HOHENFELS, Germany -- The morning of May 18 was cold and overcast, and to the casual observer, an unlikely backdrop for a run through the woods. The ground was damp and slick with mud, the paths littered with slippery roots and loose footing.
But less than ideal conditions did not deter the most dedicated runners, who were overheard discussing hopes that their run would pay off in the victory of a strong finish even if they did not place. Kelly Witty of Hohenfels seemed optimistic in her determination to run the five-mile trek through the woods.
"I didn't really specifically train for this run, but I do run every day. I am most looking forward to the trails that are not often open to the public," she said.
A small but dedicated crowd, runners seemed pleased with their effort by the time they crossed the finish line.
Immediately following the Trail Run, the sun welcomed the first set of mountain bikers to the starting line, with the children's race.
Smiling faces beamed and the clouds began to dissipate as the children pedaled through the woods. One of the younger riders, 9-year-old Alexander Brun from Illesheim, came to Hohenfels with his family for his first mountain bike ride, after receiving his bike for his birthday in April. However, he had not been training long for the event.
"I just came to get my energy out," he said.
Alexander was following in the bike path of his father, Army Spc. Travis Brun of Echo Company, 3rd Battalion, 159th Aviation Regiment, out of Illesheim. Brun participated in a mountain bike race in Grafenwoehr in 2011 and had been looking forward to attending this race.
"It was so much fun in Grafenwoehr that I have been trying to attend every event that I can, and we even have plans to race in Aviano (Italy) this summer."
One runner and rider, Air Force Tech. Sgt. Gilberto Soto drove from Spangdahlem Air Base to participate in the day's events. Trading his yellow running jersey for his mountain bike gear, Soto seemed eager and resolute as he prepared his mountain bike for the two laps of challenging terrain on the 21-kilometer route.
For more than 20 years, riders have sought to conquer the trails of Hohenfels, and this year offered quite a rigorous challenge. Misfortune on the terrain left Brun, Soto, and several other bikers unable to finish, with the trail claiming riders to falls or damage to their bicycles.
"The hardest part of the course has to be the 'rock garden,'" said Brun.
The "rock garden," is a particularly difficult section of the bike trail, filled with boulders and uneven terrain that offered little clearance through which the riders could effectively pedal and maneuver. This sector of the race caused a non-finish for several riders who sustained painful falls and damage to their bikes.
Taking first place in the afternoon's mountain bike race, Army Sgt. Michael Schmidt of Bravo Company, 412th Aviation Support Battalion, finished well ahead of many other riders.
"This course had a really good rock garden, and there were some really challenging climbs. The ground was wet, absorbing a lot of energy during the climbs. It was a really great time," Schmidt said.
Schmidt plans to compete in the entire U.S. Army Europe series while also maintaining his current host nation competitive races in Germany and Italy.
Other riders may have enjoyed the race, but some were understandably subdued by the challenge faced in Hohenfels. Some riders vowed to ride on in the USAREUR series, and left Hohenfels determined to face the next mountain bike challenge in June. Others, after experiencing the rush of the race in Hohenfels, were happy to have done the ride, but seemed ready to hang their helmet and relax.
As everyone packed up, one rider was overheard saying the mountain bike challenge at Hohenfels became less of a race to win and more of a race to survive.