“So it’s 16 degrees outside, but what’s the wind chill?” I asked Andrew, my 11-year-old, as we drove to this morning’s second annual Farmland 5K European Style XC Challenge a couple of miles from our house. I can see the temperature displayed digitally inside our mini-van, and I’ve handed my iPhone to Andrew to look up the “feels like” temperature using the Weather Channel app.

Out of the corner of my eye I see him smile as he looks it up. “Feels like 4,” he replies.

OK. That’s cold. Very cold.

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Love these parking signs for the Farmland 5K. We parked in a farm field next to my kids’ elementary school. Lucky us, this race is just a few miles from our house.

But we’ve dressed in layers, we’ve got our hats and mittens on, we know we’ll have cups of chili and hot chocolate waiting for us at the finish line. And the hilly, snow-covered wooded trail-and-farmland course? We both know it well, being that it’s so close to home and also because it’s the same cross-country course Andrew ran this fall during his middle school cross-country season. We also ran this race last year (though it was 20 degrees warmer). We’ve got this.

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Andrew, trying to stay warm pre-race next to one of several bonfires.

Still, after grabbing our race bibs in a warm tent next to several bonfires and hay bales, we decide to wait in the car up until 5 minutes before the start. The proximity of the parking area to the start is a definite perk of this race–it means we can easily jog over and not miss the noon gun time.

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We decide to have a little “winter” GU – the salted caramel Gu I’m digging lately.

At the start, with a few minutes before we take off, everyone is jumping up and down to stay warm. We’re crazy runners. Happy runners.

With winds whipping but sunshine attempting to break through the clouds, Andrew, me and several hundred others take off. We head north to start, through an open field and toward a hilly, winding wooded trail portion of the course.

As you all know, I’m a lover of winter running. I feel invigorated and alive running outdoors through snow and cold, and only dangerously icy conditions keep me inside. I will admit that today’s weather coupled with a wide open farm field, rolling hills and snowy terrain truly put the ‘challenge’ in this race.

“Why did we want to do this again?” Andrew huffs next to me, and I can see he’s half-serious.

“Nice and easy, let’s just take it nice and easy,” I tell him, my eyes stinging and my nose already running from the extreme cold. I’m wearing my SmartWool socks, but my toes are ice. “We can do this.”

That this race is a 5K is somewhat of a mixed bag for me–I am so happy about running alongside Andrew, experiencing this together, and I’m also so aware of my love of distance running and how by the time I’ve warmed up and have gotten into my groove it’ll nearly be time to cross the finish line.

A strong runner, Andrew admits he’s not feeling all that well as we near the one-mile mark. We slow our pace some, which helps. He normally doesn’t get side aches, but today he does. He also says he’s having a tougher time breathing, and I know it’s the cold air causing this. We press on though, and I’m so proud of how tough he’s hanging.

The course changed slightly this year–we don’t go back over the biggest hill–and I like the switch. Though it does mean running against the wind and across the open farm field before hanging a right and heading back toward the woods. We decide to walk a few steps toward the end of the second mile. “OK, let’s start up again,” Andrew says. We agree we want to finish strong–and get to that chili!

For a smaller race, the volunteers and crowd support are awesome–there were people scattered throughout the course cheering for runners. It was great to see so many people out braving the elements–both runners and their family and friends there for support.

With less than a half mile to go, Andrew kicked it in and took off toward the finish chute. I followed his lead and picked it up a notch. After crossing the finish line, we’re given our “medal,” green John Deere tractors hanging from looped yellow shoestrings. Sweet.

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Look who I got to meet in real life! That’s Lisa (and her daughter Molly) to my left, and Denise to my right. Both are followers of this site and comment regularly on the MRG Facebook page. So lovely to meet you both, ladies!

And an extra-special treat for me: meeting numerous runners who are part of the Michigan Runner Girl community, both here on the blog and over on the Facebook page. Thank you, Denise, Lisa and Teri for saying hello!

There’s some seriously sweet swag that comes with race entry. A winter tech hat (which I decided to wear during the race) and dried cherry with nuts trail mix from Cherry Republic, all in a cool Brooks Run Happy bag. And post-race, in addition to chili, corn chowder, bread and hot chocolate, there was craft beer from Short’s Brewery.

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Love Brooks! Run Happy ~ right on.

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Delicious. Lots of local business support for this race.

I truly love this race, perhaps in large part because you just don’t know what the day will bring weather-wise. Last year was chilly at 30-something degrees, and there was some snow on the ground, and this year it was frigid and snowier yet. But it could be even colder next year, with a foot of snow on the ground. It’s all part of the adventure–and the awesomeness that is northern Michigan this time of year.

And while I didn’t participate in it this year, something new added was a post-run bike race. Talk about a challenge–some people, including my friends Michele and Arianne, took on both the run AND the bike race. Badass.

Already I can’t wait for next year’s race!

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Andrew and me. :)

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