Eric Strabel, who owns the sixth fastest time in Mount Marathon history and two of the top four times in Crow Pass Crossing history, had another run worthy of the record books Saturday on a glorious fall morning in Fairbanks.
A day after his 31st birthday, Strabel celebrated the 50th running of the Equinox Marathon by posting the fastest time in 26 years to claim his first victory in a trail run that is touted as one of the toughest marathons in the nation.
"This is quite an honor," Strabel told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. "It's a big deal and the race today was even better than I planned."
He put the hammer down in the last nine miles of the 26.2-mile race to win in 2 hours, 45 minutes, 15.8 seconds, the sixth-fastest time in race history. The record belongs to race legend Stan Justice, a six-time winner who won the 1984 race in 2:41:30.
Strabel steadily pulled away from three-time champion Matias Saari to win by more than six minutes.
Saari, also from Anchorage, finished in 2:51:38.5, followed by two others who broke the three-hour barrier -- David Dyer of North Pole (2:57:35.3) and Tom Ritchie Jr. of Anchorage (2:58:03.6).
Saari won the race in 2007, 2009 and 2010 and is writing a book about the race, which goes from the athletic field at UAF to the top of Ester Dome and features an elevation gain of about 2,000 feet.
"I really wanted to win the 50th, but then this guy runs a 2:45," Saari told the News-Miner, nodding toward Strabel. "That's out of my league."
Sitka's Emily Routon, a teacher and cross-country coach at Mt. Edgecumbe High School, made her race debut by winning the women's race in 3:25.40.3. She edged Melissa Lewis of Fairbanks by a little more than a minute.
Bonnie Axman, a Equinox newcomer like Routon, was third in 3:26:58.6 and defend champion Laura Brosius of Fairbanks was fourth in 3:29:08.
Runners competed in perfect conditions -- overcast skies and temperatures in the 40s
The race didn't belong to Strabel and Saari until the out-and-back portion of the course between miles 14 and 17.
Chandler Kemp, 22, who recently moved to Fairbanks, set the early pace, leading the field by about 45 seconds when the charge up Ester Dome began at mile 9.5.
"I was feeling good and I wondered if they were going to come back and get me," Kemp, who finished sixth in 3:00:9.6, told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. "I really love the course and the views from the top are spectacular, but the downhills did me in."
Strabel and Saari ran together for the first 14 miles or so and slowly reeled in everyone ahead of them. They caught up with Kemp at the 15-mile turnaround, then Strabel began to open up a gap.
"I didn't have any idea what kind of pace we were on, but I felt a lot better than I thought I would in the last nine miles," said Strabel, a coach with the Alaska Pacific University Nordic Ski Center nordic ski team. "Every mile from start to finish, I just wanted to enjoy it as much as I could while still being competitive."