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Marvin, Saari blaze into Equinox record book

  • Author: Dermot Cole
    | Opinion
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published September 20, 2014

FAIRBANKS -- Matias Saari found new material for his long-awaited book on the history of the Equinox Marathon on Saturday, a day when hundreds of runners covered all or part of a rain-splattered course to the top of Ester Dome and back.

But it's not so much that at age 44 Saari became the oldest winner in the 52-year history of the race with his fourth victory since 2007.

"There's probably a bigger story today in that Christy Marvin broke the women's record," said Saari, an Anchorage runner and writer.

Marvin, a 34-year-old Palmer resident, finished 11th overall with a time of 3 hours, 17 minutes, 10 seconds. That's about four minutes faster than her winning pace last year and about one minute faster than the 12-year-old record held by Susan Faulkner.

The forthcoming volume from Saari will also take note of the end of a singular marathon streak and the start of another. Corky Hebard, 72, skipped the marathon for the first time since 1973, but he didn't leave the trail unattended. Hebard took part in his first relay, along with his son, Jeff, and his grandson, Dawson.

Hebard first ran the marathon in 1970 and did it again in 1971, but skipped the event in 1972.

"I was leaving town the next day and I didn't want to be all stiff and sore," he said. Had the Fairbanks man known he would run the race every year from 1973 to 2013, he would not have missed 1972.

Hebard said the trail was as slippery as he's ever seen it, which includes the 1992 race that took place among a small group of diehards who ran even though the race was canceled because of heavy snow.

So while Saari has a few things to update in his book, he has set a Thanksgiving deadline to finish the manuscript that has been a big focus of his life for the past four years. At one point he wanted to call the book, "Equinox Marathon: The First 50 Years," but he might as well make it the first 52 years.

A former sports writer, Saari had the idea for the book a decade ago and has learned more about the Equinox than anyone thought possible, both from the point of view of a sports reporter and an athlete.

"I want to do the race justice," he said. "Another reason it's taken this long is that I'm a procrastinator."

He didn't procrastinate on the course, finishing the difficult 26.2-mile course in 2:55:01. Ben Marvin, the husband of the women's winner, finished second in 2:58:04.

"He's a friend of mine and it was fun to share some miles with him," Saari said.

Christy Marvin said she had her eyes on the women's record, but didn't know if she would get it.

"I thought it was a good goal and within my reach," said Marvin, who began running as a sixth-grader in Glennallen.

A mother of three boys, ages 7,6, and 3, she said she and Ben don't usually have the chance to train together.

"We are typically trading child care," she said.

Ben, an anesthesiologist, finished third in the Equinox last year. The couple's sons were on hand to cheer their parents at a few spots along the trail.

During her first Equinox two years ago, she was loving the fall colors and the entire experience until she hit the wall at the 16-mile mark.

"I knew I needed to come back to try and redeem myself," she said.

"I love the Equinox, it's one of those races that Matias encouraged me to train for."

Saari said some of the most emotional moments he's ever had on the Equinox trail occurred on the last couple of miles Saturday when Bob Murphy and Stan Justice cheered him on. He said they are legendary figures to Alaska runners and the leading lights in the history of this race.

"They're both friends of mine. They both won the race six times and I look up to them," he said.

Justice, whose 30-year-old record for the fastest Equinox Marathon still stands, worked as a volunteer at the Sheep Creek railroad track crossing, as he has for many years. His job is to take note of the finishing order of runners in the event that a train arrives and the frontrunners are stopped. Luckily, he's never had to stop the runners for a train and disrupt the natural course of events.

Two days before the race, Justice walked the forested portions of the course with a leaf blower to remove the fallen birch and aspen leaves that covered roots on the trail. Christy Marvin said all the runners owe Justice a debt of gratitude for removing the fallen leaves from the trail, which helped prevented falls and sprained ankles.

Leg injuries forced him to stop running long ago and adopt other favorite sports — a list topped by ballroom dancing and skiing — but he said he volunteers for the marathon because the race meant so much to him as a competitor and it continues to stand as a touchstone of life in Fairbanks.

Murphy, who lives in Spokane, Washington state, traveled back to Fairbanks for Saturday's race as he did for the 50th anniversary, but a hamstring injury forced him to withdraw about one-third of the way in. He is the only person other than Saari to have won the race in his 40s.

At age 62, the former Fairbanks teacher and principal has long since known that winning is out of the question, but Murphy said the tradition and the spirit that is imbued in the Equinox Marathon draws him back and he was thrilled to be a part of it.

Anyone who saw Murphy and Justice cheering Saari as he raced toward the finish would understand.

Johnston keeps running

David Johnston, the Willow man who ran from Anchorage to Fairbanks to get to the Equinox, finished Saturday's 26.2-mile race in a little more than five hours.

He placed 118th overall in a time of 5:11:24.

The race was a sprint compared to what he did earlier in the week. One of Alaska's finest endurance athletes, Johnston on Friday completed his 360-mile run on the Parks Highway. He left the UAA campus in Anchorage on Monday morning and reached the UAF campus in Fairbanks on Friday evening, a journey that lasted 4 days, 10 hours and 12 minutes.

Johnston, 44, said he'll return to Willow by car.

Holmes, Buck top ultramarathon

?Jessie Holmes of Fairbanks and Teri Buck of Anchorage took wins in the 40-mile ultramarathon.

Holmes, 32, won the men's title in 6:02:20, nearly four minutes ahead of Fairbanks runner Ron Koczaja (6:06:14).

Buck, 52, led the women in 6:55:13, beating Anchorage's Laura McDonough by more than six minutes. Buck and McDonough, 53, placed 11th and 12th overall in a field of 30 ultramarathon finishers.

A field of 377 finished the marathon and 104 teams completed the marathon relay.

Top 5 marathon finishers

Men's marathon -- 1) Matias Saari 2:55:01, 2) Ben Marvin 2:58:04, 3) Cody Priest 2:58:16, 4) A.J. Schirack 3:08:44, 5) Jeff Wells 3:12:02.

Women's marathon -- 1) Christy Marvin 3:17:10, 2) Caitlin Oviatt 3:26:26, 3) Davya Flaherty 3:28:10, 4) Erika Burr 3:29:14, 5) Charity Walker 3:40.15.

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