Some used Friday's Everything But the Red Run to train for college. Others used it to support a friend with cancer.
But none used the occasion to gripe about a course change that made the route on the 10th year of the race more challenging than normal.
After all, this is a race to support the hilly Tsalteshi Trails. If these racers didn't like hills, they wouldn't be supporting the trails.
Tom Seggerman, the race director, said the organizers wanted to do something special for the 10th anniversary. As its name would imply, the race normally avoids the red loop, which goes up and down the same huge hill that drivers encounter driving from Soldotna to Skyview High School on the Sterling Highway.
This year, the five-kilometer race used the red loop.
"So you get a real steep downhill and a long climb uphill," Seggerman shouted to the 31 racers at the starting line. "Other than that, it's easy."
Lars Arneson, a 2009 graduate of Cook Inlet Academy and current member of the University of Alaska Fairbanks cross-country running and skiing teams, won the men's race. Jaime Bronga, a graduate of East High School now on the University of Alaska Anchorage ski team, won the women's race.
Arneson said he has been training hard this summer with the goal of making UAF's traveling ski team full-time next season.
"I've also been trying to hit some running times," he said. "Last week (at the Rotary Unity Run), I broke 16 minutes for five kilometers for the first time."
Arneson said he likes hills, but added the red loop always tests that devotion.
"It's pretty tough to recover after that," he said.
Men's runner-up Adam Reimer of Soldotna wanted to give Arneson a run for his money. Arneson finished at 17 minutes, 49 seconds, while Reimer crossed at 19:41 and Fox Michaud was third at 20:24.
"I did have hopes of staying with him, but I've seen he's been running some pretty fast times lately," Reimer said. "Staying with him is a tall order."
Reimer said Arneson was out of reach even before the red loop. Reimer said he prefers longer races, like the 24-mile Crow Pass Crossing that was held Saturday.
However, a right toe injury that migrated to his knee kept Reimer from doing Crow Pass. He had done it in three of the last four years. Reimer is the chair of the Tsalteshi Trails Association, so he didn't mind staying in town for the Everything But the Red Run.
"Even with good knees, it would have been pretty hard to catch Lars," Reimer said.
Bronga came to love Tsalteshi Trails while skiing in Besh Cup competitions in high school. Her family also owns a cabin on Funny River Road, so Bronga takes advantage of Tsalteshi during winter weekend trips with her family.
"I love skiing here," said Bronga, who will be a senior this year. "I ski here whenever I get the chance."
She won the race in 21:54, while Kailey Wilson was second at 22:53 and Jenny Neyman was third at 24:43. Wilson, of Kenny Lake, is the three-time Class 1-2-3A cross-country champion. This year, she could join Kodiak's Kristi Klinnert and Seward's Emily Ransom as the only runners in Alaska history to pull off a four-peat.
Jamie and Angie Nelson, of Kenai, and Tony and Beth Kavan, of Juniata, Neb., used the race to support Jen Leffler of Greeley, Colo. Leffler is battling colon cancer.
The five are all friends dating back to their days at Midland University in Fremont, Neb. When Tony found out the four would be doing the Everything But the Red Run on their trip to Alaska, he surprised the Nelsons by making up four T-shirts with "Team Jen" on the front and each person's first name on the back.
The T-shirts arrived at the Nelsons' home a few days before the Kavans arrived on July 15. Leffler first underwent surgery in June 2010, and then did chemotherapy. After a checkup four weeks ago, doctors decided she needed more chemo.
"We're just trying to do whatever we can to support her," Jamie said.
That included a race that caused Beth to breathlessly emit two pithy observations at the finish line: "I'm from central Nebraska. Flat as a pancake is not a metaphor where I come from," and, "It was two wheezing fits and a walk of shame."
The quartet is taking pictures in the T-shirts on their Alaska adventures for two weeks, then will surprise Leffler with a collage of the photos.
Everything But the Red Run
Men's five-kilometer results
1. Lars Arneson, 17 minutes, 49 seconds; 2. Adam Reimer, 19:41; 3. Fox Michaud, 20:24; 4. Ryan Sanders, 21:04; 5. Kent Peterson, 21:16; 6. Mike Penland, 21:23; 7. Max Best, 22:50; 8. Tony Kauan, 23:02; 9. Steve Gilles, 23:19; 10. Michael Stangel, 23:37; 11. Sean Goff, 24:12; 12. Jason Moore, 24:48; 13. Mark Dixon, 25:32; 14. Jamie Nelson, 27:58; 15. Tanner Best, 29:10.
Women's five-kilometer results
1. Jamie Bronga, 21:54; 2. Kailey Wilson, 22:53; 3. Jenny Neyman, 24:43; 4. Charlotte Saavedra, 25:48; 5. Sierra Corsetti, 26:03; 6. Lisa Wells, 26:11; 7. Rebeka Hearnes, 27:19; 8. Jane Fuerstenau, 30:40; 9. Aly Noble, 30:55; 10. Rachel Erickson, 32:24; 11. Mika Morton, 33:31; 12. Janelle Hames, 33:33; 13. Maria Sweepy, 34:14; 14. Heather Stockton, 40:53; 15. Angie Nelson, 41:49; 16. Beth Kavan, 41:49.