Runners have always tackled hills and rough terrain during at the Hitchcock Experience Endurance Run.
But this year, Mother Nature tossed in another obstacle: snow.
About five inches of the white stuff covered trails Dec. 9 at Hitchcock Nature Center in Honey Creek, Iowa.
The ultramarathon — organized by the Greater Omaha Area Trail Runners, or GOATz — included distances of 100 miles, 50 miles and a half-marathon.
Runners had to complete a 12.5-mile loop eight times around the nature center trails. Snow made an already tough course more challenging. Of the 47 runners signed up for the 100-mile course, 13 finished.
That was the lowest number of finishers in the race’s four years, race director Ron Ruhs said.
“(The runners) were kind of like the trailblazers and snow plows,” Ruhs said. “Everybody was impressively tough.”
For the second year in a row, Cory Logsdon was the first 100-miler to cross the finish line. This year’s time of 20 hours, 24 minutes, 43 seconds was a little more than two hours slower than last year.
“It was brutally tough, but brutally beautiful as well,” said Logsdon, 30.
Gretchen Metsa was the top female finisher with a time of 26 hours, 26 minutes, 1 second.
Some parts of the trail had four to five inches of snow. But other parts had drifts that swallowed shoes, ankles and some runners’ calves. After a few laps, the snow was packed down, but it left runners with some slick spots.
“I knew when it was all said and done, it was going to be difficult conditions and everybody was going to have to deal with it,” Logsdon said.
Logsdon said he warmed up along the course — and even started sweating — when the sun peeked out. Aid stations in heated tents were a perk, too. But shady areas and low areas left him cold again.
Logsdon, from Omaha, felt confident during the race, and after each lap he got an update on where he stood in the rankings. He crossed the finish line feeling exhilarated and exhausted.
“If I could keep my composure and patience, run my own race and just dig deep when the going got tough, everything else would work its way out ...” Logsdon said. “For me, just being able to get across the finish line, it reminded me in that moment how far the human spirit can really go under incredible duress, and even more potential for how much further those limits could be stretched.”
Metsa — who’s from Buhl, Minnesota — was surprised to see so much snow on the course.
“My first impression was that I went to Iowa to run a Minnesota race,” the 35-year-old said.
Metsa said she went into the race, her second 100-miler, expecting a mental challenge. A Type 1 diabetic, she struggled physically between miles 40 and 70. Low blood sugar made her feel tired and weak. She took up long-distance running because of her diagnosis. During low points of the race, she thought of others with the disease and how it doesn’t have to be “life-crippling.”
Metsa’s blood sugar came back up halfway during the seventh lap. She had fun and regained some energy completing her last lap alongside some 50-milers who were finishing their races.
“Winning isn’t anything special. The most rewarding races have often been the ones I haven’t won, but that I have fought the hardest for,” Metsa said. “No matter what my finishing time was or what place I came in, I feel like this was an accomplishment. I had to really work for it.”
For the 50-mile race, 29 out of 59 runners finished. Benjamin Drexler finished first in 8 hours, 33 minutes and 13 seconds. Meg Pond Louthan was first among the female runners, finishing in 12 hours, 50 minutes and 5 seconds.
All 65 runners who signed up for the half-marathon completed that distance. Kaci Lickteig, considered one of the best ultrarunners in the world, set a course record with a time of 2 hours, 6 minutes, 13 seconds. Matt Randle, first among male runners, crossed the finish line about eight minutes later.