Top 10 U.S. Thanksgiving Races, 2012

1. Run to Feed the Hungry 5K/10K, Sacramento, Calif., 22,546

2. YMCA Turkey Trot 5K/8 Mile, Dallas, Texas, 21,564

3. Detroit Turkey Trot 5K/10K/1 Mile, Detroit, Mich., 19,976

4. Silicon Valley Turkey Trot 5K/10K, San Jose, Calif., 19,951

5. Turkey Trot 5 Mile/1 Mile, Austin, Texas, 19,743

6. Turkey Trot 5K/10K/1 Mile, Clearwater, Fla., 15,800

7. Thanksgiving Day Race 10K, Cincinnati, Ohio, 14,862

8. Manchester Road Race 4.75 Mile, Manchester, Conn., 13,416

9. Delaware YMCA Turkey Trot 8K, Buffalo, N.Y., 12,509

10. Atlanta Half Marathon/5K/1 Mile, Atlanta, 11,013

Source: Running USA (based on number of finishers; some are estimates)

Of all the holidays, Thanksgiving Day is the biggest for road races in the United States, not only in the numbers of races and participants but in terms of heritage.

According to Running USA, which crunches these numbers, Thanksgiving Day crushed the Fourth of July as the most popular day to run a race. In 2011, 676,000 people ran in 470 races on Thanksgiving compared to 248,000 in 355 races on Independence Day, including the 55,000 in Atlanta’s Peachtree Road Race.

Curious about the other top holidays? Running USA says New Year’s Eve/Day ranks third and Labor Day fourth.

What accounts for Thanksgiving’s popularity for races? Most agree: It’s a chance to ease the guilt of pigging out in the afternoon and lazing around in living rooms the rest of the day.

While Charleston’s 36th annual Knights of Columbus Turkey Day Run and Gobble Wobble has surpassed the 5,000 mark for three years, it doesn’t even come close to the Top 10 list of the biggest Thanksgiving race. (The 10th is the Atlanta Half Marathon and Thanksgiving Day 5K with 11,013 in 2012.)

And even though the Turkey Day Run has a heritage that dates back to the 1910s, its current format as a mass 5K is a “youngin’ ” compared to some of the oldest runs.

The Delaware YMCA Buffalo Turkey Trot 8K in Buffalo, N.Y., marks its 118th running Thursday; it is one year older than the Boston Marathon. And three other Thanksgiving runs have broken the century mark: Schuylkill Navy Run in Philadelphia marks 110 and Run for the Diamonds in Berwick, Penn., and the Thanksgiving Day 10K in Cincinnati both mark 104.

Our run

Regardless, the Knights of Columbus Turkey Day Run, set for 9 a.m. Thursday in downtown Charleston, is big for the Palmetto State, ranking second in size to the Cooper River Bridge Run. And the Turkey Day Run has experienced steady growth, typically about 15 percent a year, since 2000 when it had 1,580 finishers. The 5K cracked the 5,000 mark in 2010 and is poised to break 6,000 Thursday.

When online registration closed Sunday, 6,080 had signed up, 2,000 more than last year’s YTD number, according to Chuck Magera, a long-time race manager for the Turkey Day Run.

And the 2012 race set a new finisher record of 5,833.

TDR alternatives

Showing the continued evolution of Charleston as a hub of fitness, the Turkey Day Run is no longer the only game in town Thanksgiving morning.

For nearly a decade, the Charleston Bicycle Company has held a bike ride on Thanksgiving morning. This year’s ride starts at 8:30 a.m. Thursday and includes rides of 50 and 35 miles.

www.charlestonbicyclecompany.com

For those who prefer climate control, Charleston RIDE will have its annual Turn ‘n’ Burn Ride from 8-10 a.m. Thursday at its Wentworth Street studio.

Because that’s smack dab in the middle of the Turkey Day Run route, Spinners are urged to park appropriately in case of street closures.

As an alternative, Awendaw resident Lee Ann Reigart organized the free Fried Turkey Glide 5K three years ago. Refreshments included water, granola cookies, beer and a shot of Wild Turkey for the finishers.

Last year, the event had 60 participants and continues to offer shots of Wild Turkey.

The third annual Turkey Tote at 9 a.m. Thursday starts at the Oakbrook YMCA Sawmill trailhead in Summerville. The event includes a 5K and one-mile fun run for kids.

The event is free but the organizers are collecting nonperishable food donations for Ashley Ridge High School’s Fox Food Pantry, which provides meals for students to take home and backpacks stocked for the weekends.

Reach David Quick at 937-5516.