original beneficiaries were Wildwood Farm Sanctuary, Out to Pasture Sanctuary, Green Acres Farm Sanctuary, Lighthouse Farm Sanctuary and Sanctuary One. Northwest VEG hasn’t yet announced the beneficiaries for 2019.

“This is the first year that I’ve implemented more of an application process,” Leeds said. “There are now so many sanctuaries that I need people to commit to being present at the event and tabling and being willing to promote it.”

Participants can sample foods from Tofurky and Portland’s own Snackrilege. GT’s Living Foods will set up a photo booth in conjunction with its Living in Gratitude campaign. Every time somebody posts a picture on social media holding GT’s Living Foods kombucha, the company will donate 10 meals through Feeding America.

The Factory Farming Awareness Coalition, an educational nonprofit committed to empowering people to save the environment, animals and their own health, is organizing this year’s Los Angeles Tofurky Trot. It will start with a pre-race yoga session, then kick off at Griffith Park Crystal Springs Picnic Area. Professional body builder and vegan Torre Washington will give a post-trot talk. The weather is much more likely to be favorable at the Los Angeles event, but fun will be had at both locations.

Both trots are dog-friendly, assuming the dogs are well-behaved and leashed. Neither race is chip-timed, but the first adult and child finishers will win prizes. There will also be awards for best dog costume (in Portland) and cutest dog (in Los Angeles).

People smiling with one person wearing a cpstume that looks like a Tofurky box

Organizing your own trot

Tofurky offers two ways to start your own trot, either as a sponsored cause or a self-organized event for fewer than 20 people. Tofurky will support your race by sending T-shirts and creating a race landing page.

Why trot? “It’s a really fun way to start off a family holiday,” Leeds said, emphasizing that all levels of fitness are welcome. People feel good about raising money for farm sanctuaries, and they’re still home early enough to cook — and feast.

+ Northwest VEG

Images via Northwest VEG and Teresa Bergen / Inhabitat