Monday, September 21, 2009

Equinox 10 Best and 10 More to Think About

10 Best

Equinox Organization – The Equinox is well organized, and it runs like clockwork every year.

Volunteer and Community Participation – From the sign-up, through the course set-up, safety, and awards, not to mention extensive coverage in the News-Miner it seems like the whole town is behind the Equinox.

The Course – It’s challenging (umm, understatedly so) but scenic.

The Race’s Ambiance – Tie the above three Best Of factors with good weather (well usually) and you have a memorable marathon experience.

Equinox Spirit Award – In memory of George Bloom. What a great idea by his family, to honor his participation and people who give back to the running community. Jim Loftus certainly deserves the baton this year for keeping the track series going. Track Rules!

Estle’s Statistics Booklet – At nearly 200 pages, it’s full of anything you’d ever want to know about the event, it just keeps getting better and better—with lots of new stuff every year.

Stan Justice’s Record – I do have a hard time wrapping my head around that 2:41. Certainly equivalent to a low 2:20s marathon for a flat course.

Equinox Masters Records – Both Frank Bonzanich’s (2:58) and Sue Faulkner’s (3:18) all-time masters records are tough to beat. If he stays healthy, Saari will likely take it next year or the year after. I expect Faulkner’s to last another decade or more.

Mile 19 – Probably my favorite. Moments of calm and reflection, after the strenuous climb up the Dome and torture of the Chute, but before the bonk and downhill thrashed legs that you experience by mile 22.

Henderson-Ester Dome Parking – Good idea! That was always a madhouse, trying to make your way up through the cars and crowds. Now it’s nice and calm up there.

10 Things to Think About

Runner Identification – Now with three races going on at once, runners need to know who is who out on the course. The old relay vests were cumbersome, so no need to go back to that. But how about requiring relay and ultra runners to wear a bib number on their back. And the rules should be enforced so that if a runner doesn’t have proper identification they will be disqualified.

Equinox Obsession – What? Five blog posts, not to mention months of preparation, and I didn’t even do the full. Need I say more? Take me to the rehab clinic! (Where I’ll be joined by hundreds of others)

The Course – It’s a sick course.

The Train – It’s still out there, isn’t it? Waiting.

Legs – Like the old public service ad, “Parents do you know where your children are?” (mine didn’t), we should have Hawk Shop ads, “Legs, do you know what your brain expects you to do on the third Saturday in September?” (right now my butt hurts, hams, quads, and calves, and I only did 9.2 miles).

Mile 26 – That sucker is long, maybe 20 or 30 seconds, up to 100 meters.

Youth Running Awards/Promotion Needs Fixing – I’m serious on this one. The organizers need to retool the age criteria and awards. I don’t care if they’re walking or not, the full marathon should not include kids under 18. Start adding some awards for the 1.2 mile kids marathon (top 5 boys and girls overall just handed out at the finish). Encourage older kids to do the relay, with recognized age divisions (maybe 10 to 13 and 14 to 17). Eight or nine miles is plenty for that age, but those who run well deserve a little recognition. For now they're just lumped in the open or mixed classes with adults.

No Port-a-Johns at Relay Exchange – Yup, public health issue. One maybe two per exchange zone should suffice.(or maybe I just missed them this year)

I’ll Be Back – This is probably bad on a number of levels. My wife Tamara isn’t going to like it, nor will my legs. Meanwhile, it’s off to New York City on November 1, for a little fun run around the five boroughs.

Fearful Followup to Equinox Predictions

Time to wrap up and pack away this Equinox obsession for 2009, but before that we have to check at how your [not] so great prognosticator fared (followed later today by a list of 10 great things about Equinox and 10 things that may, may not, or could be improved).

Men’s race: Hey, I called Win, Place, and Show and was less than a minute off for the winning time. And as I figured, Saari would strike right when the others were hurting most. Congrats Matias! Was a little off on the times for first times Stian Stensland and Tom Ritchie, but who’s counting?

