11/23/2011 10:37 am ET | Updated Jan 23, 2012

Hot to Trot: The Tradition Before the Tradition

On Thanksgiving in Detroit, a powerful parade of people pour into the streets of downtown. But there are no floats. Athletes in peak condition push their bodies to the fullest extent of physical exertion. But they are not chasing a football. Friends and neighbors share smiles and rub shoulders. But not while jostling for a drumstick. They are part of the parade before the parade, the kickoff before kickoff, the tradition before the tradition: the Turkey Trot.

I am thankful for being one of the 20,000 people who will trot Thursday morning. Given the approximately 364 days since last I ran, I've got some training to start or, failing that, shoes to locate. But here are some notes, observations and unsubstantiated theories about our beloved Trot:

* Detroit's Turkey Trot has been an official event since 1983. Like most good ideas, it was conceived in a bar downtown. Really, though, the tradition goes back hundreds of years to Antoine "Pre-Prefontaine" Cadillac (captured mid-stride here). Augustus Woodward later claimed the Avenue was named "not in his honor" but because he and others perennially pranced from the city center "toward the woods." Henry Ford was famous for saying, "Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as he runs ten kilometers on the third Thursday of November."

* Much of the magic of the Turkey Trot is running along the parade route. After starting at Cobo, you spill out onto Woodward where die-hard floatiphiles are already out with their Thermoses of liquids unknown. Sure, they are probably out to see Bookworm, Clownie, Chuck Gaidica, Santa, Debbie Stabenow and Kwame Kilpatrick -- "Together at last!" -- but their presence can put an early-morning hop in your not-a-morning-person-or-runner step. Plus, one year it was too windy for the balloons, so we were arguably the main event.

* Turkey Trot shirts are popular swag, though it will be hard to top 2007's Georgia O'Keeffe-inspired crewneck sweatshirt:


* Routes and routines vary from year to year. The 5K option is a relatively new, relatively welcome addition, but going the distance gets you the whimsical Woodward treatment plus a jolly jaunt out Michigan Avenue to the shadow of the train station, Lincoln Brass Works (Huffington Post's Detroit Home) and Summer in the City's oldest mural.

* Wave Starts, new this year, are based on anticipated per-mile pace and open to interpretation:

Comet. 8:00 and under ("I am a real runner. Please do not throw up on me.")
Blitzen. 8:00 - 9:30 ("Look at the real runners up there. Someone should throw up on them.")
Dasher. 9:30 - 11:00 ("Gimme some space. I think I'm gonna throw up.")
Prancer. 11:00 and over ("Pretty much walking but too proud to admit it.")
Rudolph. Walking ("Just admit it.")

* My tradition for the Tradition before the Tradition: I wear a suit -- not a track suit, mind you, but a charcoal, single-breasted suit replete with a white dress shirt and red necktie. I've trotted every year since '04, always in formal attire. It's my way of being thankful I don't have to wear a suit everyday. Plus, it always gets a surprisingly enthusiastic reaction from parade goers: "Turn into Superman," "You're late for your meeting," "Not as cool as SpongeBob." I have yet to be invited to join the Briefcase Brigade, though I can barely walk, let alone march once the race is over.

turkey_trot_crew.egg  on Aviary

* Someday, all that will be left of our civilization are eerily thorough electronic records of amateur footraces. A quick Google search shows that I averaged 8:50 per mile in 2004. This somewhat undermines my theory that I was as fast as championship-era (pre-Kuester-fallout, pre-NBA-strike) Richard Hamilton. In my defense, Ray Charles had past away that summer and, when they played his America the Beautiful at the starting line, I cried.

* Turkey Trotting is not unique to Detroit but beware imposters. At a glance, there are trots in Orange County, Dallas, Tampa Bay, Silicon Valley, Atlanta -- even Surfside Beach, South Carolina, among many others. These people are phonies. If the weather isn't frigid, gray, snowy or otherwise unpleasant, they're just out for a nice jog, failing altogether to honor the Pilgrims or Indians. They stake no legitimate claim, as I annually do, to being too shell-shocked to help with the preparation or clean up of dinner.

If you're reading this on Wednesday or even in the wee hours of Thursday, it's not too late to trot! You can register at Cobo from 6:00 - 7:30 am. Still drunk? No problem! Cajole a designated driver drop-off or just wander over from the MGM Grand or Magic Stick in your heels. If you fall, we will catch you -- time after time.