Neither snow nor rain nor fear of falling kept Aaron Fletcher from delivering one of Alaska’s epic running performances on Saturday.
Fletcher, a 27-year-old from Anchorage, took down Stan Justice’s 35-year-old revered record at the 57th annual Equinox Marathon on a wet, cold morning in Fairbanks.
Fletcher sliced more than three minutes off the record Justice set in 1984. He completed the 26.2-mile race in 2 hours, 38 minutes, 14 seconds to erase the old record of 2:41:30.
A 2009 South High graduate who is training for next year’s U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, Fletcher finished more than 17 minutes ahead of runner-up Allan Spangler, the defending champion.
“Amazing performance,” said Equinox historian Matias Saari, a six-time champ who finished fourth Saturday.
Also setting a record was Christy Marvin of Palmer, who extended her own record for the most victories by a woman by capturing her sixth Equinox title.
Marvin, 39, won her fifth straight race and her sixth in seven years by finishing ninth overall in 3:23:50. Last year, in more favorable conditions, she set the women’s course record of 3:15:07.
Marvin was one of four women who finished in the top 13 overall on a day when temperatures hovered around 40 degrees and snow dusted the ground at Ester Dome about 12 miles into the race.
“It was really cold and windy,” Fletcher said. “It was not ideal, especially on some of the later stretches of trail. It was very sloppy out there, so you take what the trail gives you. You can still move, you just have to respect the conditions and don’t take a tumble. Stay on your feet — that was mission No. 1.”
Mission No. 2: Set a record in a marathon famous for being one of the most difficult in the world. The Equinox boasts more than 3,000 feet of elevation gain and is held on a mix of pavement, gravel and trail.
“I usually don’t start a race if I don’t intend to win or set a course record, and for this one it was a course record,” Fletcher said.
“It’s one of the events that really is definitive in Alaska running. It’s an old race with an old record a lot of guys haven’t really come close to. It’s been standing for so long and is held in such high regard by so many people.”
In the years since Justice set the record in 1984, the closest anyone had come to challenging it before Saturday was Justice himself with a winning time of 2:45:12 in 1986. The next-closest effort came more than two decades later from Eric Strabel, who won the 2012 race in 2:45:15.
“Stan’s record is comparable to Bill Spencer’s mark that stood so long at Mount Marathon,” Saari said by text. “Many talented runners have attempted Equinox and not even sniffed his record.
“Aaron’s accomplishment is truly remarkable. It takes a rare combination of trail and road skills, along with speed, strength, endurance, durability and grit to break 2:50 at the Equinox, let alone run 2:38 on a day with less than favorable conditions.”
Fletcher, who in 2017 ran the second-fastest marathon by an Alaskan, said it was the first time he had run on any part of the Equinox course, which starts and ends near the Patty Center on the UAF campus.
“I’d never seen the course before and so Allan, who went to UAF and had run it a couple of times, helped me get through the first couple of miles, where the course markings aren’t so good," he said.
He broke away from Spangler after about 3 miles. By mile 20, he was confident he could break the record.
“I was looking at my time and the splits and I said, hey, I only need to run 6:30 miles from here on out and I’m going to get it. Let’s see how far under we can go,” said Fletcher, who finished with a minutes-per-mile pace of 6:02.
“ … I’m really excited to get it, and it just makes me excited to go and chase some more records.”
Fletcher, a civil engineer who ran collegiately at BYU, qualified for the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials last year by winning the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon in 2:17:23.
His personal best, 2:14:45, came two years ago in St. George, Utah, but the time didn’t qualify him for the Olympic Trials because the course had too much total elevation loss.
Fletcher and Spangler were the only runners to break the three-hour barrier Saturday, with Spangler’s time of 2:55:21 ranking as the 49th fastest in race history. Third-place Cody Priest clocked 3:00:58.
Marvin ran the 17th fastest women’s time in race history and runner-up Hannah Lafleur of Seward ran the 20th fastest.
Lafleur, the defending Mount Marathon champion, placed 10th overall and was followed by third-place Katie Krehlik (11th overall) and fourth-place Julianne Dickerson (13th overall).
Top 10 men — 1) Aaron Fletcher 2:38:14, 2) Allan Spangler 2:55:21 3) Cody Priest 3:00:58, 4) Matias Saari 3:06:51, 5) Ben Marvin 3:12:00, 6) Franklin Dekker 3:12:10, 7) Tobias Albrigtsen 3:16:19, 8) Pyper Dixon 3:23:58, 9) Dakota Thompson 3:26:33, 10) Steve Taylor 3:27:15.
Top 10 women — 1) Christy Marvin 3:23:59, 2) Hannah Lafleur 3:25:18, 3) Katie Krehlik 3:25:59, 4) Julianne Dickerson 3:27:11, 5) Jessica Vetsch 3:38:56, 6) Meg Inokuma 3:38:57, 7) Christi Schmitz 3:42:17, 8) Christina Turman 3:44:42, 9) Briana Sullivan 3:50:49, 10) Hannah Booher 3:51:44.
Top 20 times (all-time)
Aaron Fletcher, 2019, 2:38:14
Stan Justice, 1984, 2:41:30
Patrick Cross, 1983, 2:42:20
Stan Justice, 1983, 2:43:28
Stan Justice, 1980, 2:44:59
Stan Justice, 1986, 2:45:12
Eric Strabel, 2012, 2:45:15
Stan Justice, 1981, 2:46:03
Bob Murphy, 1980, 2:46:05
Bob Murphy, 1982, 2:46:14
Bob Murphy, 1984, 2:46:56
Mike Kramer, 2005, 2:47:02
Kevin Brinegar, 1999, 2:47:29
Stan Justice, 1982, 2:47:34
Bob Murphy, 1979, 2:47:36
Bob Murphy, 1978, 2:48:20
David McKay, 2013, 2:49:21
Matias Saari, 2005, 2:49:22
Harald Aas, 2008, 2:50:12
Matias Saari, 2007, 2:50:23
Christy Marvin, 2018, 3:15:06
Christy Marvin, 2014, 3:17:09
Susan Faulkner, 2002, 3:18:16
Christy Marvin, 2016, 3:19:54
Jane LeBlond, 2002, 3:19:59
Katie Krehlik, 2016, 3:20:15
Julie Udchachon, 2005, 3:20:24
Laura Brosius, 2008, 3:20:40
Shelley Johnson, 2007, 3:21:07
Christy Marvin, 2017, 3:21:11
Jane LeBlond, 2010, 3:21:19
Tina Devine, 1998, 3:21:21
Christy Marvin, 2013, 3:21:34
Jane LeBlond, 2000, 3:21:43
Jane LeBlond, 2001, 3:22:55
Julie Udchachon, 2004, 3:22:56
Christy Marvin, 2019, 3:23:59
Denise McHale, 2007, 3:24:13
Erika Burr, 2015, 3:24:31
Hannah Lafleur, 2019, 3:25:18
This story has been updated to correct Dakota Thompson’s time.