The biggest US running day of the year had an impressive showing in 2022, with 756,894 people participating in 730 races across the country and raising more than $1.8 million dollars for charities. That represents record participation on the platform, likely due to both an increase in market share and a strong rebound of the Thanksgiving day running tradition.
This weekend, we shared a few key stats looking at how the RunSignup infrastructure handled the rush. Today, we look dive a little deeper into the participation numbers and trends.
Thanksgiving Day 2022: By the Numbers
The headline of the day is simple: Thanksgiving Day racing has largely returned after a 75% drop in participation in 2020. Registrations on RunSignup were up 22% compared to 2021 and 41% compared to 2019. For context, that’s essentially the entire population of Seattle, WA, running on the same morning (and registering on RunSignup).
While it’s been a while since a national report on Turkey Trots was released, these numbers would represent more than 75% of all runners and 100% of the races and runners reported by Running USA in 2016. We think it’s more likely that the participation had increased in subsequent years, and the 2016 numbers themselves were an undercount due to the distributed nature of race data and looking at finisher data (not always released for untimed Turkey Trots).
A Day of Large Races
While most races are small, Thanksgiving Day races tend to be larger than average. (from January to October of this year, just 3.7% of races exceeded 1,000 participants. In comparison, 31% of all the races on Thanksgiving Day had more than 1,000 participants, and 2.9% were larger than 5,000 participants.
That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of small, community races – more than half of all Turkey Trots have fewer than 500 participants.
The increasing market share for RunSignup makes the Turkey Trot numbers look very rosy, but they don’t tell the full story. To better understand how individual races fared, we compare the participation numbers only amongst the cohort of races that were on our platform in two different years (2019/2022 and 2021/2022). This report indicates strong improvement over 2021, but shows that challenges remain compared to 2019, especially for larger races. All-told, races on the platform in both 2019 and 2022 saw a 3% decline in participation, but that decline wasn’t evenly spread. Races under 1,000 participants grew, while the largest races were still down an average of 17%.
This report only includes races that remained on the platform and renewed their race rather than creating a new race.
Overall, when you consider 2020 and 2021 an anomaly, the average size of Turkey Trots remains relatively steady since 2017, with between 1,000-1,100 participants per race each year.
Virtual participation has dropped precipitously since the return of more regular in-person racing, but the impacts of the pandemic continue to make it a common option for races. More than a quarter of all races provided a virtual option (or were fully virtual), and 1.7% of participants opted to participate that way. While virtual participation is (again) more of a niche preference, it was 750% more likely to be picked than in 2019.
The number of pageviews of RunSignup race websites also gives us some insight into the increasing Turkey Trot participation on our platform. These reflect RaceDay registrations as well as participants returning to race websites to double-check race logistics, view results, see and upload RaceDay Photos, and more. This year, there were more than 2.2 million pageviews on Thanksgiving Day from 490,000+ unique visitors.
The Charitable Impact of Turkey Trots
The vast majority (78%) of all Turkey Trots were either organized by a nonprofit or supported one or more charity. All-told, 57,017 donors raised a total of $1,891,109.69 for charity via races held on Thanksgiving Day. That total represents money donated, only, not additional charity contributions raised through event sponsorships or operations. That’s an average of $3,311.93 per race with donations enabled, but some races that engage participants as fundraisers raised $70,000-$100,000 for their cause.
Families and Turkey Trots
In a sport that is struggling to attract younger runners (in 2021, 18.3% of participants were under 18 and just 12.8% were aged 18-29), Turkey Trots may shed some light on attracting younger runners. Anecdotally, we know that Turkey Trots are often multi-generational family affairs, and the numbers this year back that up. We looked at the age breakdown of the top 100 Thanksgiving Day races to see how it compared to the 2021 yearly average.
The number that jumps out the most is clearly for the 18-29 age bracket, with 19.6% of participants in that age group compared to just 12.8% in 2021. Participation under the age of 18 also increased slightly.
For fun, we looked at the transaction sizes for the largest 5 races to see if we could find that biggest family or group that registered together. The largest cart we found (not including donations) included 20 registrations in a single transaction.
Turkey Trot RaceDay
With so many runners across the country – most of them hoping to get home quickly to tend the oven – efficiency on race morning is paramount. More than half of all participants (53.5%) were checked in by the RaceDay CheckIn app on Thanksgiving morning, with 41.6% of all races using the app. This represents a continuation of the trend we’ve seen over the last few years.
Results notifications sent (by email or SMS) also continued to increase in 2022, with a record 161 races sending notifications to 323, 800 participants.
The RaceDay Photo platform is a great way to get participants back to your race website and keep them engaged and sharing your event even as they head home to their families. In 2022, 25,802 photos were uploaded (on average, each photo gets ~10 views). Allowing participant uploads of photos can make your race event more interactive; of the 25,000+ photos uploaded, 20% were uploaded by participants.
Summary: 2022 Thanksgiving Races
The big question of 2022 has been whether or not races can rebound fully to pre-pandemic numbers, and even continue to grow. While Thanksgiving Day is not always representative of general trends, the numbers this year show positive signs of regrowth for most events, with the largest races continuing to face challenges. We’ll take a closer look at that phenomenon soon.