A salute to the Trot
Ten years ago, writer William Altreuter wrote about a Thanksgiving weekend event that’s near and dear to many Western New Yorkers. Here’s an excerpt from “Nothing Stops the Trot,” November, 2006:
A great sports town needs a signature sporting event, and Buffalo has one of the most venerable of them all.
This Thanksgiving, over 6,000 runners will line up for the 111th straight year to run in the YMCA Turkey Trot. It is the oldest consecutively run footrace in North America. Its only peers—the Boston Marathon and Hamilton, Ontario’s, Around the Bay—took some time off during World War II, but the Trot has never been cancelled.
There have been years when it’s been close. In 2000, a freak blizzard hit the Monday before Thanksgiving. The city was shut down, but Mayor Massiello, like the Burt Lancaster character in Airport, ordered the plows to clear the way and the streak was saved.
Like any worthwhile tradition, the Turkey Trot is more than merely the sum of its parts. What makes the race great is that it is an occasion for Western New Yorkers and the Buffalo diaspora to come together. The starting line scene is full of students back from college, folks in from out of town, and families running together. Although it is probably the second largest eight-kilometer (4.97 miles) race in the country, because it is run on Thanksgiving morning, it is really a local phenomenon. People who run the Turkey Trot are in town for the pumpkin pie and have worked a five-mile run into their tradition. There are even people who work the Turkey Trot into their tradition when they aren’t in town; race director Anne Reif knows of at least one instance where a runner on a cruise ship pulled on his commemorative t-shirt at 9 a.m. Buffalo time and ran five miles worth of laps around the boat to keep his personal streak alive.
Although it has varied over the years, in recent years, the Trot course has been from the front of the Delaware Avenue Y to just south of Kenmore Avenue, then all the way to McKinley Square (President McKinley was elected the year the Turkey Trot was inaugurated) on past City Hall. It feels like it should end there, but instead there is perhaps the longest quarter-mile in Buffalo sports, around to Church Street, then Franklin, two long blocks more. The finish is in front of the Convention Center, where the post race party is held and where the reunion continues. In classic Buffalo style, there are people who have to be poured out at the end, and, for many, a post-race pub crawl is a big part of the tradition.
There aren’t many sporting traditions that date back to 1896. It was the year of the first modern Olympic Games. (I am willing to speculate that the Olympics were the inspiration for the Trot.) The World Series isn’t older. In 1896, the Baltimore Orioles swept the Cleveland Spiders to take the Temple Cup, but that is as close as baseball gets. The Kentucky Derby was first run at its present distance in 1896, but that beats us only by a nose, and doesn’t really count because it includes a horse. That’s it. A sporting tradition that has spanned three centuries, so far, and it’s all ours.