And they're off

RUNNERS TAKE OFF just after sun rise Saturday morning for the Laugh and a Half Marathon, which began and ended this year at Ta-Ha-Zouka Park for the first time.

Enthusiasm was high Saturday for the Laugh and a Half Marathon, which featured a new route for the half-marathon, 10K and 5K.

Early reviews were positive for the fifth year race that was moved from downtown Norfolk and rural roads to Ta-Ha-Zouka Park, the Cowboy Trail and the Battle Creek blacktop into Norfolk.

Nick Schmit of Randolph, a student at Wayne State College, was the first person to cross the finish line for any of the races, winning the 5K with an unofficial time of 17:48.

“I really liked the course,” Schmit said. “It was very humid in the trees, but it was a nice course to run on. It was a cool course and was just a lot less busy than last year. It was very peaceful.”

Schmit said he enjoys running, but doesn’t like to run farther than a 5K, which is 3.1 miles.

“For the shape I’m in now, I’m happy with that time,” he said. “I’m in college track, so I have run faster.”

Other runners said they also liked the scenery on the Cowboy Trail, especially the first couple of miles that were described by many runners as “shaded” and “peaceful.”

Tasha Breitbarth of Pender, who was running in her third Laugh and a Half Marathon, said before the race that she was looking forward to the new course.

“I’ve ran on the Cowboy Trial before as a running group,” she said. “I like it. It is out in the open and provides a beautiful view.”

Breitbarth, who was running her 20th half-marathon, belongs to the Northeast Nebraska Road Runners that consists of about 400 runners from all over the region.

The running group was started in 2011 by the late Carol Smith, who died of ovarian cancer in 2013.

Breitbarth said she ran cross country at Wisner-Pilger High School, took some time off and began running again in 2003 after the birth of her first child.

Her husband, Matthew, is supportive of her running, but he doesn’t run. Breitbarth, who also has run 17 marathons, said she enjoys being outdoors, being with friends and the challenge of running distances.

Her longest run was a 12-hour run in Gretna in which she covered 42.25 miles. That included some walking, she said.

Another runner looking forward to the new course was Richard Hake of rural Madison, who has run in all five of the half-marathons but the first one.

Hake said he enjoys running, but especially likes visiting and learning new things from other runners.

He also cross-trains, including bicycle riding.

“I wanted to ride my bike around the new route last Friday night but then I didn’t know if it was marked,” he said. “I kind of had an idea where it was.”

Jodi Richey, who is the race director, has been involved in helping to organize the race since it began.

Richey said the numbers were down slightly this year, with a total of 550 runners competing in the half-marathon, 10K and 5K.

She said moving the race, which is sponsored by Faith Regional Health Services and Radio Station 94 Rock, made sense from a logistical stand point.

Moving it to the Cowboy Trail helps with safety for runners, police and volunteers, plus the trail makes it more beautiful.

“We’re eager to see the reactions from runners,” Richey said. “Having the addition of part of it along the Cowboy Trail is fantastic. We’re feeling pretty good about it.”

About 15 states were represented by runners this year, with the farthest states being Arizona, Montana and Utah.

One thing that hasn’t changed along the course are the jokes and entertainment, which is designed to keep runners motivated along the 13.1-mile route.

It takes more than 100 volunteers to put on the race.

“We’ve had a great response this year, including some families,” she said.

Among the volunteers was Jodi’s husband, Tom Richey.

Tom, who has run in the races when he isn’t helping, said he does what his wife tells him, such as picking up debris afterward or placing the signs.

“I did get to drive the Gator,” he said. “I get to do some fun things, so there are no complaints here.”

Results were not available at press time and will be listed in Monday’s Daily News.

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