I rock!

Maybe for a prize they’ll give me 6 minutes of air time on the Hawk Shop before next year’s race and I could slum around with that dude and jabber about the upcoming predictions; maybe sell some memorabilia like old socks, or a Gu and spittle stained marathon bib.

Masters men: Looks like Kramer just ran out of gas, but 4th overall and a 3:07 isn’t bad either. Brinegar opted to focus on NYC Marathon, and Lindberg was too jet lagged after returning from Europe less than 40 hours prior to the start of the race. Jim Madonna was the age grouper of the day, running 4:27:50, a new record for the 70-74 class.

Women’s race: Laura Brosius did win and she was several minutes up on first timer Charity Walker, but times were significantly slower than predicted. Nordic skier Melissa Lewis did a more than credible job in a sport in which I had hardly ever seen her participate. The News-Miner did a nice summary of the trials from the women’s race. To be ready for the Equinox you have to train through the summer without much down time, you have to be healthy on race day/race week, and feeling good on the climb and out back is not enough—actually it’s too much. You have to be dialed back a notch from feeling good, and then save it for beyond the chute.

Masters women: Boy did I blow that, but it’s also great to see several Anchorage runners (Amanda Copus, Amy Dalton, and Amy Johns) making the trip and taking the podium spots—just for the sake of competition. So next year, the Fairbanks women will need to step it up. Also, Mary Barrett of Palmer set a new 55-59 age class record and it’s a good one at 3:56.50.

Two FAST and TOO Old

A win's a win, but a record sure would have been nice! Actually, we were closer than I thought to the record, but sorry that I couldn't close the deal. The kids were blazing though, and they deserve all the credit.

My guess beforehand, was Werner 51:00 +/- for the rolling terrain and trails on leg 1, David 1:00:30 +/- for the rugged climb up the Ester Dome and gnarly out and back on leg 2, and I was hoping for 55:00 +/- for the steep descent and pounding roads on leg 3. So a 2:46 give or take.

Werner took it out fast alright, blasting right off into the lead at the start and up the UAF sledding hill. All his splits were FAST, and he never backed down, running 50:25 just 3 seconds shy of the all time record for leg 1. In the process, his leg left some older more experienced runners of the past in the virtual dust.

I barely got to see David, but he also took off like a rocket. We were always a step behind at Henderson and again at the top of the Dome and didn't get to see him run. While warming up I checked my watch frequently and counted down and couldn't believe it when I saw him shooting down the leeward side of the 2nd summit well ahead of record pace, a streak of white and black winding through the cranberry and past the Com towers.

David's split was an amazing 58:20 two minutes faster than NCAA ski champ Marius Korthauer's record last year and national class runners Moses Waweru's time from 2004. He's just 18 and running isn't even his number one sport. He was going so FAST that he almost ran me over in the exchange zone.

I was elated and thinking the record would be possible, and doing some quick math knew that it would take a low 54 to be close. Any euphoria was short lived, however, because I had to take it quite easy down The Chute, and through the first mile because the terrain was slippery and treacherous, not to mention the steepest of the descent.

After navigating that first mile (only 6:27) I got to work. I never felt that great on Saturday although miles 19 to 21 (3 and 4 on the relay) and 24 (mile 7) were solid.

In the big clearing (gravel pit) at mile 19.5 on Henderson I did the most bizarre things ever at the Equinox. It was quite cold on the top of the Dome and I wore gloves and half tights the new Team FAST long sleeve shirts that Bill and Heini so kindly provided. Into the trees I was overheating early, and knew it was only going to get warmer. Among the people in clearing were Mark Lindberg and his wife Maggie. So I stopped and pulled my tights off in front of everybody. There were gasps.

Hah, I had regular shorts underneath--but the thought did cross my mind momentarily--what if I forgot to put on my those on this morning? That cost a few seconds, but I wanted to keep cool for the rest of the way.

