Saari’s telling of Equinox Marathon an accurate account
In the waning days of summer, runners traverse Esther Dome, the apex of the Equinox Marathon. It can be a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde affair for the participants. Some years, one is greeted with an explosion of color – golden leaves awash the hillsides beneath the Alaska Range. Other years, you will be tested on the saw-toothed summit ridgeline with snow and ice, on the perilous 2.5-mile out and back. How did this event come to pass? Who were the players on this grand stage? Who were the organizers and the athletes, and what were the myths? Those questions and more are answered in Matias Saari’s book “The Equinox: Alaska’s Trailblazing Marathon,” published in August.
Saari’s skill as a reporter is readily apparent, as he ferrets out the truth surrounding the event. Is the Equinox one of the toughest marathons in the United States, as its creators claim? How much elevation gain is there from the start/finish at Beluga Field on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus? Why has it survived so long and who is responsible for its creation and longevity?
I’ve had the pleasure of testing myself twice on the Equinox Marathon, in 1995 and 1996, experiencing conditions described in the beginning of this article. No marathon is easy. All are, or should be, at least 26.2 miles. The Equinox is every bit of both.
“The Equinox” flows smoothly, placing familiar names, Jim Mahaffey, Nat Goodhue and Gail Bakken, neatly into the event’s concept and course design. A smile crosses my face to know that many former running companions were involved with the creation and maintenance of the Equinox Marathon. Cross-country ski coaches Jim Mahaffey and Sven Johansen had skin in the game with the development of the event since they knew a grueling mountain running would be excellent conditioning for their Nordic skiers. We also see the endearing spirit of Alaska as a place where women are welcome along with youth to participate fully in endurance events.
One senses the immense pride of ownership in Fairbanks within the ranks of UAF and Running Club North. Saari, 46, captures all of this and more, as he is clearly superbly fit to chronicle the Equinox Marathon having notched a record-tying six victories over his 16 years as a competitor – most recently winning the race in September in a time of 2 hours, 54 minutes and 27 seconds. I’ll wager he can run this race in his sleep, or most certainly visualize each step in preparing for it.
The Equinox Marathon can certainly claim be one of Alaska’s signature athletic events along with Mount Marathon, Crow Pass Crossing, the Tour of Anchorage and the Iditarod. “The Equinox: Alaska’s Trailblazing Marathon” is focused but also opens up into autobiographical details similar to Bart Yasso’s book, “My Life on the Run.”
Saari’s book would definitely make a fitting stocking stuffer for anyone who has run, or plans to run or hike the Equinox Marathon, Relay or Ultra.
— Keep Striding and Smiling,
P.S.: An update to last month’s article on cross-country running: Six Dillingham High School athletes qualified for the Alaska State Championships and my last year’s prediction of Sadie Tuckwood as a girl to watch rung true as she won the overall state title – as a freshman.
Start a family tradition by running your local Turkey Trot just about every community has one. Check the Alaska Runners Calendar for details. Or just get out and about with your family and friends for an hour before dinner and a recovery walk afterward to easy the digestion.