I first did the Equinox in 1998. Since then, I missed one year due to an injury and did the relay one year. If my math is right, that means I’ve done the marathon 11 times. I guess I’d describe it as a love-hate relationship.
Sometimes I’ve done the marathon with my wife, Jackie. One year we put on our hiking boots, loaded our day packs, and enjoyed our 9 hour hike, complete with a lunch at mile 15. A couple other years we did a mix of walking and running together. We were even immortalized with a picture in the paper as we walked hand in hand down the chute. The point is, there are many ways to “do” the Equinox. Go with what fits you at the time.
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?
I used to stop running in the winter and then have to start my training from scratch every spring. I finally got smart and now I keep running throughout the year, whatever the weather. In addition to shorter runs, I try to do a weekly 10 mile run through the winter so that the 15 to 20 milers in the summer aren’t so intimidating. I try to get on the trails as soon as the snow melts and they’re reasonably dry. I work on campus and do a lot of mid-day runs on the first 8 miles of the course out to Ann’s Greenhouse. I try to plan several longer runs on the rest of the course throughout the summer. It’s a treat to run the difficult portions without the race day pressures. The out and back can actually be enjoyable.
What are your key workouts in preparation for this race?
One year, a few of us continued to meet every Wednesday during the summer after the Fahrenheit Be Darned runs ended. Dave Leonard, Roger Topp, and I ran up and down Ester Dome so many times that I lost count. We ran other sections of the trail as well, but Ester Dome was the focus. It paid off because on race day, the climb up Ester Dome and the out and back were just like another Wednesday. That’s not to say they were easy, but we knew what to expect and we just did it.
What’s your favorite thing about this race?
The time of year is ideal for this. It’s a bit on the cool side at the start and (usually) a crisp autumn day. It’s a seasonal ritual, the culmination of months of hard work before settling in for the winter ahead. I bet they had something like this at Stonehenge.
What’s your favorite part of the course? Your least favorite part?
As with many people, I enjoy the section just after the chute. After the previous 7 miles, you get to relax with a slight downhill through the woods. You want this to continue forever, but it only lasts about half a mile and then comes my least favorite part. About half way between the chute and Henderson Road, there is a very short uphill stretch. It’s over in less than 10 seconds, but it’s steep enough and long enough that your momentum won’t carry you through it. You have to totally shift back to your uphill mode of running. If I can get past that without cramps starting, then I’m happy.
I also have to mention the out and back. It’s one of my least favorite parts because of the ups and downs and the difficult rocky terrain, but it’s also one of my favorite parts because it’s like the social section of the course. You get to say hi to friends, cheer on those ahead of you, and give encouragement to those behind you.
Describe the best moment you’ve experienced during this race. Describe the worst.
I’ve had a few not so good moments. One year as I was nearing the top of Ester Dome, I had a migraine start. I get the visual auras so I can’t see very well. I didn’t have my meds with me so I just walked the entire out and back, hoping by then I’d be feeling good enough to finish. Well, I wasn’t, so I didn’t. I guess that means I’ve only done the marathon 10 times. See how you block these things out.
Another year, I came down the chute a little too fast and by the time I got to Gold Hill, my right knee was screaming. I limped in the final 5 miles. Now I take it easy going down the chute, figuring that any time I lose there can be made up later with healthy knees.
One of my best moments was the year I failed to achieve my goal of finally breaking 4 hours. I got to mile 26 and knew I wasn’t going to make it. Just as I came out of the woods at the top of the final downhill to the finish, I could hear it in the distance. Was it, could it be? Yes, indeed, it was the sound of bagpipes calling forth in me the determination to finish strong. I had mentioned my 4-hour goal to fellow piper Dennis Stephens and he came and gifted me and many others that day. Cracking the 4 hour barrier would have to wait another year, but it didn’t matter. I had finished and that was cause enough for celebration.
Do you consider yourself a competitive runner? What are your running goals/fitness goals?
I’m competitive with myself. I always have a goal in mind and, so far at least, my times have been getting faster. I’ve also become more competitive within my age class and I don’t deny I like to get a medal now and then. I suppose everybody thinks theirs is the toughest age class, but ours is pretty tough. I have 2 or 3 years in an age class before people like Wayde Leder, Roger Sayre, Andy Holland, and Bob Baker take over. And then there’s Greg Finstad. We’re about 3 months apart in age so I’m pretty much doomed to be chasing him until I can’t run anymore. But in all honesty, it’s a pleasure to participate with these guys.
What’s the best advice or training tips you can share with others who are new to this race?
Get involved with a group to train with. Even if it’s only one or two other runners, if you’re training with a group, you’re much more likely to get out and run when you don’t really feel like it. Running with someone faster than you will do more to improve your time than running twice the miles on your own. I run with the Fahrenheit Be Darned group through the winter and usually continue with some of them through the summer. I’ve also been running 2 or 3 times a week with the West Ridge Runners. Join a group or form your own. You’re going to be running a lot of miles and I’ve found that it helps to do them with a good group of people.
Don’t forget to practice going up the sledding hill at the start of the course. On race day, try to get up the hill and through the gap in the fence quickly. That’s a bottleneck that will set you back a little bit of time and put you behind a lot of people. After that, take advantage of the first mile and a half of fairly wide trails. Once you pass Ballaine Lake, the trail narrows so try to be in a position where you won’t mind it if you can’t pass at will. Also, bring lots of Gu. I carry a little water to supplement the water stops so I know I can grab a sip when I need it. Be aware that weather on top of Ester Dome can be very different than at the start.
Have you made any big training errors, or race day flubs that adversely affected your enjoyment or time in this race?
Some years I’ve suffered from cramps in my calves during the final 6 miles. I’ve had the strength to finish strong, but the legs just weren’t working. I’ve tried hydrating and electrolyte replacement, but they still persist. Perhaps I need to incorporate more 20+ milers in my training. I’ll keep working on it until I find something that works. It’s frustrating to watch 5 or 10 minutes tick away because you have to stop and stretch a few times.
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?
Unfortunately I’ll be sitting this one out. Runners aren’t always willing to rest when they should and I found myself with a stress fracture in my left foot. After almost 8 weeks, I’m finally back to running, but there just isn’t time to get ready for the Equinox. I will be there, though, maybe helping with the timing or whatever else needs doing. It’s an autumn ritual.
There is a strong camaraderie among all the runners. Oh sure, there are the friendly competitions at all levels (I’ll catch you someday, Greg!), but at the heart of it, everyone is pulling for each other. We all want each other to do well and be pleased with our accomplishments. If you fall short of your goal, you’ll find understanding because we’ve been there too. If you surpass even your wildest hopes, then we’ll be cheering for you because we recognize what it took to get there. It’s one race, but it’s measured on many clocks.
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