Lehigh students and professors start the 59th annual Turkey Trot on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2015. For the first time in 66 years, the Turkey Trot will be run indoors, breaking tradition and adjusting to changes on Lehigh’s campus. (Chris Barry/B&W Photo)

Annual Turkey Trot strays from decades of tradition with indoor options


For the first time in 66 years, the 2019 Turkey Trot could be run indoors, breaking tradition to adjust to changes on Lehigh’s campus. The Turkey Trot is an annual 5K preceding Thanksgiving.  

“It’s not a race anymore — it’s a 5K,” said Jane Josephson, director of club, intramural and recreational sports, who has helped organize the trot for 31 years. 

The run could be completed on ellipticals or treadmills in the fitness center, or outside between Nov. 1 and Nov. 21.

“It’s your prerogative to do it wherever you want to do it and when you want to do it, just within that time span,” Josephson said.

In addition to the Turkey Trot 5K, there was Too Hot to Trot, a mile-long walk for faculty and staff, on Nov. 21. The options include an outdoor walk at Mountaintop Campus or 19 laps in Grace Hall.

To prove completion, a picture of the treadmill, elliptical or device, such as a Fitbit, will be accepted. Anyone who ran received a free t-shirt.

“I think we put the best model in place for the short term, but we definitely have to think it through for how it can best be preserved or moved forward in the future,” said Douglas Strange, assistant athletic director for campus athletics. “Maybe when we get through all of the elements of construction on campus, that will become a little bit clearer for us as to what’s going to be where. It just wasn’t a safe situation for us.”

He said without a well-lit course, the run could no longer be completed in the afternoon.

Additionally, the event has been moved from 4:30 p.m. to 4:45 p.m. due to changes in student schedules. 

“In that 15 minutes, watch how dark it starts to get,” Josephson said. “And when you’re running on roads that are a little beat-up from the construction, and part of that’s our route, it’s dangerous.”

Josephson said the changes haven’t been accepted by everyone. She said she doesn’t think the students care how the race is done, or even if it’s done at all.

She said the faculty and staff get more upset about the changes than students do, because some of them have been running it for 30 years.  

“It’s a tradition that’s been going on for 66 years, and to break a tradition like that, I think there should’ve been more thought put into it,” said Gale Fritsche, who organized the Library and Technology Services running team for 21 years.

Fritsche said people look forward to getting together and competing.

He said he believes having the event indoors and individually could take away from it, and he anticipated low faculty and staff participation.

“I think that there’s no real camaraderie or incentive to do it, really,” Fritsche said, “On the student side, there may be a set of points or intramural points, I’m not really sure how it’s done. But for the faculty and staff, we did it because of the excitement and the kick-off of the Lehigh-Lafayette weekend—and it was a team event.”

Josephson was unsure whether or not the changes would bring more participants, but she hopes since people already spend lots of time at the fitness center, they will sign up.

“I look at (the Turkey Trot) and think, ‘Why is the fitness center loaded at four o’clock in the afternoon, with people on all kinds of machines, and they’re not out here doing something that’s a tradition on this campus?’” Josephson said. “We talk about tradition here, and it’s not as popular as it used to be.”

Strange said the change is partly to see if people at the university are still interested in the event. He said participation has been waning, and the demographic of interest has changed.

“It could be fading for a number of reasons, and we would like to rekindle the student spirit for the event,” Strange said.

He said the Turkey Trot was more popular when there wasn’t a fitness center or as many club sports, but now it competes with other choices offered to students.

Josephson said the main reasons for the change include weather issues, bus route conflicts, construction on campus and new schedule times.

“We have to find other ways to do things,” Josephson said. “Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t, sometimes you have to tweak them. It’s a hard decision to make, and there’s a lot of logistical things that go into it. As the campus changes, we have to change with it.”

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  1. Robert F Davenport Jr on

    55 years later I’m happy to say that I ran a portion of South Mountain with it’s ups downs? and curves with my group of friends in Richards 2A. It’s great to have memories of running a route that I might not be able to today walk. I would have had no reason to remember fondly a November day on a treadmill. Keep the tradition of running the hill. Those who choose to run in another venue, more power to them.

  2. As stated by Josephsen, the “students don’t care “ anymore …about anything! They don’t support the athletic teams. They have abandoned the grand traditions that were bonding events and what has made being a Lehigh alum unique. It’s no longer “us”. It’s “me”. Just read a whining op-Ed the other day about how hard it is to walk the hills, despite the fact the U provides buses all over. We WALKED EVERYWHERE. Change the Mountain Hawk to a Snowflake!

  3. “She said she doesn’t think the students care how the race is done, or even if it’s done at all.

    She said the faculty and staff get more upset about the changes than students do, because some of them have been running it for 30 years.”

    These statements are baseless – the students do care. It seems to me that the administration is choosing to ignore the many students who are deeply upset by this change.

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