It was ladies day Saturday at the Equinox Marathon in Fairbanks.
Led by winner Anna Dalton of Anchorage, four women took advantage of favorable conditions and a competitive field to surpass the old course record in the 58th edition of one of Alaska’s toughest races.
Dalton, Megan Youngren of Soldotna, Susanna Rivard of Fairbanks and Meg Inokuma of Palmer all posted times that exceeded the record set in 2018 by Palmer’s Christy Marvin. Marvin missed the race because of a knee injury.
Dalton took the lead at Mile 18 and went on to win in 3 hours, 7 minutes, 22 seconds, shattering Marvin’s record of 3:15:06.
Youngren finished in 3:11:57, Rivard in 3:13:37 and Inokuma in 3:14:35.
All four finished in the top 8 overall; Dalton was fourth overall and the other three finished consecutively in sixth, seventh and eighth place overall.
While the women stole the show, the men didn’t disappoint.
Lars Arneson, a UAF graduate who lives in Anchorage, topped the men with the day’s only sub-3:00 time, clocking 2:52:23 in his rookie run. He was comfortably ahead of runner-up Tobias Albrigtsen of Fairbanks (3:01:37).
Eighty-one-year-old Fred Moore of Seward became the oldest finisher in race history, placing 281st in 6:41:46. He turns 82 next week.
And Fairbanks runner Bob Baker, 63, tied the record for the most Equinox finishes by placing 219th in 5:34:34. It was his 42nd finish, matching the record set by Corky Hebard (Baker also ran the course last year when the official race was canceled because of COVID-19, said race historian Matias Saari, who placed ninth overall and fifth among men on Saturday).
Dalton, Youngren and Rivard — who is from Portland but spent the last year in Fairbanks — all ran in the 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon trials, and Inokuma is a 41-year-old who emerged as an elite trail runner in the last couple of years.
A fifth woman, Klaire Rhodes of Anchorage, placed 11th overall in 3:16:26, a time that would have won many previous Equinoxes.
“It’s really amazing to race in Alaska and have this caliber of competition,” Dalton said. “There were three of us who ran the Olympic Trials, and Meg has been on fire this summer. I wish Christy had been in this race, because I don’t think she has ever had anyone push her.
“I was in fifth place through Mile 7 or 8, and that’s not usually where I find myself in a (race in Alaska) other than Mount Marathon.”
The Equinox famously challenges runners with trails, paved roads, dirt roads, single-track trails, steep ascents and steep descents.
“That was a different beast,” said Dalton, 32, a veteran marathoner making her debut in the iconic race. “The whole race, you can’t ever lock into a pace.”
She’s not kidding. Her fastest split time, on a downhill, was 5:33. Her slowest, on an uphill, was 10:05.
“That’s some range,” she noted.
Saturday marked the debut of the Equinox half marathon, won by Anchorage’s Chad Trammell (1:22:05) and Fairbanks’ Emily Fedders (1:36:21, good for fifth place overall).
It was 34 degrees at the start of the race, and Dalton said she didn’t shed her jacket until Mile 20. But it was a clear day that revealed brilliant fall colors and kept the course dry — no mud and no snow, which sometimes makes an appearance this time of year in Fairbanks.
Dalton said she didn’t lead until Mile 18, when she passed Youngren on a steep downhill section known as The Chute.
Taking control on a steep, technical descent was gratifying for Dalton, who tore a tendon in her knee nearly one year ago when she fell while running down Powerline Pass. She had surgery almost immediately and was a little timid about attacking downhills coming into this summer.
“I had to relearn how to run downhill and not be afraid,” she said. “It’s been a long process to regain my confidence running downhill. Even in May I would get kind of freaked out on a downhill.”
Inokuma also entered the race with concerns about a knee. She injured it in mid-August, two weeks before winning the 16-mile Lost Lake Run, and she said she wasn’t sure if she should test it on the Equinox course.
“I was on the fence till (last week) and finally decided to give it a try,” she said by text Saturday. “Then 12 hours later Christy texted me she’s not running because her knee was flaring up, and I was thinking I might be stupid to run.”
Inokuma said the pain was so bad she almost dropped out at Mile 7 but she kept going. At Mile 24, Rivard passed her but provided inspiration in the process.
“She encouraged men, ‘C’mon, girl, we’ll break the record! All of us will!’'’ Inokuma said. “I don’t wear a watch, and I had no clue about my time, but that moment I learned how good (a) race we were having.”