September 17, 2012

Fairbanks Equinox Marathon Race Report

As predicted, it was my slowest marathon to date.

But, it was my favorite marathon on many other axes. Running a marathon with friends for the fun shared experience is very different than racing. There was much more conversation, laughter, and fun on this one than my last push to break my PR. Because we had no time goal, I took my phone. I was able to take great pictures and record beautiful views and funny moments during the marathon with Arvay & G.

In many ways, the Equinox didn't feel like a race. The start was about 0.5 miles up one of the steepest hills of the course, and at the top, there was a gate that acted as a bottleneck. So most people just walked the start:

Most of the race was on trails: cross country ski trails owned by UAF, single track mountain bike trails with banked corners through the hills, trails along power line cuts and hiking trails that paralleled the main roads.

One interesting difference between Fairbanks and the bay area is that the tree roots are much more close to the surface (likely due to permafrost) so running the trails is a more demanding exercise in foot placement than I've ever experienced.  Think of it as more of an obstacle course than a race.  Plus, there was a beer refreshment station around mile 2.  G took advantage of the moment and actually opened a PBR and took a swig.

Many of the hills were so steep that at points it seemed everyone had no choice but to walk. For example, when you finally start to descend Ester Dome, you hit "the chute"and unless you are a billy goat, you walk down slowly in little prancing steps as you descend over 1,000 feet of broken rocks in less than a mile.

Yes, the elevation profile of this marathon is insane.  But if you treat it as a hike-run, it's easily doable, and you are rewarded with gorgeous views (and cookies, cheese, and smoked salmon at the aid stations!):

We were on track for approximately a 5h30 hour finish at mile 20.  This was after a reasonable effort of running everything that was easy to run and walking the steep hills.  Unfortunately, one member of our group got hurt, so we ended up walking the last 10K so that we could finish together.  The tales from the volunteers at the top of Ester Dome who'd seen people blow out ankles and knees were more than enough to convince me that this is one of those situations where discretion is the better part of valor.

In short, I highly recommend this race for its views, the friendly small Alaskan town experience, the awesome organization, and a great long run/hike (just don't try to go fast).

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