Kim Cowart
Ali, Kimberly, Kaitlynne and Christian Cowart at the Thanksgiving Point Half Marathon and Kids 1-Mile Fun Run.

After my sweat-fest in Boston last month and feeling as though all my good training had been wasted, I needed a challenge of a different sort.

I needed a race that would put my training and determination to the test. I needed a race that would boost my confidence, not because of a great finish time, but because of the level of difficulty I would have to conquer.

I also needed a race that wouldn’t consume my entire Saturday and would be more of a family affair. Something that would get my kids excited enough that they wouldn’t complain when I woke them up at 5:30 am.

For these reasons and more, the Thanksgiving Point Half Marathon delivered.

First, the race organizers were more than helpful with registration and packet pickup. My husband was able to pick up packets for our family as well as a few friends, no questions asked. This lifted a burden on us, since we don’t live very close. They also allowed my daughter, who inherited the procrastination gene from my husband, to register for the fun run the day before the race. Thank you, Thanksgiving Point, for saving us from the moans and groans we were destined to hear had you not pulled through.

Second, volunteers were not only abundant, but friendly, knowledgable and very helpful. “Isn’t that how volunteers should be?” you ask. Yes, but it’s surprising how often they aren’t. Maybe these volunteers were just happy they weren’t the ones running, but their cheerfulness made me smile, nonetheless. The starting area was spacious, bag check was simple, shirt exchanges were a breeze and the mood was upbeat.

Third, everything from the races to the awards ceremony was on time and efficient. No anxiety at the start line. No waiting around for an hour to pick up a plaque. My kids were eternally grateful.

Fourth, there were plenty of activities available for spectators as they waited for their loved ones still on the run. There were bounce houses for the little ones to play in. There were kiosks set up for people to browse through and do a little shopping. Runners were also provided with wristbands granting them entry to a variety of post-race activities around the Thanksgiving Point property.

They even had local Olympians and Paraolympians in the pavilion area to meet and sign autographs as part of the Walk to London 2012 program.

Fifth, the course was hard. I won’t lie. This is the most challenging course I’ve ever run. The rolling hills were killers. They were steep and plentiful. The course twisted and turned every which way. We ran on asphalt, gravel and cobblestones. I loved every second of it. The toughness of this course tested me in just the way I needed.

I’ve run some fast half marathons, but they were overall downhill. I always felt the need to post an asterisk next to those times for that reason. Not so at Thanksgiving Point. Finish times were definitely earned. The diverse course kept me alert in such a way that the time went by quickly. I was more focused on the technicality of the course than on how much my legs hurt. That came later.

Finally, the kids fun run was just that. Fun. At an even mile, kids raced through tulips, past cows, under arbors and around chickens to cross the same finish line as all the others and gather their medals and treats. The volunteers happily manned the aid station and heartily cheered the kids on. The spectators at the finish roared as the kids ran their hearts out. It was enough to bring tears to this mom’s eyes and big smiles to her daughters.

There were only a few areas that needed a little improvement.

The last half mile of the half marathon course merged with the 5K course. Because of the timing of the races, many half marathoners ran into the back of the 5K pack. Just when I wanted to throw down the gauntlet, I found myself dodging around runners, walkers and kids. Not only did this merge slow many of us down, but it also made for an anticlimatic end. Each distance deserves its own finish.

The finishers' area was fantastic in terms of the sweet treats runners love to gobble up. There was no shortage of chocolate milk, garlic bread, bread from Great Harvest, cookies, even soup! But the area was crowded. I would have liked to have lingered longer, but I just needed to get out and stretch. Again, with two races finishing at the same time, it quickly became too congested.

Last, there was a point on the course that was poorly marked. Some runners even found themselves running in the wrong direction. With so many turns, it’s crucial to make sure each and every one is marked appropriately. Even one sign slightly off can ruin a person’s race.

Overall, this is one stellar race. The organizers have done a fantastic job. The rewards for running this challenging course are worth every hilly step. Put this one on your to do list for 2013 and I’ll see you next year.

Kim Cowart is a wife, mother, 24-Hour Fitness instructor, marathoner and proud mother of two runners on the making.