{Get all the details of the Fitness Challenge in this blog post. You can also click on the player above to listen to the latest episode of the Michigan Runner Girl Podcast, featuring my conversation with Maia Turek of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.}

With a wide open afternoon stretched out before me, I considered the numerous “productive” things I could tackle. Winter break for my kids was coming to an end, and we’d definitely had plenty of downtime, including movie-watching marathons, trail hikes with our dogs, late nights and later mornings, hot-tubbing, so much eating. It probably would be good, I figured, to get a few work things done in preparation of the daily grind returning.

Sunshine streaming through our front windows changed my mind.

Walking from the kitchen toward my home office, I paused to take in the golden light pooling on the area rug next to our big, comfy brown chair — the ideal spot for snuggling in with a good book. Hmmm. It was a rest day, after all, given I’d run hard the day before. And, I happened to be in the middle of a great book. And, I wasn’t a complete slug over break — I had in fact re-rorganized my office top to bottom a few days after Christmas, and we’d taken down the tree (all the needles!) and decorations AND cleaned the house pretty thoroughly just before New Year’s.

I made a cup of coffee, grabbed my book and settled into the chair. Both dogs agreed with my plan and promptly found spots at my feet. “I’m just going to be right here, in the sun, like a cat,” I told Joe. And I stayed in that position for a couple of hours, fully engrossed in stories written by some seriously badass, wise middle-aged women (I’m a sucker for anthologies). The light shifted, eventually casting a darker, warm glow on the room as the sky turned pink with purple streaks. I can’t remember the last time I’d done something so simple and yet so seemingly extravagant.

Slowing down like this feels right and good at this time of my life. Maybe this is the case for most of us, given all that we do and see and engage in each and every day, both online and in real life. Getting lost in a good book is an activity that never fails to re-center me, to get me in the moment. Experiencing nature is another.

As a year-round outside runner, and someone who prefers winter race training best (I’m a sweaty, literal hot mess when I try to train hard in the summer), I’m out there on even the coldest and snowiest days — and I am convinced being in the elements elevates the enjoyment of an outdoor experience. It’s frigid and refreshing, icy and invigorating. (I acknowledge the importance of layers and dressing smart — it’ll make or break the outdoor experience in the middle of a Michigan winter.)

I’m guessing you know exactly what I mean — embracing winter is what we Michiganders do. We’re fortunate to have countless beautiful places to explore, including our state park system. To that end, I’m excited to share that for the second year, MRG is partnering with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. In 2017 I’ll be visiting various state park properties, many with my family, and sharing the experiences with all of you here on the blog and also on the podcast. In addition, I’ll be offering up opportunities for readers and listeners to see up-close-and-personal some of these locations, as part of special events organized by MRG and the DNR.

And to kick things off, we’ve come up with a fun and free Fitness Challenge (with prizes!) for the months of January and February. {More details below}

From guided, lantern-lit snowshoe hikes and peaceful, deep-in-the-woods cross country skiing, to Yurt camping, moose-viewing and experiencing “dark sky parks,” the Michigan Department of Natural Resources offers myriad opportunities for outdoor recreation each winter.

A favorite state park-Michigan race moment: running the Tahquamenon Snowshoe Race, organized by Great Lakes Endurance, at Tahquamenon Falls State Park in the Upper Peninsula. Joe snapped this photo at the start of the race.

Maia Turek, statewide recreation programmer for the DNR, returned to the Michigan Runner Girl show recently to talk with me about the numerous winter programs and nature experiences available at many of Michigan’s 103 state parks and 138 state forest campgrounds. {You can listen to the entire episode by clicking on the player at the top of this post}

“When you’re there in the summer, parks have a sound – kids playing, the seagulls, campers setting up … and when you go in the winter, it’s completely different. You can hear nature,” Maia says.

/ Photo courtesy Michigan DNR.

Just a few of the parks we talk about during the show: Ludington State Park (family-friendly snowshoe programs); Rockport Recreation Area near Alpena (an old quarry that’s an awesome spot for snowshoeing, who knew?); Muskegon State Park (check out the Yurt!); Blueberry Ridge near Marquette (fantastic cross-country ski trails). You’ll also hear about the state’s 5 “dark sky parks” as well as learn that the entire Upper Peninsula is designated a dark sky preserve.

We also announce the joint fitness challenge kicking off this month — the Michigan Runner Girl/Michigan DNR Fitness Challenge. The challenge is free and open to anyone interested in getting outdoors and experiencing nature in Michigan this winter. BEST PART (aside from the happiness and peacefulness you’ll be experiencing when getting outside and exploring): Prizes will be given away each week during the challenge, which will run through February.

Here’s how this fitness challenge works:

  • snap a photo of yourself, or of you and your family and friends, being active outside. It could be a run, a snowshoe, a hike, a ski — whatever gets your body moving outdoors. If you happen to be at a state park, great! But you can also simply be in your backyard, at a local park, along the Great Lakes shoreline … wherever, so long as you’re outdoors in Michigan!
  • Share the photo on Instagram OR Facebook (or both!), using the hashtags #MRGEnergy and #MIStateParks.
  • Each week, MRG will share a reader/listener photo on the MRG Facebook page (and on Instagram, of course) and that person will win a prize from Michigan Runner Girl and the Michigan DNR. (hint: could be free camping, gear or other fun prizes!)

I hope you all take part in this fun challenge — I would love to see where you are outdoors exploring here in our gorgeous state!

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