A couple of years ago Andrew and I ran a small, low-key trail race just outside Traverse City. This 5K took us through woods and meadows, along a private lake, next to cornfields — it was mostly flat, and quite peaceful — and best of all, it was an event that aimed to help kids in our community of northern Michigan.

Andrew and me at the 2012 BIGS Little Trail 5K.

Andrew and me at the 2012 BIGS Little Trail 5K.

Next month we’ll again run this event — there’s also a 15K option, though I’m pretty sure we’ll be sticking with the shorter distance — and I checked in with race founder and director Tony Anderson to learn more about the BIG Little Trail Races that benefits Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwest Michigan. Tony has an impressive running story himself (you can read all about it here » ) and I’m really excited to hear that this race continues to gain momentum and give back to such a great cause — a cause that is near and dear to Tony’s heart.

This race is, as you’d imagine, a very family-friendly event. In fact, the first 60 kids who mail in a paper registration form get in free (download the form here » ). Kids also get a shirt if registration is received before August 8, compliments of DTE Energy. Here’s more about the race, slated for Aug. 23, from Tony:

Why did you started this race, and what has its impact been on Big Brothers Big Sisters?

I started this race as a plan “B.” I am attempting to run one marathon in each state by the end of the year 2020. I am currently 52 years old and felt I needed some other avenue to raise funds for Big Brothers Big Sisters of NW Michigan IF my body fails me in my quest to 50 states. I also wanted to create an opportunity for those runners who can’t or don’t want to run a marathon to donate and run a much shorter distance. I feel like it could bring them closer to what it takes to run a marathon and maybe they will follow my quest and donate in the years ahead. The race raises about $10,000 per year for Bigs. I feel like this is a good number when you consider the crowded market for races in northwest Michigan. There is literally somewhere to run every weekend and I am striving hard to carve out a small niche for this race.

What kind of racing experience do you feel runners have when participating in this event?

Both the 5K and 15K are trail races which I feel provides a unique racing experience because so many of our events are on roads and pavement. The 5K offers only one hill, a good amount of woods, a few horses, a short stretch along a private lake, a campground, tree nursery, a cornfield and a lap around the starting area where everyone can watch their runner finish. The 15K is a slightly bigger challenge after mile 2. There are a few challenging hills but it too has lots of woods, an orchard, hay field, wide open country views and a downhill finish. The pre-race vibe is always good because all the participants know what the ultimate purpose of the race is – kids in need of mentors. Post-race has been great the past two years because the weather has been near perfect each time. The race starts at 9 a.m. and almost everyone is done by 10:30 a.m. So, it is not an early morning and you can be home before lunch. It makes for a great morning of exercise and community service.

The event includes 5K and 15K races.

The event includes 5K and 15K races.

How many people do you expect to be running this year?

I am expecting at least 150 participants this year. We moved the date up by a week to get off the Labor Day holiday due to many comments over the last two years. I am hoping that this brings us an uptick of participants. Again, it is a crowded market for racing venues so we will have to see. Early registrations are on pace with this time last year when we had about 120 runners. DTE Energy is also giving free entries to the first 60 kids who send in a paper registration once again. This is the third year in a row DTE has made this offer and it is getting some traction with families where mom and/or dad may run yet not have to pay for the kids below the age of 18 in the family.

Tell us a little about your own running journey…

I have been running marathons since 2003 and started raising money for BBBS of NW Michigan through my 50 state quest in 2009. I have completed 29 marathons and raised almost $95,000. Along the way, I received the 2012 Governor’s Service Awards Volunteer of the Year for the state of Michigan. I mentor a 10-year-old boy whose father passed away when he was quite young which is very similar to my start in life and a huge reason why I get out of bed to run in the morning. Until you mentor a child and see the impact that BBBS has on our community, you can’t grasp the enormous need each child in a single parent home has and how truly easy it is to fill this need with a small amount of spare time. I am currently working hard to prepare for a double marathon weekend. On October 11, I will run a marathon in Connecticut and on October 12 will run another in Rhode Island. My last double was in 2007 when I went 4:25 in Missouri and 4:45 in Iowa. I am not sharing my real goal with anyone but I am motivated to crush those times somewhere above the “Oprah Line” of 4:30. We will see. That and the kids in need fuel my fire at the moment.

The BIGS Little Trail Races are entirely off road, on private property. The course is only open for this race each year, with 20 some different landowners involved. All proceeds benefit Big Brothers Big Sisters of NW Michigan.

Runners can do a trial run on portions of the course at packet pickup on Friday night; race start is 9 a.m. in southern Grand Traverse County. Register here »

Here’s a video about Tony’s efforts to run and raise money for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwest Michigan:

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