For most runners, shortcuts in the Hot Springs Shortcut race come near the beginning of the course.
Seasoned winners of the race, which allows runners to take any route from the Steamboat Springs Health and Recreation Center to the Strawberry Park Hot Springs, tend to zip through Butcherknife Canyon and around Steamboat Springs Middle School.
But this year, Stephanie Scholl decided to stick to the streets on a route she carefully scouted before Saturday's race.
"I'm almost positive it's faster to zig-zag through town and come out by the old hospital," said Scholl, whose plan paid off with a first-place finish in the women's division with a time of 58 minutes, 8 seconds.
But, in the spirit of the race, what works for one runner may not work for another.
In the final minutes before the race, Deb Rose decided to veer from her regular route to test Scholl's plan.
She ended up second among the women with a time of 1:02.
"I think it's a little longer," she said, noting that next year, "I'm not going to listen to Stephanie."
Annie Richman, who took the same route, finished third in the women's division with a time of 1:10.
The Hot Springs Shortcut Race was the second race in the Steamboat Springs Running Series.
Friendly rivalry helps motivate many runners, such as Nate Anderson and Andy Picking, up the notoriously grueling road to the hot springs.
Anderson finished first and Picking followed in second in a near repeat of last year's race, except both runners' times were faster: Anderson's time was 46:59, and Picking finished at 47:42.
"Following Nate is the secret -- and trying to keep up," Picking said.
Anderson scouted his route through the woods around Steamboat Springs High School and Butcherknife Canyon, noting every log and obstacle in the path, he said.
Paul Sachs, who finished third with a time of 48:29, said he ran the race from memory. He was the first-place finisher in the race from 1999 to 2003.
"We outfoxed the fox himself," Anderson said as the three compared routes.
Walkers and mountain bikers also participated in the event. Bikers are not allowed to pick their course; they must follow a set route.
Mel Stewart finished first among the men bikers with a time of 33:34. Thayer Wiley took second at 34:16, and Brett Denney came in third at 34:23.
In the women's bike race, Shelly Bonner finished first at 46:11, followed by Jessica Stevenson at 49:16 and Deborah Gallery at 52:55.
The next race in the series is the Hayden Cog Run, to be held Saturday beginning at Hayden Town Park. The Cog Run typically is held before the Shortcut race but organizers changed the schedule to prevent a conflict with graduation at The Lowell Whiteman School.
Picking said he liked the schedule because it allowed time between the Shortcut race and the Steamboat Marathon on June 5.
"The Cog is harder on your body," Picking said. "But I think this is a bigger lung-buster."
The Hayden Cog Run is a challenging 8.4-mile, out-and-back course from Hayden Town Park up Routt County Road 76.
A 10-kilometer and 5K run/walk will follow an out-and-back rolling course south of Hayden on C.R. 53.
Pre-race registration is available for $20 at Christy Sports or at www.active.com.
Hayden residents can register at Hayden Town Hall for $12 per person until noon Thursday. Hayden children can enter for $8, and families can register for a $30 group fee.
On-site registration will be from 9 to 9:30 a.m. race day. The cost is $15 for Hayden residents and $25 for other racers.
All races will start at Hayden Town Park on South Third Street at 10 a.m. Call 276-3741.