Above photo of Heather, running in Arcadia, by Beth Price of Beth Price Photography»

The weather cools. Colors pop. Running and racing in Michigan is pretty perfect come fall. And if you’re like me, a wintry race on your calendar—think during those sometimes dreary, seemingly un-ending January and February days—keeps you even more motivated to stay active and enjoy the Great Lakes State’s beautiful landscape during the colder months (yes, running in the snow is challenging, but also so much fun. I promise.)

With this in mind, here’s a list of 11 races to consider signing on over the coming months. Many thanks to those who shared favorites on the MRG Facebook page—I took a few of those mentioned, did some digging around, talked with a few race directors, and came up with the following list of events, including 5K and 10Ks as well as longer distances. All races listed are either still open for registration or will soon open for sign-ups. (This is only a sampling of great races, in order of their race date—please check out the Mitten State Races page for a more comprehensive list of races year-round.)

1.) HealthPlus Brooksie Way Half Marathon, 10K & 5K, Oakland County, Sept. 29.

brooksieway_foundation_logo_150This year the Brooksie Way Half Marathon includes a new event, a 10K, as well as pace corrals. Pace teams also are available to runners to help you reach your goal time in the half-marathon. “It’s definitely a people’s race,” says Deb Kiertzner, race director of the 6-year-old event. “We don’t have a prize purse. We don’t bring in elite runners from across the country. We focus on the local area and Midwest runners.”

Adding the 10K event and pace corrals were in response to requests from runners, Kiertzner says. The Brooksie, which expects to attract some 6,000 runners this year, also provides finishers’ medals for all of its events—the 5K, 10K and the half marathon. The event is known for its beautiful course—the 10K is entirely on the Oakland University campus, and the half-marathon course follows two river trails and continues into downtown Rochester—and its race expo held Oakland University Student Rec Center. A post-race party features live music and food vendors.

“I’m really proud of our expo,” says Kiertzner, who formerly served as race director of Flint’s Crim Races (she was event director of both races for four years before focusing solely on the Brooksie Way.) “We’ve had a wonderful response. We have 65 vendors…the Oakland University Student Rec Center is a good venue.”

Online registration remains open through Sept. 25. Runners also can register at the expo.

2.) Great Turtle Race, Mackinac Island, Oct. 26

2012MedalsThis race was mentioned by several readers as a “must-run” event. It features a half-marathon and 5.7-mile run and walk, all starting at Mission Point Resort on the Island.

More than 2,500 runners and walkers are expected to participate in the 18th annual event this October. Race features: race shirt, special Halloween events for adults and kids, and the beauty of Mackinac Island during the last open weekend of the season. Special hotel rates are offered to those participating in the event. Half-marathon highlights: following the shoreline as well as winding through the island’s interior on bike trails and roads. The 5.7-mile walk/run also winds through the island’s interior, with a finish stretch along the shoreline.

3.) MetroHealth Grand Rapids Marathon, Grand Rapids, Oct. 20

248351_610794465597427_1365615663_nThis year marks the 10th year of this growing Grand Rapids event. “The numbers are up this year,” says race director Don Kern. “We’re really excited about it … We’ve got our celebrity pace teams, the same friendly staff—people on the staff have over 700 marathon experiences combined. People on the staff like to run marathons and are passionate about it. They want to give people the best experience they can have. And that’s the reputation we have.”

The event includes a marathon, half-marathon, kids marathon, and relay. About those celebrity pace teams: these are based on famous people’s marathon times—i.e. Oprah’s finishing time, or George W. Bush’s finishing time. “That’s one of our more unique things we offer,” says Kern, who adds he also stays at the finish line and congratulates runners as they come in. “So they get a personal touch from the race director.”

Some 5,000 runners are expected to participate in this year’s events. Between 600 and 700 kids are taking part in the kids’ marathon, which involves training runs totaling 25 miles leading up to the Oct. 30 event. On race day, they run 1.2 miles to complete their 26.2 miles. “It’s a really, really cool event for them. You see the energy … it’s just amazing to watch them to do it,” he says.

4.) Dirty Dog Trail Run, Midland City Forest, Oct. 5

ddtr2010logoLooking for a small, dog-friendly event? This may be the one for you. The Dirty Dog Trail Run, now in its fifth year, raises funds for SOS Animal Rescue’s fostering program, pet food assistance program, and spay/neuter assistance program, features a 10K and 5K run, a 5K walk, and a 1-mile children’s walk.

The course is a combination of unpaved two-track and single-track trails that twist and turn over flat land and steep hills in the scenic woods of City Forest Park just north of the City of Midland. City Forest is a 520-acre preserve of woods, creeks, marshes and bridges. Prizes to top finishers and drawings for door prizes will occur post race.

This a definitely a smaller race, attracting just 150 runners. But it packs a fundraising punch: “We raise about $3,000 for our programs,” says Joann Taylor, of SOS Animal Rescue.

5.) Sleeping Bear Marathon & Half Marathon, Empire, Oct. 6

SleepingBearLogo_Square-500-4Another MRG reader favorite, the Sleeping Bear Marathon & Half Marathon takes place in the heart of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. (If you haven’t yet visited this gem of a national park right here in Michigan, here’s a great excuse. See more about why Sleeping Bears Dunes is known as one of the most beautiful areas in the country here » )

Both the marathon and half-marathon start and finish in Empire. The out-and-back marathon course takes you by the “Dune Climb,” past Little Glen Lake, and through the village of Glen Arbor with views of the Manitou Islands and Sleeping Bear Dunes along the way. The half-marathon follows the same course as the marathon, turning around at the 6.55-mile mark.

