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Amy Donaldson, Deseret News
Amy Donaldson and Dani Akana wait for the Halloween Half to start on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2012. Holiday-themed races are on the raise across the United States.

OREM — It was below freezing and dark as my sister and I stood in the University Mall parking lot waiting for a bus that would carry us up Provo Canyon to Sundance Ski Resort.

I was trying to eat a bagel slathered in peanut butter without ruining my lipstick, and she was trying to stay warm by hopping up and down. I wasn't even paying attention when someone asked about her makeup, and she giggled as she explained who we were.

"Oh, the ugly stepsisters," the guy said. "That makes sense."

We endured a lot of stares, a little laughter and a high-five before we even made it to the start line of the Halloween Half Marathon. I had no desire to run 13.1 miles in a costume, but doing this with my sister suddenly made running in bad makeup and a child-size dress unusually appealing.

It was awesome, and frankly, I'd consider celebrating Halloween this way every year.

I love holidays.

The only thing I love more than holidays are unique ways to celebrate those special occasions.

Celebrating — on any scale — is good for the soul. It's also good for family connections.

So whether it's a huge holiday steeped in significance and tradition, or just our family commemorating an event that's significant only to us, holidays give us a reason to get together and play.

Games have always been a part of our family get-togethers, but usually they're competitions of our own making. We divide into teams and take the opportunities to injure or humiliate one another with family softball, basketball or touch football games.

Recently my brother and sister-in-law have led an effort to have our families take on cousins, uncles and aunts in day-long dodge-ball tournaments. We've even made up special rules to make it possible for everyone to participate.

As a kid I loved these games, and I see my children and my nieces and nephews enjoying them in the same ways. You can't help but respect your grandma when she can pelt your dad with a ball when you can't even beat him at Monopoly.

Most of these games were more a part of summer get-togethers or reunions than they were an integral part of the holiday celebration later in the year.

It wasn't until a co-worker invited me to a 5K held at his gym the morning of Thanksgiving that I thought running could be a really enjoyable part of a holiday.

It's not that I'd never thought of using running to commemorate something special. The summer I turned 40, I chose to celebrate by running the Grand Slam (five Utah marathons). But it wasn't a group celebration, as I trained and ran most of them alone.

It was running with my friend on Thanksgiving morning, and seeing how his family (who braved the cold to cheer us on) supported him that make me see running a race with my family was the perfect addition to any holiday celebration.

Running a 5K on Thanksgiving morning quickly became a family tradition for us (going on five years). Last year my father, sister, brother-in-law and daughters all ran together in the Turkey Leg in Farmington and had a fantastic time.

I will admit that I had to coerce my youngest child into participating, and last year I let her run alone (the benefit of choosing smaller races) because while she's 13 and embarrassed to be seen with me, I enjoyed a whine-free run.

This year I ran a Halloween 5K with my daughter and the Halloween Half with my sister. Both times, we chose costumes, which is not easy to do when you consider that you have to run in whatever you pick.

I enjoyed both experiences so much that we're already planning next year's costumes.

I have noticed a rise in races connected to or celebrating holidays, and I love the trend. My sister wants to try a new half marathon (Thankful 13) on Thanksgiving morning, and it has a 5K affiliated with it so the rest of my family could still participate. We also found a Santa Run in West Valley City the day after Thanksgiving, and we could think of no better way to kick off the Christmas season than running together while the rest of the world shops.

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To be perfectly clear (i.e. honest), we're not a family who lives at the gym. We don't win the races we run, and we're usually more interested in dessert than the main course.

We are, however, a family that loves to play, to laugh and to make the most of the time we have together. And with so many races affiliated with holidays, we're finding more ways than ever to help each other, challenge each other and celebrate each other while making some pretty unique memories.

Happy running!

Twitter: adonsports

Email: adonaldson@desnews.com