Runners come down Amethyst Drive while competing in the Spirit Challenge in 2013. This year's event falls on Memorial Day weekend, taking place at 9 a.m. Saturday at Steamboat Springs Middle School.

Matt Stensland/file

Runners come down Amethyst Drive while competing in the Spirit Challenge in 2013. This year's event falls on Memorial Day weekend, taking place at 9 a.m. Saturday at Steamboat Springs Middle School.

2nd race for summer Steamboat Running Series set for this weekend

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Whether the motivation is to get a test run ahead of the looming Steamboat Marathon, to benefit the Yampa Valley Autism Program or to simply enjoy a trot on a trail during Memorial Day weekend, runners in Steamboat have an outlet this weekend.

The Spirit Challenge returns at 9 a.m. Saturday at Steamboat Springs Middle School with a pair of races, 5- and 10-kilometers long, that represent one of the Steamboat Springs Running Series’ first forays of the summer.

The shorter of the races is a loop starting at the middle school, going into Strawberry Park and eventually back to the school, mostly on roads but with one section on Butcherknife Trail.

The longer race follows an out-and-back course and goes deep into Strawberry Park before returning to the school.

“It’s fun, and it’s a shorter, easier race to kick off the season,” said Kelly Heaney, in her second year directing the race.

As a 15-year veteran of Steamboat Springs Running Series events, Heaney said she felt compelled to give back to the series and the community. The race she now helps direct — with Pam Wooster — also gives back to the Yampa Valley Autism Program.

Proceeds from the event will be donated in the name of Jenna Gruben Morrill, who worked with Steamboat Springs’ autistic children and was an avid runner.

“A lot of our volunteers are involved in that organization,” Heaney said.

Organizers are hoping to draw about 100 racers. This is the first year the race has fallen on Memorial Day weekend and they’re unsure what the reaction will be.

“It could mean there are fewer people because people are going out of town, or a lot more because it’s a holiday weekend,” series director Cara Marrs said.

She said Saturday’s race is one of the most accessible in the series.

“We don’t have a lot of races where you can go walk them, or you can do them with a baby jogger or a dog on a leash,” Marrs said. “Definitely all of those are welcome.”

The race is the second in the season’s series and the last before the big early-season running event in the region, the Steamboat Marathon, which also includes half-marathon and 10-kilometer races.

That event is set for June 1.

Runners can sign up for the Spirit Challenge at www.runningseries.com. The race costs $25 and includes a running cap from BAP and lunch from Freshies.

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @JReich9

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