Thanksgiving 2020: By the Numbers

Like many things in 2020, Thanksgiving Day (historically the busiest running day of the year) looked different in 2020. Nonetheless, we’re thankful for all the race directors, timers, and nonprofits who used our technology this Thanksgiving to keep the holiday running tradition alive. So how did it turn out?

The Holiday Tradition Continued

While Turkey Trots were still numerous (458 Thanksgiving Day races, compared to 488 in 2019 and 408 in 2018), participation was down 70% with 156,380 runners compared to 538,359 a year ago. Regardless, Thanksgiving Day was still the biggest single running day of the year, with the closest competition coming from 102,000 registered participants on September 12, 2020.

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While Thanksgiving Day is known for the number of Turkey Trots, it’s also known for large events – and large events were the least likely to take place this year, accounting for the majority of the drop in participation.

  • In 2019, 11 of the Turkey Trots exceeded 5,000 participants, with the largest being the Applied Materials Silicon Valley Turkey Trot with 22,113 participants.
  • In 2020, only 4 races exceeded 5,000 – all of them virtual, with the exception of 125 in-person participants at the 125th Annual YMCA Buffalo Niagara Turkey Trot  (the oldest consecutively run footrace in the country).
  • There were 31 races with more than 1,000 participants in 2020 compared to 159 races of over 1,000 in 2019.
  • The largest single race in 2020 was the 11,365 participant Thankful Turkey 5K, 10K, & Half Marathon, a fully virtual, new event hosted by experienced organizers who have transitioned from in-person events.

    It’s worth noting the the ~10,000 participant Wheeler Mission Drumstick Dash put significant work into a plan to allow in-person participation at 20% of capacity, but had to make the switch to virtual just five days before the event due to local (and national) spikes in cases. Regardless, they raised $100,000+ in donations towards their mission – exceeding the $80,000 goal they had set.

Virtual vs. In-Person

Virtual was a non-factor in 2019, making up just 1,088 registrations. In 2020, there were 97,419 virtual participants – 61% of total participation. But it wasn’t all virtual: while the vast majority of races offered a virtual option to increase their capacity, there were 200+ races with at least 20 in-person participants on race day, including 4 with more than 1,000. And in many locations, smaller race sizes allowed for in-person participation. In-person participation made up around 38% of all registrations, which is fairly in-line with our October numbers that saw 35% of registrations from in-person events.

For races that had the go-ahead to host an in-person option, Hybrid was the name of the game. Offering both formats allowed them to exceed the capacity they could bring on-site, provided an option for those who weren’t comfortable in-person (or couldn’t travel), and created an automatic fall-back plan if local restrictions were changed.

Races that hosted in-person event were transparent about their plans, giving runners confidence by sharing their safety plans, including many wave or rolling starts, offering a virtual option for anyone not comfortable in person, and sharing information about what would happen if the in-person event was not allowed to continue. We like this illustrated graphic from the Baton Rouge Turkey Trot. 

Website Traffic

Website Traffic also declined in 2020, falling 34% from 1,339,554 views in 2019 to 888,240 views in 2020. This decline was much less significant than the drop in participation, likely due to virtual runners coming to race websites to report their results. Virtual races continue to provide good value to sponsors who are looking for exposure, since participants typically make more visits to the site for participation instructions and to report their times.

If you are interested in more trend data like this, we will be releasing our annual Race Trends Report in January – this year, with more details about the differences between virtual and in-person events.

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