Epic Equinox

By Don Derosier

Sun Star Reporter

The morning of Sept. 18, 2010 marked the beginning of the 48th Equinox Marathon, followed by the 21st Equinox Marathon Relay and the Second Equinox Ultra Marathon. All participants began and finished at the front of the Student Recreation Center on Beluga Field.

The course consists of mostly trails, with the occasional snakes of pavement. At mile eight, the runners face a 1,800-foot climb of Ester Dome. At mile 17, the downward descent begins with nine miles of meandering through treacherous paths of gravel, rocks, trees and sand. The last few miles pose a few hills, but the finish is just over the horizon as Beluga Field comes into view.

“It was all just a big celebration. The race itself is always hard; you don’t finish without suffering,” said Matias Saari, first male finisher at 2:52:47.

“I just ran aggressively but not recklessly from start to finish,” Saari said of his strategy.  “I ended up first throughout the whole race, with about 2.5 minutes ahead of the second guy. When I hit Ester Dome, I just settled in, tried not to bury myself, and just got into the rhythm.”

Only suffering a minor hamstring cramp in the last few miles, Saari finished a few minutes over his record time of 2:50:23. While racing, he spotted Jim Happy, past UAF ski coach and first race director of the Equinox from the 1960s, as well as other familiar faces from his past. This is Saari’s 11th time doing the Equinox Marathon and he hopes to continue to do it every year. “This is a marathon that is dearest to my heart,” he said.

Jane LeBond finished first in the woman’s marathon with 3:21:19, winning her fourth title of this race.

Steve Bainbridge, the current race director, was pleased with the large turnout.  “There was 70 in the ultra, 100 relay teams, and a little over 400 marathoner’s. All I see are happy faces!” he said.

Bainbridge has been the director of the marathon for the last 15 years, but now he is passing off the baton to a new director. “I just don’t have enough time to run and put together this race again. After the race ends, you begin planning for next year’s, month by month, little at a time, by coordinating with the many volunteers and sponsors.”

Nina Schwinghammer, a UAF alumnus of 2004, finished the Equinox Marathon in a little over four hours. “It was great until the last few miles,” she said.  “My mouth feels numb, but overall it went really well.”

“It was very sunny, and I should have trained a little more so I could have done the whole thing,” said Melanie Reed, a resident in Fairbanks who did the relay with two others. She did the third leg, which involved the downward portion of the race.

“I did the relay once before to test the waters. Then I decided to just go for it,” said Matthew Kidwell, who works for the National Weather Service at UAF.  He did the Equinox Marathon for the first time and finished the race in 4:08.

Keith Pollock, 58, finished the race for the 17th time with 4:36. He is part of the Running Club North and noted how this race has been one of the best ones yet.

The UAF Cross Country team did not participate in the Equinox Marathon, according to Matt Dunlap, the Cross Country Assistant Coach.

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