Running is a Thanksgiving tradition |

Running is a Thanksgiving tradition

Thousands of participants in the 22nd annual PNC YMCA Turkey Trot take off for the 5K portion of the race Thursday morning November 22, 2012 on the North Shore. James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Thousands of participants in the 22nd annual PNC YMCA Turkey Trot take off for the five mile portion of the race Thursday morning November 22, 2012 on the North Shore. James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Thousands of participants gather for the 22nd annual PNC YMCA Turkey Trot Thursday morning November 22, 2012 on the North Shore. James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Dan Holland remembers the Thanksgiving morning traditions of his youth: He would watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV, while his father was at Frick Park as the director of an annual race.

Nearly 40 years later, Holland is in his father’s role. The Harry C. Holland Gutbuster, on the same course in Frick Park since 1977, will start at 10 a.m. on Thanksgiving.

“Part of it is that people like tradition,” Holland said. “Just as Thanksgiving has been going on for a couple centuries, we thought it would be a good idea to keep running.”

Races on Thanksgiving go back more than 100 years, as the Buffalo, N.Y., Turkey Trot will celebrate its 119th running in 2014. Locally, the PNC YMCA Turkey Trot is in its 24th year, and the Gutbuster is in its 38th.

The idea is growing, as the third annual Cranberry Turkey Chase and the first Emerald Fields Thanksgiving 5K & Family Fun Run will be on Thanksgiving morning.

“People have recognized that it’s a really great day for a race because you have a lot of extended family members in town,” said Brandice Miller, district operations director for the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh, which organizes the PNC YMCA Turkey Trot. “A lot of people travel more for Thanksgiving than they do for Christmas. It gives you an opportunity to have a really fun event with family members that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to do that with.”

Thanksgiving Day races promote family togetherness and community service. The PNC YMCA Turkey Trot raises money and collects canned goods for local food banks, while the Cranberry Turkey Chase is donating a portion of proceeds to the Miracle League of Southwestern Pennsylvania, for example.

But the events give participants a chance to work off calories before a high-calorie meal.

“The idea is that as you bust your gut eating a lot of food, you’re also doing the same on this course at Frick Park,” Holland said.

But running races isn’t enough to stay healthy.

Leslie Bonci, director of sports nutrition at the UPMC Center for Sports Medicine, said Americans consume, on average, 2,500 to 4,000 calories on Thanksgiving — and continue consuming high amounts of calories in the days that follow in the form of leftovers.

“If somebody’s doing the (Turkey Trot) 5K, you’re at most burning 300 calories,” Bonci said. “So that’s a spoonful of stuffing. It’s not a lot, but it still makes us feel good.”

In addition to getting a normal day’s worth of exercise, people can follow tips to have a relatively healthy Thanksgiving.

Joanne Phillips, a registered dietitian at West Penn Hospital, said people should eat a normal breakfast and lunch to avoid being too hungry at dinnertime.

She recommends including fruits and vegetables, going easy on sauces and gravy and avoiding alcoholic beverages and other high-calorie drinks.

It’s important to stay active after dinner, whether it’s going for a walk or just staying on your feet.

“You don’t want to lay down right after you eat,” Phillips said.

Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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