Equinox marathon celebrates fiftieth anniversary

Long time marathon veteran, Melissa Lewis, races toward the finish line in the 2012 Equinox marathon. She finished the marathon, held this Saturday, Sep 15, in second place in the women’s devision. Sept. 18th, 2012. Erin McGroarty/ Sun Star

Daniel Leahy/Sun Star Reporter
September 18,2012

on Saturday, Sept. 15 at 8 a.m. the starting gun fired. Nearly one-thousand men, women and children dashed up the Student Recreation Center sledding hill towards the ski trails.

A bottleneck formed as the monolith of brightly-colored athletic shirts forced their way between two fences, spaced only several feet apart. One fan likened the sight to “corralling cattle,” which would be a fitting analogy if it didn’t refer to conditioned athletes.

Created in 1963, the Equinox Marathon follows mostly dirt roads and trails from the soccer field adjacent to the SRC to the top of Ester Dome and back. The carefully-planned race allows participants to run exactly 26.2188 miles while rarely treading the same ground twice. Stan Justice holds the current course record of 2:41:30.

The race attracted approximately 1,200 participants this year, divided among three events. Around 800 people participated in the traditional marathon. The relay, in which each member of a team of three runs a different leg of the race, had 450 participants. For those who find the traditional 26.2 miles inadequate, the 40-mile ultramarathon is a third option. thirty-nine elite runners participated in the ultramarathon. In terms of size, the 2012 Equinox was one of the biggest on record.

This year’s winners helped make the fiftieth Equinox memorable. Eric Strable of Anchorage won first place in the Men’s Marathon. In 2010, Strable was narrowly beaten in the same event by veteran Equinox runner Matias Saari.

“He definitely gave me a tour of the course,” Strable said.

The tables were turned this year. Strable, with a near-record time of 2:45:15, handed second place to Saari, who finished in 2:51:28. While he plans to return to the Equinox and hopes to someday set a new course record, Strable says he doesn’t just come here for the race.

“The community up here is something special,” Strable said.

Saari, who has run the race 12 previously, has no reason to be disappointed with his thirteenth Equinox. Saari came close this year to beating his 2005 personal record of 2:49:22.2.  Saari, a three-time winner, was not at all discouraged. “I will do the Equinox as long as I am able. That means eighty years old and hiking it. This race has changed my life,” said Saari said.

Other top finishers include Emily Routon of Sitka, who won first in the woman’s division of the marathon with a time of 3:25:40. Melissa Lewis of Fairbanks placed second in the event with a time of 3:26:58. Michael Bourdukovsky, Ben Ward and Brad Benter of “Alpine Urgent Care and Sportsmedicine” won first in the Men’s Relay with a time of 3:03:25. First place in the Woman’s Relay was won by Heidi Rader, Nellie Ballou and Krista Heeringa of “Sugar, Spice and Everything Nice” with a time of 3:30:23. Ivaylo Benov earned first in the Men’s Ultramarathon, completing the 40 mile course in 5:36:02. Stephanie Kuhn took first in the Woman’s Ultramarathon, completing the event in 6:45:20.

One noteworthy participant was 73-year-old Glenn Frick. A returning participant, Frick previously ran in the 1965 Equinox. The race 47 years ago, Frick said he mainly remembers, “how bad I felt and how many hills going up.” While Saturday’s race marks the second Equinox Frick has attempted, it was only the first that he actually completed. “I just crawled in the truck and left,” Frick said about his first Equinox. With a time of 4:13:52.3, Frick finished at the top of the 70-and-up age category.

Not every interesting story came from the top finishers. Lathrop High School alumni Olivia Karns, Skye Sturm and Angene Johnson of team “Call Me Maybe” all ran with the intention of beating three former classmates, Benjamin Walker, Charles Parr and David Hooper of “Three Guys, One Marathon.”

“Call Me Maybe is going to kick their butts,” Karns said, midway through the race.

Her prediction seemed to be coming true until the last mile of the last leg, where Hooper eked out a narrow lead over Johnson. “Three Guys, One Marathon” took thirty-fourth in the relay overall with a final time of 4:10:27, while “Call Me Maybe” finished thirty-fifth with 4:10:41.

“We didn’t quite beat them but we were close, so we’re happy about that,” Johnson said.

Stories of redemption and rivalry are able to captivate the Equinox’s fans because they never truly end. Year after year, new race stories are told and old race stories are revised. Old records are challenged and new records are set. But race stories also serve a second purpose: motivating the participants. This is why the race has grown so much from the just-over one-hundred runners who participated in the original Equinox Marathon.

Everyone who takes part in the race has their own story to tell, and not all of the most compelling narratives are about deciding who takes first and who takes second. Sometimes they’re about the difference between thirty-fourth and thirty-fifth place.

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