Hooray for the Red, White and Runners

Every year around this time, and again in late November, I seem to have the same debate, either with myself, or with someone in the running flagrunnerscommunity: Which is the bigger running holiday, Independence Day or Thanksgiving? Are there more Firecracker 5,000s and Four on the Fourths, or more Turkey Trots? And which day draws more people onto the roads?
I posed this question to Dave Monti, publisher of Race Results Weekly, and it didn’t take long for him to reply. “Thanksgiving is much bigger, even with Peachtree contributing over 50,000 on its own. Some states have dozens of turkey trots.”
I suppose that’s true, and in many parts of the country, it’s probably too hot on July 4th to put on a race, although that hasn’t stopped all those runners covering a hot and steamy 10K through Atlanta, nor dissuaded the folks in the Twin Cities from more than doubling down on Peachtree by staging a half marathon that day. On the other hand, the vagaries of the calendar and the changing climate can mean that Thanksgiving can be numbingly cold, and in some cases even snowy, so that date isn’t a gimme for great running conditions either.
Ultimately, I suppose there’s a greater guilt factor serving as motivation at Thanksgiving. Almost everyone anticipates filling up on a four-to-five thousand calorie meal later that day, so creating a caloric deficit that morning seems to assuage the conscience a bit, never mind that you’d need to run the London to Brighton ultra to completely overcome the sybaritic excess to come. By contrast, the Independence Day consumption of hot dogs, hamburgers and beer would seem to barely create a dent in one’s diet.
One thing that events on either day seem to have in common is lots of names you usually don’t see in the local race results. Some are “occasional” runners, for whom a holiday is required to get them to pin on a bib. Others are out-of-towners, relatives or college friends just visiting for the weekend, enticed by racing in a new venue. Some of these “furriners,” expecially the college kids, are pretty good and wind up placing high or even winning, since they’re usually fresh off their cross country or outdoor track season and in peak racing condition. That can be somewhat frustrating for the local regulars, who find themselves pushed back several places in the standings, but it’s part of the deal with July 4th or Thanksgiving races, and you’d better know that going in.
One area where I think Independence Day events get the nod is in the seasonal attire department. While many Thanksgiving races will have a guy running in a turkey suit or a group of barechested (and possibly alcoholically fortified) young guys wearing little else besides warpaint and feathers, the patriotic motif allows for a much wider expression in July, ranging from a simple red-white-and-blue color palette to head-to-toe flag motif ensembles.
So, Thanksgiving may have more runners in more events, but Independence Day is surely a close second, and a star-spangled onset to the start of the real summer racing season.

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