How Many Calories Does Your Thanksgiving Run Burn?




I live in Boston. A city. Cities are not generally known for their wildlife. And yet, to my never-ending astonishment, there are parts of Boston in which flocks of wild turkeys loiter around the streets. Flocks. Not a couple of turkeys. Groups of 6-12 turkeys.

Growing up, I was always intrigued whenever I saw turkeys from a distance as they scoured the harvested corn fields for food. But now, they are a typical part of my morning commute—through the city. It’s so strange to me. They are just…there.

Turkeys can run faster than you

Urban turkey. Image by Wing-Chi Poon - Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

But these have to be some of the most arrogant turkeys in existence. Not only do they not care in the slightest about the cars driving all around them, but they maintain their proud roaming even in November. I mean, that’s got to be the very definition of boldness! Thanksgiving (a.k.a. Turkey Day) is steadily approaching, and these turkeys just keep strutting around as if they’re absolutely untouchable.

That got me thinking. What if I wanted to try to catch my own Thanksgiving turkey? The wild turkeys in Boston are often a nuisance (they even attack people!), so I doubt anyone would miss them. But I guess taking a shotgun to one within the city limits would be generally frowned upon.

Maybe I could chase them? Have you ever tried to chase a wild turkey? Those suckers are fast! I chased a flock through the woods in southern Illinois many years ago. I’m not a slow person, but I had nothing on those birds! Apparently, wild turkeys can run up to 25 miles per hour. To put that into perspective, Usain Bolt can sprint almost 28 mph. The average human being has a maximum speed of around 15 mph.

Perhaps you’re above average and can run 25 mph. How far would you have to chase that turkey in order to burn off all of the calories consumed on Thanksgiving? In other words, what would you have to do to net zero in terms of calorie count for your Thanksgiving meal?

Calculating Thanksgiving Calories

The math here is simple, but first, we need to know how many calories are consumed by an average American on Thanksgiving Day. Based upon a pretty representative Thanksgiving Meal, Time Magazine estimates a total consumption of 2,486 calories (which are actually kilocalories).

Now I need to know how many calories a human would burn per mile while running 25 mph. Fun fact: walking a mile and running a mile do not burn the same amount of calories. Yes, you are traveling the same lateral distance, but running involves more up-and-down movement than walking, so more calories are burned per mile while running.  Okay, but do you burn more calories per mile the faster you run? Harvard Medical School published a list of calories burned in 30 minutes for various activities, including running at different speeds. Obviously, they don’t list the calories burned while running 25 miles per hour, since that’s not really a thing. But I plotted the calories burned versus running speed, and we can see that the data is effectively linear.

Speed to calorie table

Calories vs. speed graphed

Calories and speed graphed

Multiplying the speed by 30 minutes, I also plotted the calories-per-mile burn rate versus the running speed, confirming that how fast you run does not really change the calorie burn rate.

Calories over miles graphed

Calories over miles

Thus, I calculate the average burn rate, giving me about 124 calories per mile.

Burn rate

And so we can find the number of miles you’d have to run after that turkey in order to preemptively burn off that Thanksgiving meal:

Miles to burn off Thanksgiving dinner

Of course, you could just, you know, run at a normal pace for 20 miles and buy a turkey from the grocery store.

But what’s the fun in that?

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