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Fairbanks' Beat Beethoven 5K has unique atmosphere

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Posted: Saturday, April 14, 2012 10:21 pm | Updated: 1:49 pm, Wed Jan 16, 2013.

FAIRBANKS — The Beat Beethoven 5K isn’t the first race of the Interior Alaska running season, but it does stand out for its atmosphere.

Steve Bainbridge has somewhat been the center of the race’s atmosphere since becoming a member of the board of the Fairbanks Symphony Association six years ago.

The association benefits from the race. Participants try to complete the course at the University of Alaska Fairbanks before Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony ends. The classical piece, lasting about 31 minutes, is played on various electronic equipment, including boom boxes, throughout the course.

Those who succeed at beating Beethoven’s Fifth each receive a voucher for a Fairbanks Symphony Orchestra concert during its upcoming season.

After he joined the association, Bainbridge volunteered to dress up as Ludwig van Beethoven while participating in the race. His costume includes a top hat, white wig, scarf and tails.

“When I joined the symphony board, just the idea of beating Beethoven and finishing with the last downbeat of the music was pretty esoteric and hard to get your arms around,” Bainbridge reflected after finishing Saturday in the 18th edition of the race.

“I thought if I dressed up as Beethoven and finished on the downbeat, then there would be a visual on the course,” Bainbridge continued. “There would be someone to beat rather than just this music thing floating through the air.”

Bainbridge has tried to average 10-minute mile pace during the race, and he tends to encounter a tough downhill at the end.

“I end up at the end doing some cheering,” he said with a smile. “I haven’t quite figured out that slow-down on the downhill thing, but I’m working on it.”

Bainbridge just missed beating his alter ego Saturday, as he finished in 31 minutes, 18.3 seconds for 274th place. The race attracted about 975 entries and there were 851 finishers Saturday.

Bainbridge may not be the fastest entry in the race, but he definitely is the most popular. Tanya Ignacio, who made the Beat Beethoven 5K her first-ever running race, was among several people Saturday who asked Bainbridge to pose for photographs.

“That was the highlight,” Ignacio, a 45-year-old nurse midwife, said of posing with “Beethoven.”

Bainbridge, 63, works in the spill response division for the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, and 1 1/2 years ago, he moved to Anchorage. However, he said that for as long as he can, he will keep coming to Fairbanks each year to dress and compete as the namesake of the Beat Beethoven race.

“People love it. They keep asking me how I stay in shape for all of these hundreds of years, so I have to be sharing secrets on the course,” Bainbridge joked.

The real Beethoven was born Dec. 17, 1770 and died March 26, 1827.

Many people at UAF on Saturday wondered how Kailyn Davis would complete the course while she was on crutches. Their curiousity was justified considering the first part of the race features a lengthy trek up the campus’s sledding hill next to the Patty Center.

The UAF sophomore managed to finish 402nd among the women’s participants in 47:03.5. Her accomplishment came just six days after she injured an ankle at the climbing wall in the Patty Center.

“I landed wrong after jumping from the rock wall,” said the 19-year-old UAF sophomore and music education major from Anchorage.

Davis attributed coordination and the accompaniment of friends Ashley Straugh and Samai Munoz for finishing the race.

“She’s awesome,” Munoz, a 22-year-old UAF junior from Fresno, Calif., said of Davis.

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