I love a small-town local race.

One that gives back to its community and gets you out in nature — all the better.

On Saturday morning, Andrew and I ran the 2014 BIG Little Trail Races that took place amid rolling farmland, a quiet neighborhood, tree-lined trails, cornfields and orchards, even a tiny and peaceful private lake. This race, with its 5K and 15K race options, is in its third year, with proceeds benefitting Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwest Michigan. The event raised about $7,000 this year.

This was the second time we’d run this one together, and what a difference two years made for Andrew, who had his 12th birthday this summer and has discovered a real love of running and training.

The 9 a.m. race start is perfect — not too early, allowing us to make the half hour or so drive from home and enjoy the beautiful morning sunshine and say hello to friends before lining up at the start.

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A beautiful race morning.

Parking was simple: race volunteers directed vehicles to park in the field across the race start. Once we parked, we walked down a short dirt path — the final stretch of the 15K route — and here we overlooked the starting area.

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A kind race volunteer snapped our photo pre-race. Then we headed to the white tent to retrieve our bibs and race shirts. Another nice perk of a smaller race: picking up your race packets the morning of the event.

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The t-shirts are awesome — different sizes for a nice fit, and made of wicking material. Love the bright red color this year, too.

Tony Anderson, event founder and race director, welcomed everyone to the race. He also introduced his “little brother,” a sweet boy he mentors through Big Brothers Big Sisters, before introducing a talented local singer — Madison Hertel — who sang the National Anthem.

I got talking with a couple of friends as Andrew and I stood waiting for the official race start, which is how I nearly missed Tony shouting out “On your mark, get set … GO!” “C’mon, Mom, it’s starting!” Andrew tells me. Then it was up a hill — nothing like starting a race with an incline! — and I quickly realized Andrew was feeling really, really strong. Wait, he just IS strong. That’s what consistent training all summer long with kids his age and older will do for you.

After the hill, we headed into the woods. Andrew was ahead of me from the get-go, and though we didn’t have a definite race plan together, I know he’s just speedier than his mom. It’s really happened. I guessed as much earlier this summer, when we ran the National Cherry Festival 10K together and he sprinted to the finish ahead of me, but on Saturday I decided I didn’t want to hold him back in the least. “Go ahead, run your pace,” I shouted to him when he glanced back at me after we broke out of the woods, had gone past the small lake and a pasture of horses and into a single-track in a field. “Just cheer me on at the finish!” I smiled at him.

He gave me a smile back and waved…and then was off. I settled into my own pace — a pace that felt pretty fast, I realized, because it seems this is just what I do with 5Ks — and I tried to remind myself I wanted to feel good at the end, too. I slowed a bit, steadied my breathing, and found myself in a small pack of runners, including several young kids. Another cool thing about this race: the many younger runners taking part.

3.1 miles can sound short, especially if you’re used to running longer distances…and yet, it can feel longer than expected. That’s the funny thing about 5Ks. The sun felt especially hot in the stretch along the cornfield — there just wasn’t much shade — but soon enough we were back in the woods.

The 15K’ers and 5K’ers stick together until just about mile 2, when the longer-distanced route veers to the right. I felt grateful to be heading left, especially given the rising temperatures. With a mile to go, I was feeling the heat.

The final stretch took us through more tree-lined trails and then back into the neighborhood where we started. The loop back around means we ended on a downhill — the 15K’ers have an even steeper downhill than the 5K’ers — and I said a silent prayer of “Please don’t fall now.” The finish line is within sight at this point, and as I rounded the curve to head toward the finish line, I heard Andrew shout, “Sprint, Mom!” He’s there cheering me on, and after passing through we high five. Flushed and smiling, we hugged and went for the water. Andrew finished about three minutes ahead of me — “Not my fastest 5K, Mom,” he tells me — but it’s a hilly, challenging course, I reminded him. As it happened, Andrew finished first overall — an exciting and altogether new experience for Andrew, who has run quite a few 5Ks and 10Ks. I end up finishing third, the first female. I’ll take it!

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What’s your favorite small-town race? Do you enjoy running an event that’s associated with a particular cause?

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