FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions.
Here are some common questions about the Equinox Marathon and Relay.

How should I plan to run Ester Dome?

If you were going to pick one element of the Equinox Marathon that embodies the race, it would be Ester Dome. “The Dome” is the pinnacle of the race, topographically and figuratively.

The ascent of Ester Dome begins “officially” near the 9-mile mark on the course. Runners reach the first summit (Ullrhavn Summit) 3.4 miles/5.4Km and about 1500 vertical feet/450 vertical meters later. Needless to say, it is important to adjust one’s pace when ascending.

The 3 mile long Out-And-Back begins shortly beyond the Ullrhavn Summit, at the saddle between the two peaks of Ester Dome – see the FAQ about the Out-And-Back. This hilly section often decides the race.

The descent from Ester Dome is as crucial as the ascent. The descent starts near the 17 mile mark with the semi-suicidal plummet down the “Chute,” which drops several hundred feet in about 1/3 of a mile of rutted, loose gravel with very bad footing. After that, the course makes a 90-degree left hand turn and gets on a trail which continues to descend, albeit more gradually than the chute.

The trail ends past the 19-mile mark, at which point the course continues to descend on Henderson Road, which starts out as a well-graded gravel road, then becomes a paved road about 1/2 mile later, just past the 20-mile mark. From that point, it’s another 1.5 miles of steady, rolling downhill to the power lines just before Gold Hill Road, where you can breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that you have put “the Dome” behind you.

How can I pick up my bib?

You have three opportunities to pick up your race number/bib . . . but we don’t want you to use the last opportunity (race morning).

The two pre-race bib pickup occasions are on the Thursday and Friday prior to race day. See the Schedule page for the times and locations.

Runners who have entered prior to those bib pick-up times can pick up their bibs and race swag at that time. It will also be possible for people who have not yet entered to enter at this time.

The final opportunity for bib pickup is race morning in the Patty Center from 6:30AM to 7:30AM. Please do not use this bib pickup session unless you are from out-of-town and haven’t been able to attend one of the earlier bib pickup sessions. The fewer people who pick up their bibs on race day, the smoother the event will go for everyone involved–especially for runners.

You can also enter the race on race morning, at a very high entry fee (although you can’t register a new relay team). Race day entries are a hassle for everyone, so we use our entry fee schedule to encourage people to enter early, and to discourage them from entering late.

What is the out-and-back section all about?

The “out-and-back” is the section of the Equinox Marathon and Relay course begins at the saddle between the two Ester Dome peaks, at mile 13.7. It goes west along the summit ridge of Ester Dome to the turnaround (approximately mile 14.75), then returns by the same route to mile 16.6.

This section involves ascending four summits on the way out, and the same four summits on the return. Most of this part of the course is on gravel road/mining road. This section can often have many puddles and will likely be rutted in places. If we have gotten any snow before the day of the race, there could be icy spots as well.

The “out-and-back” section can be challenging, and it’s something you want to train for. Ideally, you should have at least hiked it before the race.

What is Ullrhavn and Where is It?

The word “Ullrhavn” refers to the first summit that you reach on Ester Dome, at 12.4 miles into the course. In the early days of the marathon there was a lodge called “Ullrhavn” located on that summit. The lodge was connected with a ski area that used to operate on the slopes of Ester Dome.

Is the Equinox Marathon a Boston Qualifier?

The Equinox Marathon is NOT certified as a Boston Marathon qualifier. If you have run many marathons and have never run the Equinox Marathon, DO NOT plan on running a PR in the Equinox Marathon. It won’t happen.

Plan on adding 45 to 90 seconds a mile to your “normal” marathon time. More, if you’re not trained for large elevation changes.

There is also a practical reason why the Equinox Marathon is not a Boston qualifier. The majority of our course is on trails and gravel roads, although there are some sections on road shoulders and bike paths. It is very difficult to certify a course that has more than a tiny amount of non-paved surfaces, and impossible on the rocky and rooty trails of the Equinox. So the Equinox Marathon course is not officially certified and registered with the USATF, which is required by Boston. It is, however, carefully measured by experienced course certifiers.

Where are the Relay Exchange Zones and How Do They Work?

The relay exchange zones are located at the 8.4 mile point, in the Goldstream Sports parking lot, and at the 16.6 mile point, at the saddle between the Ester Dome peaks, shortly before descending the Chute.

Relay runners are required to pass through the Relay Exchange Zone chutes at each exchange. If a relay runner does not pass through the chute, the team will not be timed and will not be listed in the results, because there is no proof that the team passed through that control point.

Second-leg runners may catch a ride from the start at UAF to the first exchange point. The buses will leave the UAF Patty Center shortly after 8:05AM. Taking the buses will help reduce the amount of traffic and confusion in the area of Ann’s Greenhouse, the Sheep Creek Road Railroad Crossing, and the intersection of Sheep Creek Road and Ester Dome Road. This will increase the safety of all participants, volunteers and spectators, and will make the race much more enjoyable for runners.

