Race banner at the entrance to Crystal Mountain, home to the Betsie Valley Run

I’ve been wanting to write up something about my race last weekend, but it’s been one of those weeks when there’s just never enough time in the day. But before this weekend’s Vasa trail run — going for the 25k, here’s hoping I survive — I wanted to get a little something up about the Betsie Valley Run and how I hope to make it a yearly tradition.

When they say this is a small, intimate race, they mean small. Tiny. We’re talking 100 or so people total ran the half marathon. The five-year-old event also includes a 10k and 5k, which also started at the same time, so there were other runners. But not that many.

This was a very cool thing.

While I haven’t yet taken part in a large metropolitan race, I have experienced ones with several thousand people. I’ve enjoyed these — I’m all about the cowbell, throngs of spectators, thumping music and nice finish- line spread of food and drink — but there’s something to be said for the lower-key races, particularly ones in out-of-the-way locations such as Thompsonville, MI. Without all the fanfare at its start, it felt … laid-back, comfortable, cozy even. Well, as cozy as you can feel shivering in 30-something degree weather at the start line with a bunch of relative strangers. And throughout the 13.1 miles of paved roads and hard-packed trails? Pretty quiet and peaceful since pretty much the only spectators in sight were the kind race volunteers handing out cups of water at the aid stations.

The quaint size of the race offered a cool vibe. I found myself really digging the runner comraderie. I ran this race by myself (sort of…more on that in a bit), but I ended up seeing several people I knew, including Tony Anderson — who ran the 10k with a friend — and even a woman I haven’t seen since, I think, high school. (Hi, Christy!) I suppose it helps that this was a local event for me — we live about 45 minutes from the resort at which the race took place — but I think it’s more than that. We runners are a friendly bunch, and I found this to be especially true during this race. Just two examples: about a mile or so in, as the road began inching upward, I pushed myself because I was feeling so good and ended up passing two guys. “Good job,” one of them said to me as I went ahead. Close to mile 5: I felt someone coming up behind me and once he was in step with me, he said, “You’ve got a great pace going.” We ended up running side-by-side for the next several miles — a few others joined us, too, to create our own little pace group — and it was pretty cool. Whereas in larger races I sometimes get claustrophobic if people get too close to me, it didn’t feel that way this time. I felt part of a little tribe with these fellow runners. (The four others were all men, which was interesting. Not in a completely weird way, just different. I realized I’m used to running with just women.)

The weather was ideal: sunny, clear skies and cold. The fall foliage was stunning. I also just felt strong, which as we all know is an amazing feeling to experience as the miles tick by. I felt so good that I kicked it up a notch early on, particularly between miles 3 and 5. I worried a little that I was going out too fast. But I kept reminding myself to go at my own pace, do what feels right. I was aiming to beat my PR of this past spring — 1:47 — and I did feel confident pretty early on I could do it given the perfect race conditions.

A Hammer Gel at mile 5 kept me moving as the paved route gave way to the wide trails. It was around mile 8 when my legs started to feel heavy. It was a new sensation for me. Usually it’s my head that starts messing with me. I pushed forward, but a few people I’d passed earlier began passing me. It was a bit unnerving, I’ll admit. I really started to question whether I’d gone out too fast.

Still, I was feeling pretty good. I felt I was making pretty good time and most importantly, I was enjoying the run overall. I reminded myself to take in the scenery around me — not just stare straight ahead. The cloudless sky, the orange-red trees on both sides of me, the crunch of gravel beneath my feet. The fact that as I relished this time alone, doing my thing, my husband and kids were enjoying the condo we’d rented at the resort and would be hanging at the pool waiting for me whenever I finished.

Post-race at the pool with Emma

Somewhere around mile 11, after taking a second Hammer Gel, another runner informed me there were two small hills ahead and then it would be a downward slope to the finish. Great, I remember thinking. Just two more humps to get over. And, I think I’m ready for this race to be done. I was thrilled to see the 12-mile marker and the two slight inclines at the end didn’t seem all that bad — it was a straightaway and I could see the ski hills of Crystal Mountain in the distance, a sure sign the finish was near. My legs still felt heavy at that point, but I somehow had the mental toughness to keep one foot in front of the other and make it to the finish line — a finish line where the red digits flashed 1:45 and a tenth of a second I can’t recall. My official time, I found out later, was 1:46.

This race confirmed for me that a.) I love fall races; b.) I do have mental toughness in me; and c.) destination races are just fun. I loved being able to walk from the finish line to the pool, where I could relax with my family (not to mention enjoy a shower complete with complimentary spa shampoo and conditioner). Oh, and the cold beer and cheeseburger at the on-site pub was pretty fantastic.

Did I mention I’m running a (very hilly) 25k trail race in two days?? OK, I know, I did already… I could really use any and all good luck wishes/running mojo karma :D And do share what you’re running — I love to hear everyone’s running stories!

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