The last mile was brutal, up those climbs at the UAF ski trails, but I did have enough for a decent kick at the end. 2:44:13, just 1:19 off the record. My split of 55:26--meh, within that plus or minus range, but a minus would have been better.

Still it was nice (no it was Great!) to win and to be on the second fastest Equinox Relay ever. And I have to admit to being quite surprised that my split was the 5th fastest on record. Hey at 51 you take what you can get.

Werner and David will get that record next year and no doubt will have many other opportunities in the future. In fact, if you're wondering about future Equinox Marathon stars--and quite possibly someone to challenge Stan Justice's amazing 2:41:20--look no further than those two young men--just give them a few years and maybe a low key ski season ahead of them.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Early Bird Equinox Predictor

Of course the News-Miner will have more of the inside scoop, as I do not travel in the same stratosphere, but with just a few days to go and based on early sign up, here's a rundown of the favorites.

Defending champ (and 2007 runner-up) Harald Aas will not be back. He's in Norway, said to be prepping for an outrageous ultra run of some type. Last year's runner up (and 2007 champ) Matias Saari of course is here and in hope of winning again. Matias had another excellent mountain running season, topped off by an improbable (due to Brent Knight's--who had been minutes ahead--collapse with 200 meters to go) but nonetheless outstanding win at Mount Marathon in Seward. I saw Matias last month at a high school cross country race, and he said he was looking forward to getting back to doing "speed-work" for the Equinox. Interesting take.

However, the favorite has to be Eric Strabel of Anchorage. Strabel has become increasingly tough over the long mountain races (hard to believe that this blogger was only 12 sec back at Equinox at age 46--and I had to wait 2:20 for that damn train while Strabel skooted through just in time), including a 2nd at Crow Pass with the 2nd fastest time ever on that rugged course. Crow Pass winner Goeff Roes is not entered.

Strabel is out (see comment #1 below)

Into the mix this year will be UAF graduate student Stian Stensland, who has run an impressive string of short races (5K and 10K). Guess they had an informal time trial at the old Musk Ox Trail Run course but I didn't hear the results, or that they were even going to have I don't know how Stensland held up over 12 rugged miles. He's fit and relatively young, so watch out.

Also, Tom Ritchie from Anchorage, while not yet listed, has said on his blog that he'll be there. Ritchie ran 2:37 at Boston last spring and will definitely be a factor here on September 19.

Win: Strabel - young and strong, can he go 2:45? I predict 2:46:52
Win: Saari - always hungry for a win and now a wily veteran 2:50:30
Place: wow, this is going to be close Stensland 2:50:47
Show: Ritchie (2:53:11) will be a factor, nipping at Saari's heels

Masters Men: Kramer, Brinegar, and Lindberg. No doubt Kramer and Brinegar will be going for sub 3 and Frank Bonzanich's 25 year old record of 2:58:02. A tall order, but I do think we'll see a sub 3. Lindberg has raced infrequently since a 2:46 at Boston, but ran 3:02 here last year.

Last year Laura Brosius won easily in her debut and she'll take it again. The question is will she beat Sue Faulkner's all time record of 3:18:15? I think so
If the results from previous local races are any indication the battle for 2nd should be a good one. Jane Leblond, one of only two women to break 3:20, has had a resurgent season (after years of battling injuries and graduate school). But Charity Walker has also been consistent this year and the two have gone back and forth at distances ranging from 5K to 16.3 miles. I haven't seen evidence of any of the top Anchorage women heading this way.

Win: Brosius and a new record in 3:16:07
Place: Leblond, experience on the EQ counts and she has it 3:22:45 (leblond is doing the relay)
Place: Walker, first timer will impress, 3:24:11
Show: Kristen Rozelle, sets a course PR 3:28:54

Masters Women: Dorli McWayne and Jane Lansford, now in their mid-50s might just take it. Sue Faulkner, also in club 50, is doing the ultra.

