FAIRBANKS—There could be some intense battles among the top men and women when it comes down to who might win the 49th annual Equinox Marathon, one of the toughest 26.2-mile races in the United States.
As many as seven or eight men and three or four women are expected to be in contention when the race gets under way today at 8 a.m. in the athletic field adjacent to the University of Alaska Fairbanks Student Recreation Center.
The course takes runners on a circular route from the UAF campus up to the top of Ester Dome and back. The only portion of the course where runners retrace their steps is on the out-and-back portion of the trail from mile 12.4 to 17.2 on top of the dome.
Matias Saari, a former News-Miner sports writer who now roams in the hills near Anchorage and is in the process of writing a book about the race, has won the race the past two years and three of the last four.
Saari, 41, will be facing a talented field this year, with as many as seven or men capable of breaking the 3-hour barrier, according to race co-director John Estle.
“I believe the most we’ve ever had finish in under three hours in the same year is six,” Estle said earlier this week. “This year it looks like we could have as many as eight.”
One of Saari’s biggest challenges this year could come from former Eielson High School and Alaska Nanooks runner Chris Eversman, 25. Eversman beat Saari in a recent 11-mile run and turned in an outstanding effort in winning the Santa Claus Half-Marathon in early August.
Others who could challenge Saari are 25 year-old Matt Dunlap of Fairbanks, who finished second to Eversman in the Santa Claus Half Marathon; Stian Stensland, 37, of Fairbanks, who finished second in the Equinox two years ago; Tom Ritchie Jr., of Anchorage; and still lurking in the background is four-time champion Mike Kramer.
“If three or four of them are within sight of each other at 23 miles, it’s going to be like a heavyweight title fight to the finish,” Estle said.
The women’s field doesn’t have quite as many contenders, but there are three or four who could duke it out for the top spot.
Two-time champion Laura Brosius returns after a year’s hiatus. Her best finish is her winning effort of 3 hours, 20 minutes, 40 seconds in 2008. She won the 2009 event in 3:39:35.
Among her challengers are Davya Flaharty of Fairbanks, who has a personal best time of 3:35:36 and Melissa Lewis, who was second two years ago with a time of 3:32.
Another contender could be Christie Haupert, who won the Granite Tors run earlier this summer and broke the 4-hour mark in the Equinox last year.
Defending women’s champion Jane LeBlond is teaming up with Theresia Schnurr and Heather Best on a relay team attempting to break the women’s individual record of 3:18:16 set by Susan Faulkner in 2002.
Estle, who is in his first year as race co-director with Susan Kramer, said things are shaping up nicely for today’s marathon, marathon relay and ultramarathon.
“Very rarely are things as ready as they should be,” Estle said Thursday evening. “This event is no different than any other event in that respect. We’re trying to nail down the last few details.”
Contact the News-Miner sports department at 459-7581.