Third-leg runners should get themselves to the upper end of Henderson Road where it intersects with Ester Dome Road, from which point they can ride shuttle buses to the top of Ester Dome, where the second exchange point is located. Private vehicles are NOT permitted to pass above Henderson Road on race day. If you don’t ride the bus, count on a walk of at least 20 minutes from the Henderson Road-Ester Dome Road junction to the exchange zone.

Second-leg runners should plan on taking the shuttle buses down to Henderson Road after having run the second leg. Second-leg runners who want to have a bag of dry/warm clothing and or fluids/food will need to find someone to transport the bag to the top of Ester Dome. The Equinox Marathon organization will not transport gear for relay runners.

Why Are There Three Legs in the Relay?

Because that’s just how it is!

Actually, it was decided that there would be three legs in the relay because:

  • there would be a relatively long (meaningful?) distance for each leg
  • three legs would not overly clutter the course with too many exchange zones (and the additional cars, etc. that accompany them)
  • more legs would create data-handling problems
  • more legs would increase the logistics involved in timing the event by adding more exchange zones (and more timing hardware, volunteers, chute materials, etc.)

The first relay was held in 1991. It was created by Paul Beberg, who was the UAF Cross Country Skiing and Running Coach at the time, and was the Equinox Marathon Director.

What Awards Do Winners Receive?

Awards will be presented at the awards banquet and ceremony, beginning at 7:30PM on race day:

Relay Awards

The winning team in each of the six categories will receive medals

Marathon Awards

The first three men and the first three women in the in each age class will receive medals

The first five men and the first five women overall will receive special awards

Spirit of the Equinox Award

The Spirit of the Equinox Award is made at the conclusion of the awards ceremony. Read more about the Spirit of the Equinox Award by running your cursor over the “More” menu item and then clicking on “Spirit of the Equinox.”

Special Awards

From time to time, the organizers of the Equinox Marathon may create special awards, either one-time awards or annual awards.

In 2010, Nat Goodhue, Gail (Bakken) Johnson and Jim Mahaffey, three of the principals who created the Equinox Marathon, were presented with special “Founders Awards,” in recognition of their foresight and energy in starting the event in 1963.

What Do Finishers Receive?

Marathon finishers who finish by 6:00PM will receive an Equinox Marathon patch, the traditional recognition of finishing the marathon. Food and drink will be available for all finishers who cross the line by 4:00PM; service levels will be reduced beginning at 4:00PM.

Why is It Called the "Equinox" Marathon? Why is It in Mid-September?

The Equinox events are held on the Saturday in September on or immediately prior to the Autumnal Equinox. When the Autumnal Equinox occurs on a Saturday, then the Equinox events are normally held on that date. The Equinox events will not be held later than the Autumnal Equinox.

Both equinoxes–autumnal and spring–are significant dates in Fairbanks, since we are so close to the Arctic Circle. They represent the two dates each year where the sun is above and below the horizon for roughly the same amount of time on a given day. You can find lots of interesting information about the equinoxes on the Wikipedia Equinox article.

Is the course accurate?

The course has been carefully measured using calibrated bicycles using a technique similar to the standard technique use to certify road race courses. It is impossible to obtain official certification for the course because so much of it is on rough, unpaved surfaces. And it would serve little purpose. It would be hard to get a Boston qualifying time on the Equinox and no world record is going to be set on the course.

We install Jones Counters on the front wheel of mountain bikes. The bikes are calibrated on a measured ½ mile course on a straight, flat section of Chena Pump Road that was established with precision electronic distance measurement (EDM) equipment by registered surveyor Pat Kalen. We ride back and forth, and if the measurements are not consistent we ride more laps. This gives us a constant – the number of clicks per mile on the Jones counter.

We use the mile markers as monuments as we ride the calibrated bikes around the course. We establish a point as the start of the out and back. We measure the distance from the start to that point and measure the distance from the finish to the same point. We can then calculate how long the out and back needs to be for the course to be 26 miles and 385 yards.

If you measure the course with a GPS you should find the course is short. This is because a GPS measures the distance from point to point as you move around the course, so it misses a lot of surface irregularities that a rolling wheel measures. Of course, a rolling wheel measures up one side of every root and down the other, whereas a runner steps over the root. But our objective is to have a course that is similar to past Equinox courses. We have talked to course founder Nat Goodhue and he used a surveyor’s wheel to lay out the course. The calibrated bicycle should give a similar measurement to a surveyor’s wheel.

We diverge from the USATF methods in one way: To ensure that a course is not short, they have you multiply your working constant by 1.001. Since we are not worried about someone setting a world record we don’t bother with this. We ride the course at least twice and the certification standard is that two rides need to be within 0.08 percent of each other. The roughness of the course makes it very hard to meet the 0.08 percent standard.

We are confident the course is very close to marathon length and similar to past courses.