My first attempt at the Equinox Marathon was in 1994 when I was a grad student at UAF. Someone dared me to try it. I had been running for about 3 years at the time, but had never gone past 4 ¼ miles in my life. Little did I realize what I had signed up for! I ended up with a DNF that day at mile 20 out by the old gold mine. At that point it hurt my calves to run, and my lower back to walk. I was done, but I was hooked.
My 2nd year of grad school came around and for 1995 I swore I was going to finish the race. Unfortunately my training was terrible, with a long run before the race of 5K. I struggled mightily that day, but managed to finish my first marathon in a time of 6:15:02. To finish ANY marathon is an accomplishment. To finish the Equinox first marathon, that’s quite the accomplishment.
I remember after finishing the race in 1995 I said to a good friend “Never again.” I guess I lied!
When I graduated in 1996 I figured I was done with the Equinox, but since then I’ve traveled back to Fairbanks for several more Equinoxes. I ran the full marathon in 1997, 1998, 1999, 2002, 2004, and 2010. I was also there for the 2007 race, but ended up with a DNF at the top of Ester Dome with hypothermia.
My personal best on the Equinox course is 4:24:26 in 2004.
In 2000 when I lived in Fairbanks for a short time, I became a proud lifetime entrant (bib number 43) of the Equinox Marathon. I am currently planning on returning in 2012 for the 50th Anniversary of the Equinox Marathon.
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?
When I am training for the Equinox, I usually follow a training plan by Pete Pfitzinger. The plan runs for 18 weeks. So, 18 weeks before the race date, I start following my training plan. Usually before that, I need to have a solid base of mileage built up.
I have never been able to incorporate the course into my training. When I was a grad student at UAF I didn’t know the course well enough to do it. After graduating I moved to Massachusetts. I did return to Fairbanks for a short while in 2000, but had to move back to Massachusetts before the race that year, and I still live in Massachusetts.
Since I am so far from the course, and can’t incorporate the course into the training, what I try to do is focus on long hilly runs in New Hampshire, and a lot of trail running. It certainly is no substitute for training on the course, but it’s what I can do.
If I lived in Fairbanks, the course and the Dome would be a HUGE part of my training. I am a firm believer that course knowledge is a big help on race day. Knowing the conditions of the course, where the loose rocks are, where the puddles are, etc can really help you on race day.
What are your key workouts in preparation for this race?
Running on trails and long hilly training runs. Also, I am in the minority among marathoners, but prior to every marathon I like to run at least one training run of at least marathon distance. In Southern New Hampshire, I have a hilly 26.7 mile loop I like to do at least once before the Equinox.
What’s your favorite thing about this race?
Seriously? What’s not to love about the Equinox????? Name me another marathon where at mile 5 you can see musk ox and caribou??? Or how about on a clear sunny day, the view from atop Ester Dome, especially when Denali is out? Then there’s the challenge of climbing Ester Dome, and the mental challenge of saving something for the rest of the course. Another thing that is awesome is the sense of accomplishment when you cross that finish line. You KNOW you’ve accomplished something when you finish the Equinox! One other thing that I love is the post race pot-luck supper. Even though I am “an outsider”, coming from Massachusetts, the folks from Running Club North always make me feel welcome.
What’s your favorite part of the course? Your least favorite part?
I really love the view from the top of Ester Dome, especially on a clear day. Next to the finish line (every marathoner’s favorite thing to see) the top of Ester Dome is my favorite part of the course. My least favorite part of the course is “The Chute”. In every year that I’ve run the Equinox, I have never felt comfortable on “The Chute”.
Describe the best moment you’ve experienced during this race. Describe the worst.
My best moment was, without a doubt, crossing the finish line in 1995. Finishing my first marathon after DNF’ing in 1994, well, that’s something I’ll never forget. I’ve finished 7 Equinoxes, and 6 Bay State Marathons, and all are special. However, the 1995 Equinox is my favorite. It’s not my fastest time, it’s not a BQ or anything like that. Yet, I can remember every detail about that race.
A close 2nd is my 2004 finish when I ran the 4:24:06. That is special because in 2002 I did the marathon in 7:00:30.
My worst moment came in 2007. I arrived in Fairbanks in the best shape of my life, lean, strong, and having just completed Pfitzinger’s 18-week, 70 miles per week program. I was on track to beat the 4:24:06 that I set in 2004. Then, 2 days before the race I got the flu. I awoke on race morning with a 101 degree fever, a headache, chest congestion and a sore throat. I considered not starting the race, but I had come that far and figured I should at least TRY to run the race. I knew a good time was out of the question, but I had to try. Halfway up Ester Dome, shortly after mile 11, I doubled over. I couldn’t get any air. I struggled onward. Several times I had to stop and double over to try to get air. I finally got to the top of Ester Dome where the medics from Chena Goldstream Fire and Rescue were waiting. I went over to them and said “I think I’m in trouble.” When the put me in the ambulance, my body temperature was 94 and I was shivering uncontrollably. Fortunately, they didn’t have to take me to the hospital. But it was a DNF. To this day, I wonder how I would have done had my body cooperated that day.
Do you consider yourself a competitive runner? What are your running goals/fitness goals?
Competitive? Only with myself. When you consider my personal best marathon is only a 3:37:15, no one will ever mistake me for a good runner. In recent years I’ve been injured a lot too, so I am much slower than that 3:37:15. I have never been a one that would compete for a win or an age group award. I have always run with one goal in mind, simply to try to do better than my last time out.
Right now, my running goal is to get healthy again. I just completed my first ½ marathon since my 2nd bout of Achilles tendinopathy. I have another ½ marathon planned in September. Then the goal is to build my base over the winter so I can train for, and run the Equinox Marathon in 2012.
What’s the best advice or training tips you can share with others who are new to this race?
Best advice: Enjoy every minute that you’re on the course. It’s special.
Best training tip: The out and back is harder than it looks, so don’t burn your legs out on the climb up Ester Dome!
Have you made any big training errors, or race day flubs that adversely affected your enjoyment or time in this race?
See my worst moment during the 2007 race. Never ever start this race as sick as I was that day. It will chew you up and spit you out if you’re not at your best.
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 won’t be able to do the Equinox this year. In 2012, I WILL BE THERE.
What keeps me motivated to participate in this event??? I don’t think I can describe it adequately in words. Once you’ve experienced the Equinox, you’ll want to do it every year.