Caspian Turkey Trot Rooted in History and Tradition

by Jim Flint

photo by Aaron Hill
Nine walkers, eight runners, and one biker gathered at Tolman Corner ball field on Thanksgiving morning for the 2022 Caspian Lake Turkey Trot. Hardwick physical therapist Victoria Hill (front row, third from left) has organized the informal recreational event for many years.

GREENSBORO ̶ Victoria Hill kicked off her birthday Thanksgiving morning at the Caspian Lake Turkey Trot. A group of family, friends, and acquaintances gathered at the Tolman Corner ball field at 9 a.m. for the informal event. More than half completed the 6.8-mile loop around Caspian Lake. A few chose the shorter walk west on Lake Shore Road to the 1.5-mile turnaround and back.

Hill, 49, opened a physical therapist practice in Hardwick in 2005. An avid runner, she organized the first Caspian Lake Turkey Trot in 2011. The event has run continuously since then, save for the pandemic pause in 2020.

Rose Modry, from Greensboro, coordinated the 2018 Caspian Turkey Trot when Hill was away for the holiday. Modry, 43, was back for the lake loop at this year’s event.

Tim Hogeboom, 71, has run all but one of the Caspian Turkey Trots. His wife, Elizabeth McCarthy, and daughter, Ali Hogeboom, have often run with him. McCarthy turned 70 earlier this month. During 2022, the Walden couple participated in more than 20 races and fun runs.

courtesy photo
Elizabeth McCarthy, from Walden, took in the wintry view of Caspian Lake while running the 6.8-mile lake loop with her husband, Tim Hogeboom.

“Tim and I ran at a very slow pace,” said McCarthy. “We enjoyed being out in the sun and the views of the lake. It was fun to see people we hadn’t seen since last year and a couple of new people who were walking. We had time to chat with people before we started. It was a bit chilly at 25 degrees. I took my jacket off when we ran, and once I got going it was fine.”

“There was very little traffic on the paved portion of the 6.8-mile loop, which made it even more enjoyable,” Hogeboom posted on Facebook. “I’ve been hoping for many years that the town of Greensboro will someday create a pathway for walkers, bikers, runners, and others alongside the paved portion of the loop. This will improve the safety of loop users and motorists alike and will be a boon for Greensboro.”

The roots of the Turkey Trot tradition go back to England. In 1724, Daniel DeFoe, the author of Robinson Crusoe, observed flocks of turkeys being driven from East Anglia to London. The tradition carried over to New England and other states.

Before the advent of railroads in the mid-19th century, turkeys raised in Vermont were driven on foot to Boston in the fall. The drovers, which included children, averaged 10 to 12 miles a day. The turkeys’ feet were often dipped in tar to protect them on the arduous journey.

The first Turkey Trot run in America started in Buffalo in 1896. Organized by the local YMCA, six people entered the inaugural 8k cross country race that Thanksgiving morning. Four runners went the distance. The winner, Henry A. Allison, finished in 31 minutes and 12 seconds.

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Elizabeth McCarthy and Tim Hogeboom ran the 2013 Caspian Lake Turkey Trot with their daughter, Ali Hogeboom, who wore an apron and oven mitts.

The Buffalo Turkey Trot is the oldest continually run footrace in the world. Still coordinated by the YMCA, the event has withstood two pandemics, two World Wars, the Great Depression, and numerous lake-effect winter storms. The 2022 Buffalo Turkey Trot had 9,534 finishers.

By the early 20th century, turkey drives were on their way out but the moniker was not forgotten. In 1909, the “Turkey Trot” craze originated in California. The notorious dance reached Vermont in 1912, along with other ragtime “animal dances” including the Bunny Hug, Camel Walk, Fox Trot, and Grizzly Bear.

The first Turkey Trot races appeared in Vermont during the running surge of the 1970s. Several of the Thanksgiving week races have run for more than four decades.

The Brattleboro Turkey Trot is one of the older races, started in 1977. After the railroad reached Brattleboro in the 19th century, the city became the terminus for the Southern Vermont turkey drives. The birds were slaughtered there, processed, and shipped by refrigerated railcar to Boston.

The 44th Annual Middlebury Parks and Recreation Turkey Trot was held on November 20. The 46th Annual Green Mountain Athletic Association Turkey Trot took place in Burlington on November 24. The event at UVM raised food and funds for Feeding Chittenden, formerly the Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf. Closer to Hardwick, the Barton Turkey Trot celebrated its 20th anniversary on Thanksgiving Day.

Now in its second decade, the Caspian Lake Turkey Trot has grown in popularity. What started as an idea to promote healthy recreation is now tastefully embedded in the rich lore of local sports history.