Matias Saari

Describe your experience with the Equinox.  Have you participated in the full marathon, the relay, and/or the ultra?  How many times?

Marathon 11 times, relay once.

When do you start training for this race?  How much of the course itself do you incorporate into your training?  How often do you incorporate the Dome into your training?

My training for the Equinox has changed in recent years. I used to train beginning in April and the Equinox was the pinnacle and culmination of the racing season. Now I run virtually year-round and due to other target trail and mountain races I don’t specifically train for the Equinox until August. Typically I only ran up Ester Dome a handful of times before the race but I spent considerable time on the out-and-back and descent of the Dome. Now that I live in Anchorage the opportunity to train on the Equinox route is of course diminished.

What are your key workouts in preparation for this race?

At least three long runs of 20-23 miles and maybe a half-dozen tempo/threshold runs of 6-10 miles. I rarely if ever do speed work any more.

What’s your favorite thing about this race?

I love everything about the Equinox: the community’s enthusiasm for it, the race’s history, the satisfaction of earning another patch, the post-race socializing, the challenge of the course and the camaraderie of all involved.

The Equinox has influenced me to such an extent that I am writing a book about its nearly 50-year history.

What’s your favorite part of the course? Your least favorite part?

My favorite section begins by charging down the Chute then navigating the technical trail through the golden forest until reaching Henderson Road.

I don’t have a least favorite section but I find the out-and-back to be the most difficult mentally and physically.  

Describe the best moment you’ve experienced during this race. Describe the worst.

My best moment was gaining a gap on Harald Aas by attacking off the top of Ester Dome en route to my first win in 2007. 

My parents coming to watch in 2005 (my mom was a bit alarmed by the suffering she witnessed) and my brother from Michigan in 2009 were also special.

Though I cramped miserably in my first few Equinoxes, undoubtedly my worst moment was the helpless feeling of having Mike Kramer pull away on Goldhill Road for the second straight year in 2006.

Do you consider yourself a competitive runner? What are your running goals/fitness goals?

I am ultra competitive by nature but I aim to celebrate each race without taking myself or the result too seriously. Now that I’m age 40 my goal is simply to stave off slowing down for another year. I would be thrilled to break three hours 10 straight years but even more thrilled if I am still running the Equinox in my 70s. 

What’s the best advice or training tips you can share with others who are new to this race?

Train your legs to handle the punishment of the downhill and pavement from Miles 17-26; that’s more important than training to climb Ester Dome. Become familiar with the entire course and do a workout at race pace or faster on each section – perhaps dividing the route into thirds – to simulate what race day might feel like. If you’re from out of town, study the course description and profile and try to mimic the terrain in training.

Have you made any big training errors, or race day flubs that adversely affected your enjoyment or time in this race?

Using shoes I got at Value Village, I ran my first full Equinox on a whim in 1998 after my relay partners bailed out. I had never run more than 15 miles before and within a quarter mile of charging down the Chute my hamstrings seized, followed quickly by my calves. I shuffled and walked to the finish, couldn’t descend stairs frontwards for days – but was instantly hooked on the Equinox and distance running.

In 2008 I spent so much time putting on a hat, gloves and windbreaker atop a stormy Ester Dome that race leader Harald Aas took off never to be caught again.

Any plans on participating in the Equinox this year? This race has been described as one of the most grueling marathons in the country!  What keeps you motivated to participate in this event?

I am a lifetime member of the Equinox and will no doubt participate so long as I am able – regardless of where I live. Getting to spend a day each year reveling in the aura of the Equinox and its community is more than enough motivation to return each year.  

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