Earlier this year race organizers Joel Gaff, Jr. and Eric Houghton announced this race is now part of the Great Lakes Marathon Series, a collaboration of 25 marathons in the U.S. and Canada that take place along North America’s five Great Lakes. Last year’s inaugural event attracted more than 200 runners. Sign up by Sept. 15 to be guaranteed a T-shirt.

6.) Traverse City Track Club Lighthouse Half Marathon, Traverse City, Oct. 13 

65976_612062098820185_786476608_nThis race, which starts at the tip of Old Mission Peninsula in the Cherry Capital, is in its second year. [Last year I ran the half and though it was pouring rain the entire time, it remains one of my all-time favorite races. Read my full race recap here » ]

The part road-part trail course takes you along the shores of West Grand Traverse Bay at the peak of fall color. You’re on trail for about three miles. Last year’s event attracted about 350 runners.

The Traverse City Track Club, which is also behind the Bayshore Marathon in Traverse City, uses the proceeds from the Lighthouse Half to sponsor running and health-related activities in and around northwest Michigan.

7.) Wicked Halloween Run, 10K, 5K Run/Walk, Monster Mile, Plymouth, Oct. 27


8.) Kona Chocolate Run, 10K, 5K, Hot Cocoa Mile, Plymouth, Nov. 17

WHR 2013A memorable, lively and family-oriented race experience is what Alan Whitehead and his Kona Running Company strives to give runners. His Wicked Halloween Run and Kona Chocolate Run are among several events the company puts on throughout the year. “Everything is quality, quality, quality—with the T-shirts, the buffet of food at the finish, and all of the entertainment over and above what most races do,” says Whitehead, a 20+ marathon runner. Races are fun, but also geared toward those seeking PRs: “If you want to be a serious runner, you can be a serious runner, too. We try to have an offering for anybody.”

logo_HotChocolateRun-newAt the Halloween run: lots of costumed runners and a group of dancers performing to Michael Jackson’s Thriller at the race start. Expect loads of chocolate—fondue and fruit, for example—at the chocolate run.

Whitehead acknowledges that his race fees may cost more, but he promises that runners get plenty of cool swag, goodies, and a great racing experience they’ll likely want to repeat. His company also is committed to giving back to Michigan charities, including Karmonous Cancer Institute and C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. “We want the funds to stay in Michigan,” he says.

Kona Running Company races typically attract about 4,000 runners; Whitehead says he expects about 3,000 for the inaugural Kona Chocolate Run. He hopes to hit 10,000 at each of his races within the next five years. Also look for a new Novi Half Marathon on May 4, 2014 from Whitehead’s running company.

9.) Farmland 5K European Style XC Challenge, Dec. 7, Traverse City

1238813_392843704149775_1366500027_nYou never know what the weather may bring come December in Michigan, and this race offers an opportunity to embrace the elements–there could be just a dusting of snow, or maybe a foot of the white stuff. [MRG offered free race entry to this event last year, and I ran the inaugural event with my family and had a blast. Read the full race report here » ]

The Farmland 5K European Style XC Challenge, presented by EXCELerate, is a non-paved, running event held in the spirit of European style cross country. Held on a dedicated cross country course on private farmland, this course includes knee-high barriers like straw bales, fallen logs, wood fence and stone fence.

Runners compete individually or as a team, and earn unique age group prizes and special awards. Expect lots of local foods post-race, music, and bonfires to stay warm. Word has it that local farmer and runner Lewie Rasho, who owns the land where the race takes place and created the dedicated cross country course years ago, plans to run this year’s event. Cool swag, too: a technical winter training hat for the first 500 to register. There’s also special family pricing if you want to get your whole crew involved.

10.) The Snowmans Half Marathon, 10K, 5K, January 2014, Mt. Pleasant

snowmanTest your winter mettle with this race, held in mid January (check the web site in coming weeks for the official 2014 date and registration info). And if you’re really wanting to experience winter racing, sign on for the Winter Warriors Series, which is made up of three half marathons.

Ryan Hackett, whose Hackett Event Management hosts these events as well as another Michigan half marathon series in warmer months, says he wanted to offer a way for runners to experience running outside in January, February and March. The courses are on country dirt roads outside of Mt. Pleasant; they’re the same roads collegiate runners from Central Michigan University use, Hackett says. “They’re wide open fields, so the wind can get nasty.” Those who have participated in the Snowmans races the past five years are typically “hard-core runners,” he says. They’re the runners training for Boston or other spring marathons. He expects about 500 race participants this year.

Expect low race entry–$25 to $35 for the half-marathons; $60 when you sign on for all three Winter Warrior races—custom race medals, and race director-designed awards. Post-race, enjoy food an drink at O’Kelley’s Sports Bar & Grille in Mt. Pleasant (there’s stadium seating at this popular bar/restaurant, which Hackett says makes for a great space for the awards and post-race fun).

11.) Groundhog Marathon, Feb. 2, 2014, Grand Rapids

groundhog-circle-no-yearCapped at 500 runners, this race will have its second running in February 2014. Race director is Don Kern, who also oversees the Grand Rapids Marathon in the fall.

“Last year we had just a ball,” he says of the six-loop race. “We had 400 people participate and we had an ungodly amounts of snow. We didn’t plow the trail—it was a paved biked trail. We couldn’t have scripted it any better.”

The night before the race is a moonlight marathon—1/6 of the marathon course. “We had a great time with that,” Kern says.

This is a Boston qualifying race course. Kern says he believes two people BQ’d last year.

Which fall or early-winter race are you looking forward to running? Have you run any of these listed?

* This list is simply a sampling of great Michigan races. I was not in any way compensated for mentioning any of these events. Read more about my editorial policies here »

For even more Mitten State Races, go here »


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