With the world seeming to have come to a halt over the past number of months, I certainly had my fill of virtual races. Sure, I am forever grateful they were available for us run junkies, but when sis told me there was a chance to attend a real live in-person race, I could hardly believe my ears. Where did I sign up?!
In typical running family fashion, we turned this race event into an all-out family run weekend. The Santa Claus Classic is held at the beautiful Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Ga. Just north of Columbus, Ga, this quaint town offers all the feels of a small mountain community. For this race we rented a beautiful cabin at the Pine Mountain Club Chalet resort, which did not disappoint. It was a fabulous three-bedroom cabin that overlooked the lake with a lovely screened in back porch and fully functional wood-burning fireplace.
After arriving at Pine Mountain, we opted to meet at Callaway Gardens to explore for a bit before heading to the cabin. We had reservations to ride the trolley to see the lights that evening at the gardens, so we were a bit pressed for time, but we did manage to snag some time at the butterfly garden before check-in. It had been a number of years since we’d been to Callaway and they’ve added quite a bit – like a complete ziplining course!
After exploring, and since sis I had been this chaotic pre-race arrival before, we had carefully planned out all of our meals and brought the necessary groceries for the weekend. After check-in, the boys immediately hit the grill. We ate burgers and hot dogs and enjoyed a little relaxation before heading back to the gardens to see the lights. With a couple of pre-trolley Christmas toddy’s in hand, we took to the lights.
The next morning, we slept in, enjoyed some coffee at the cabin and planned out our activity for the day. Usually, sis and I would have everything planned out to a T, but this time we actually just winged it. Truth be told, it was the best “winging it” we had ever done. Sis mentioned a safari that was in the area that had gotten good reviews. Since we didn’t have anything particularly planned that day, we all said, why not? What we never expected, however, was to have quite so much fun that afternoon.
The Pine Mountain Safari was truly that – a 3.5 mile safari drive where we got up close and personal with zebras, buffalo, goats, cows…. you name it! We rented the van they offered for a small fee, which was worth every penny. If you’re in the area and decide to take on this amazing safari, a word to the wise, rent the van. The goats simply love to put all of their hooves on the side of your car so you can feed them . . . . or pet them.
After ending our fun afternoon at the safari, we headed back to the cabin for a small pre-race meal and to change into our run outfits. We were told by race officials to get to the race pretty early and I’m thankful we did. We had plenty of time to get our t-shirts, bibs, take a few pictures and even drop off our goods at the car before race time.
Once it was time to head to the race start, there was a bit of confusion. We followed the directions to where we believed the corral was, but we didn’t see any markings to indicate we were in the right place. After a few brief conversations with other fellow runners, we elected to stay right where we were. Before long, the street began to fill up.
As the race began, I now understand why there weren’t any markings in the road. We were going to begin the race, briefly hold up traffic coming through the park, and get over 500 runners going at once.
When it was time to take off, it felt absolutely, downright incredible to be racing again. Real racing. Me, hubby, sis and Jake did what we did so good as a family – we ran. After so many virtual races and terribly missing that energy, this was like a little slice of heaven.
Now, if you really want to see the Callaway Gardens lights, I feel like this is an incredible way to do it. As the sun goes down, and the lights come on, you are there in full color experiencing them all.
We didn’t plan on making this an all-out PR type of race. Instead, we took our time, stopped for pictures and enjoyed every second of running through this winter wonderland. There were plenty of runners, walkers and families pushing strollers. And the water stops? Every few miles there was water, along with peppermint and chocolate candies for the taking. Can we say best water stops ever?
As we made our way through the lights, we ended the race loving every second of our run, and already making plans to do this again next year. Since it had started drizzling, we finished the evening off with gourmet hot chocolate and pizza back at the cabin. As we ate our post-race dinner, enjoyed a glass of wine by the fire while we watched Christmas movies, I realized this was another perfect and successful race weekend and simply can’t wait to do this again.