The Equinox Marathon starts, and ends, on the soccer field close to the Student Rec Center and the Patty Center Gym on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus.
The course quickly climbs approximately 200 feet to Yukon Drive, where runners and hikers take a right turn and proceed on Yukon Drive to Kuskokwim Drive and another short hill climb before heading downhill on Kuskokwim Drive and turning left into the woods … this point is about ¾ of a mile into the course. The course runs on trails for approximately ¾ of a mile until it heads out onto the bike path next to Ballaine Lake … only to quickly turn back into the woods (just after the parking lot). Then the course follows trails along a rolling route that eventually takes the participants out to the intersection of Yankovich Road and Ballaine Road (approximately Mile 2.2 of the course). Runners are only on Ballaine Road for 0.2 mile before they turn left and back into the woods and onto trails that cross Kittiwake Drive and then Sandpiper Drive before returning to Ballaine Road. Mile 3 is about halfway along this section of Ballaine Road. The course follows Ballaine Road. for approximately 0.3 mile then heads left, back onto the trail and begins a gentle climb as it crosses Sparrow Court. Then the trail continues on to Kittiwake Drive and paralleling Dalton Trail, which soon crosses at Nottingham Drive, immediately heading out on a trail and hitting Mile 4 of the course. This area is what is now Magoffin Highlands, a subdivision with a trail easement that extends to the east boundary of the Musk Ox Farm (aka Large Animal Research Station — LARS).
Runners then head south along the fence of the Musk Ox Farm before turning west and then south as they cross Yankovich Road and back onto trail, which is mostly a single track ski trail and known for its roots and ruts, coming to Mile 5.
This single track trail comes out of the woods to cross the intersection of Miller Hill and Yankovich Roads on a diagonal, then heads west along the power line easement along Lawlor Road, until the course turns right and enters the road itself. Here runners pass Mile 6 and head up a slight climb before descending down a dirt road and taking a left heading west along more single track trail.
Eventually the trail reaches Hafele Avenue, then turns left on Line Drive, quickly followed by a right turn to head west along Black Sheep Road, where runners reach Mile 7. In another ¼ of a mile, the course turns right on the bike path along Sheep Creek Road. Participants cross Sheep Creek Road and the railroad tracks, then run west through the fields across from Anne’s Greenhouse, where they reach Mile 8 of the course. Follow the flags at Goldstream Sports, and head up a short section of trail that climbs up to Ester Dome Road, and turn left onto the road.
The bottom of Ester Dome Road is at approximately Mile 8.1 of the course, and is the location of Relay Exchange Zone One. From here, runners and walkers begin their 1,800 foot climb up to Ester Dome. The course heads up Ester Dome Road and makes a left onto St. Patrick Road where it reaches Mile 9. Shortly past Mile 9, it turns right onto a narrow single track trail. The course follows this trail approximately 0.7 miles to where it crosses Ester Dome Road, then immediately climbs up a steep trail on the other side. It makes a left turn onto a double track trail, then passes Mile 10. The trail continues up Ester Dome to Mile 11.3, where it meets up with Ester Dome Road again, just before the intersection of North Henderson Road. At this point, the course stays on Ester Dome Road as runners pass Mile 12, approximately 0.5 mile before the Ullrhavn parking area.
Change to course for 2016: Just before Ullrhavn, look for the course to dive into the trees on the right side of the road. The course here bypasses Ullrhavn itself, staying just below it on a flat section of trail maybe 1/4 mile long, before rejoining Ester Dome Road. Turn right onto the road, and follow it down and then back up. A short way before the saddle between the two peaks of Ester Dome, you’ll turn right onto the “Zipper” trail, a twisty, rough singletrack that climbs steeply up the hill. After a short ways, it joins the pre-2013 trail that goes around the first set of antennas on Ester Dome, then again rejoins the road at the top of Ester Dome Road in the saddle between the two high points on Ester Dome. Unfortunately, the landowner in this area forced this change too close to the date of the marathon, so the mile markers to the out and back turnaround will be off because there just wasn’t time to move them. By moving the turnaround, the overall marathon distance will be correct, and the mile markers will be roughly correct for the out and back return.
The infamous “out & back” begins here at Ullrhavn, a roughly 4½ mile stretch of the course that features rolling hills and lots of rock and ruts, and some single track. From here on, awesome views of Denali (the mountain formerly known as Mt. McKinley) are sometimes there to greet runners, and sometimes not as runners may be engulfed in the clouds. Some challenging two-track, rough, gravel, rock road, climbs and descents are ahead to the turn around, which occurs on a downhill section. It can be very demoralizing to be headed downhill, with tenuous footing among the rocks only to have to come to a stop, turn around and start climbing back up. A redeeming factor is the aid station, which often has some special goodies. From here it’s back the way you came and a good opportunity to see all those who are chasing you.
In any case, be prepared for windy conditions, and either bring along an extra layer or a good support crew to help with clothing choices. This section is sometimes icy, if the higher elevations around Fairbanks have gotten an early snow.
The famous “chute” begins at Mile 17.2 of the course (this is also the beginning of Relay Leg Three, as Exchange Zone Two is shortly before Mile 17). The steep descent of the chute should be approached with caution. This portion of the trail features many rocks and ruts …. the good news is that it is only 1/3 of a mile long, although when going down the chute it may seem more like 3 miles long. Runners can see the real bottom of the chute well down the mountain, but the course turns off it well before that. Runners should be thankful that they don’t have to go all the way down it!
At Mile 17.5, the course turns left into the woods, and proceeds easterly along some very nice double-wide trail, where participants are able to move fairly fast along mostly downhill terrain through a section of beautiful Birch forest. The course comes out on Henderson Road at Mile 19.5 and heads down Henderson Road, picking up the paved portion of Henderson Road shortly past Mile 20 of the course. The pavement portion is downhill and runners can make up a lot of time here if they don’t cramp up and end up leaning on mailboxes to get rid of the cramps.
At Mile 21.5 , the course turns left off Henderson Road at the power line and onto another trail that starts in the woods but then pops out into the wide powerline easement. At about Mile 22.7, it comes out to Gold Hill Road, where there is a short uphill section for 200 yards before passing the Mile 23 sign. The course runs along Gold Hill Road and a gentle downhill (but at this point it almost feels uphill) past Mile 24 until it dead ends into the Sheep Creek Road Extension.
The course then heads east along the Sheep Creek Road Extension briefly, makes a right turn on Sheep Creek Road, and then after a short ways makes a left turn and onto the UAF trail system and back to the UAF campus. This point is approximately Mile 24.8 of the course, but it’s not quite time to celebrate the finish yet. The course takes another steep turn uphill, and continues climbing for another ½ mile, then takes a few turns before crossing Tanana Loop Road. From here it’s a rolling double track below the gleaming white Butrovich Building (runners can start to smell the finish) toward Mile 26, onto the soccer field and the sprint to the finish line, a precise 26.2188 miles and 42.195 kilometers.
It’s time to celebrate!