REED CITY — Veteran runners, kids, casual joggers and those simply wanting to increase their fitness level, have the opportunity to register early for this year's Wheatlake Festival of Races.

The event is scheduled for Saturday, May 16, at the Reed City Depot. Previously dubbed the Wheatlake Wellness Walk and 5K, the day will host four events for participants of all ages and abilities, including a half marathon, 5K run, Kids Wellness Dash and a walk.

"There's something for everyone," said event chair and local runner Megan Biller. "That's what's neat about this. Usually, you'd have to go to Grand Rapids for a race longer than a 5K."

Co-chair Emily Coles, also a runner, agreed.

"It's fun to be a part of something that encourages physical fitness, and it's all for a great cause," she said.

The half marathon registration begins at 6 a.m. in the Big Rapids Middle School gym, and buses for the runners will depart at 6:45 a.m. for the Reed City Depot.

The race starts at 8 a.m. near the Reed City Depot, then follows the White Pine Trail and riverwalk, ending at the band shell behind Big Rapids Middle School. The course closes at 11 a.m., finishers will receive their medals at the band shell and awards will be held at 11:05 a.m. at the band shell.

The cost to participate in the half marathon increases as time passes. There is a $65 registration fee until Feb. 28, a $75 registration fee from March 1 through April 30 and an $85 registration fee from May 1 through May 16. People already are beginning to register, Biller said, and she hopes to see about 80 participants signed up. They are in the process of making the course credible as an official half marathon, she added.

"We just want as many people as possible to participate and we want the event to grow," Biller said.

The 5K event will begin with registration at 7 a.m. at Hemlock Park in Big Rapids, with the race starting at 8 a.m. From, Hemlock Park runners will travel along riverwalk and ends at the band shell near Big Rapids Middle School. The registration fee is $25. Walking the course also is allowed.

The Kids Wellness Dash for children up to 12 years old is slated to begin at 10 a.m., with the runners taking off from the starting line at 10:30 a.m. at the Big Rapids Middle School playground. There is a $1 registration fee, and awards will take place immediately following the event.

For those interested in the walk, registration will begin at 10 a.m. and the walk will start at 11 a.m. The course will begin and end at the band shell near Big Rapids Middle School. The cost to register is $15.

Hydration stations, resting stops and bathrooms will be available throughout each course. Safety is a top priority for all participants, Biller said.

Susan Wheatlake is excited for the Festival of Races and is pleased it offers opportunities for everyone with various skill levels.

"Our goal is to make this as user-friendly as possible," Wheatlake said. "It's a great way to try something new."

All participants will receive a t-shirt and goody bag. Proceeds from the Wheatlake Festival of Races will benefit the Susan P. Wheatlake Cancer and Wellness Fund, an endowment of the Spectrum Health Foundation — Big Rapids and Reed City Hospitals.

"I'm excited for the anticipation to build and to see people talking about it and training for the races," Biller said. "It's community in motion stepping toward wellness."

She and Coles believe the events of the day will create an opportunity for family members and friends to run together while keeping each other motivated and accountable.

"I'm just looking for a successful event because we're promoting wellness," Wheatlake added.

In addition to the physical activities, free skin cancer screenings will be offered that day from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Sign-up opportunities for the event will take place at 1 and 3 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 10, at the Ferris State University basketball game and at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 20, at the basketball game between Reed City and Big Rapids.

Proceeds from the Wheatlake Festival of Races will benefit the wellness center in the Susan P. Wheatlake Regional Cancer Center in Reed City. Funds will help provide and promote programs yet to be established for cancer patients.

For more information, find the event on Facebook or call (231) 592-4327.