Runners ascend the old ski hill on the campus of the University of Alaska Fairbanks at the start of the 2015 Equinox Marathon. (Photo by Ned Rozell)

Runners ascend the old ski hill on the campus of the University of Alaska Fairbanks at the start of the 2015 Equinox Marathon. (Photo by Ned Rozell)

Alaska Science Forum: Running over the same old ground

Oh my, it’s that time again.

The Equinox Marathon starts with a cannon blast on the third Saturday of September here at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

The course, laid out by two students who were in part executing a homework assignment in 1964, loops from the athletic fields near the Student Recreation Center to the top of 2,362-foot Ester Dome and back. Twenty-six-point-two miles, to be covered on foot.

I will be out there running over that same old ground on Saturday. To spectators, it may look more like I am executing sort of a slow-motion version of jogging. But, as an acquaintance said to me during a chance meeting in Delta Junction last weekend, I’m still here.

I have completed that wondrous loop in this colorful, crisp, mosquito-free time of year more than 20 times. The fastest, when I was at the top of my arc, was three hours, 42 minutes; the slowest was a recent 17-hour walk that required a headlamp. I also completed the 40-mile Equinox Ultramarathon a few times when it was offered.

Twice, with my wife Kristen contending for first place and both of us possessing lifetime bibs we needed to honor, I pushed my 3- and then 4-year-old girl (now 17-year-old Anna) over the marathon course in a backcountry stroller. The dog came on those jaunts too.

I am one year older than the Equinox Marathon, which Gail Bakken, Nat Goodhue and others penciled out as a race course and possible cross-country skiing loop. Back then, President Lyndon Johnson had just taken over for the assassinated John F. Kennedy.

I first noticed the Equinox when Dan Joling, a former writer for the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, wrote a profile on Stan Justice in 1986.

Justice is a multi-time race champion. In a fine example of old-school journalism, Joling followed him around for a month before the race. He was present with his reporter’s notebook as Justice ran at the West Valley High School track, as Justice ran repeats up the UAF ski hill and as Justice jogged six miles to work.

Joling included pithy details of Justice’s personal and athletic life: “He’s reserved, gentlemanly and methodical, not someone you’d call to celebrate your 21st birthday but someone you’d want as your air-traffic controller.”

I read and re-read that story, and I still have the hard copy. It inspired me as a writer and a runner. I have logged many miles doing both as the decades ticked away since then.

And — jeez — haven’t they?

But here I am, in the same place to which I returned in 1986 after having tasted a bit of Fairbanks when I was a teenage airman at Eielson Air Force Base in the early 1980s.

That’s a lot of time to spend in one place. Its rarity is clear as I attend parties for friends and co-workers leaving Alaska. So many people have come and gone.

But not Stan Justice. He will be there on Saturday, volunteering at the two road/railroad crossings before and after Ester Dome. He will smile when you call his name.

The 59-year-old Equinox was a marathon before marathons were cool. It was the largest marathon by number of participants in the world three of its early years. It included women many years before that became common.

The race has survived reroutes, changes in management (from the University of Alaska to Running Club North), and early winters. Twenty people — including Justice but not me — ran it unofficially in 1992, when early September snows changed the reflectiveness of Interior Alaska. Autumn never came back. On this day 31 years ago, for example, the low temperature here was 18 degrees Fahrenheit.

Equinox Marathon day has continued to be a favorite, and not just for me. Mike O’Brien, a man of similar vintage, considers it his Christmas Day.

On Saturday I will experience that again. The miles won’t go fast, but due to that time-warp every elderly friend told you about, they will fly by — even the moments of inevitable pleasant suffering.

Maybe, as is the case with that guy who wears the sweat-stained blue Montreal Expos hat, I will see you again the one time I’ll see you all year: at the foot of the UAF ski hill on the third Saturday of September.

• Since the late 1970s, the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute has provided this column free in cooperation with the UAF research community. Ned Rozell is a science writer for the Geophysical Institute.

LJ Evans shows her temporary tattoo for Team in Training, a group that raised money for cancer research in exchange for training to run the race, during the 2009 Equinox Marathon. (Photo by Ned Rozell)

LJ Evans shows her temporary tattoo for Team in Training, a group that raised money for cancer research in exchange for training to run the race, during the 2009 Equinox Marathon. (Photo by Ned Rozell)

More in Sports

The author’s wife fights a steelhead while the author contemplates fly selection. (Photo by Jeff Lund)
I Went to the Woods: The fear of missing fish

Student: “You know, FOMO, the Fear Of Missing Out” Me: “I know… Continue reading

Astrophysicists Lindsay Glesener, left, and Sabrina Savage enjoy the sunshine on an observation deck at the Neil Davis Science Center on a hilltop at Poker Flat Research Range north of Fairbanks. (Photo by Ned Rozell)
Alaska Science Forum: Waiting for the sun at Poker Flat

POKER FLAT RESEARCH RANGE — Under a bluebird sky and perched above… Continue reading

Maddy Fortunato, a Chickaloon middle school student, sets to attempt the one-hand reach by touching a suspended ball while remaining balanced on the other hand during the Traditional Games on Sunday at Juneau-Douglas High School: Kalé. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Striving for the perfect balance of competition, camaraderie at seventh annual Traditional Games

More than 250 participants pursue personal goals while helping others during Indigenous events.

Purple mountain saxifrage blooms on cliffs along Perseverance Trail in early April. (Photo by Pam Bergeson)
On the Trails: Flowers and their visitors

Flowers influence their visitors in several ways. Visitors may be attracted by… Continue reading

Elias Lowell, 15, balances his way to the end of the pond during the annual Slush Cup at Eaglecrest Ski Area on Sunday, the last day of what officials called and up-and-down season. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Up-and-down season at Eaglecrest ends on splashy note with Slush Cup

Ski area’s annual beach party features ice-filled water, snowy shores and showboating skimmers.

Aren Gunderson of the UA Museum of the North inspects the back paw of a Siberian tiger donated recently by officials of the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage after the tiger died at age 19. (Photo by Ned Rozell)
Alaska Science Forum: Siberian tiger takes final rest at museum

It’s a safe bet that Aren Gunderson’s Toyota Tundra is the only… Continue reading

A rainbow connects with Kajson Cunningham (30) as he connects with the ball for Thunder Mountain High School during Tuesday’s game against Juneau-Douglas High School: Kalé at JDHS, the opening match of the season for both teams. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
High school soccer season starts with a spectrum of goals and milestones

JDHS boys begin state title defense with 4-0 victory over TMHS, which is playing its final season.

Donovan Jackson, 12, of Juneau competes in the one-foot high kick during the 2022 Traditional Games on April 2, 2022. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire file photo)
Record number of participants expected for seventh annual Traditional Games

Teams from Alaska, Canada and Lower 48 to compete in 12 Indigenous skills events starting Friday.

Alwen Carrillo, a senior at Juneau-Douglas High School: Kalé, signs a letter of intent on Monday to play college basketball at Edmond College in Lynnwood, Washington. (Photo courtesy of Annie Lazo-Chappell)
Alwen Carrillo signs letter of intent to play basketball for Edmond College

All-state JDHS guard averaged 16.2 points, 5.2 assists during senior season.

Most Read