Traditionally the relay has not been very competitive and more for fun, although there have been some excellent legs. But last year, for the first time, a relay team beat the first male with a 2:42.54, a record by nearly 10 minutes. Their time also challenged Stan Justice's individual 2:41:30. This was a good team (the Aas Beaters), with UAF runners Chris Eversman (2:40 marathoner), Marius Korthaur (NCAA ski champ), and Einar Often (one of the 'Nooks's best runners), it also shows why Justice's and Pat Cross's 2:42:20 have not been approached by anyone for 25 years now.

I'm on a good team this year--no doubt over my head--with college freshman Werner Hoefler and David Norris taking the first two legs. Talk about improbable, how did I get myself into this? Combine their ages and I'm still 15 years older. My goal was to set up the first masters team to break 3 hours. That's all. But that stalled, and so here we are.

Only two teams (both last year) have ever broken 2:50. We have a solid shot at that, and that's all I'm saying.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Is Equinox Jumping the $hark?

Fall colors, all two of them, are already peaking this week, maybe a good 7 to 10 days early. And around here if you're interested in anything aerobic or running, that means one thing only: the Equinox Marathon is around the corner.

When I first got here five years ago and ran the Equinox, I thought wow what a quaint and unique community event, not to mention--Whoa, what a tough course for a marathon. Things have changed some since then, including my attitude. Although I still enjoy the event and look forward to participating in the relay this year. I'm not sure if the future quaint will continue to apply.

First, a few years ago, they brought in Team in Training. Now I'm all for increasing awareness and fund raising for important causes such as the Leukemia Society, but--as an old school runner and something of a purist--the influx of these groups has also sidetracked marathoning. So instead of a race, it becomes an 'event' and sometimes these events become so popular with fund raising groups that there are fewer opportunities for runners to enter, not to mention skyrocketing entry fees.

For example, big, no HUGE marathons like Chicago with more than 40,000 entrants fill up 6 or 7 months in advance, with many, maybe most of the tickets bought up by fund raising groups. It's become a huge industry unto itself, and the quality of experience as well as opportunity to participate has declined.

I'd hate to see that happen to the Equinox. At some point, maybe when we hit 1000, 1200, or 1500 runners, they're going to have to limit the number of entries. All that it would take is an article in Runners World to gain big interest from the masses in the lower 48 looking for a unique adventure race. And what happens if charity groups start to comprise 50% or more of the entries? Limited supply (space on the course) will drive prices up, and the quality of experience will go down and we may have to go to a lottery or merit system. Meh, to that.

Furthermore, I am utterly baffled at the addition of the "Equinox Ultra" 50K. What are they thinking? Adding a whopping 4.8 miles on the Out and Back for those who don't think that 26.2 with 3,300 ft of elevation gain and loss is enough? Based on the fact that it sold out (limited to 50 this year) before the end of early sign up, this might become a popular event.

I don't like it because it dilutes the competition and adds yet another layer of distraction. What next, the Boston Marathon 55 km (or 50 mile) ultra for those who don't meet the qualifying times, or not willing to do the 'sprint' race of 26.2 miles? I'm all for innovation, and an ultra on the Equinox course is actually a good idea. I'm just not in favor of adding a few extra miles to the marathon.

Could it be money for the foundation that supports the Equinox, or just a desire to spread the out the competition?

What about volunteers who will now need to be out on the course for yet another hour, or more, to make sure all the runners, walk-joggers, and walkers make it through?

How about an ultra on a similar course, but with some unique differences, and on a different day?

Well, my opinion will be meaningless and the ultra is likely to be here to stay. The ultra will grow, fund raisers will buy up entries, some day the Equinox 'brand' is going to go nationwide, and it’s going to be more difficult to participate. The Equinox will gain in popularity, but to the detriment of the race's charm and colorful history.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

More Pictures from Interior Invitational

Thick fog shrouds the start of the girls race

Wolf Pack trio takes the lead

Hard on their heels

Out of the mist

Chase pack

Chase pack

Erich H. leads the middle school/elementary race