Juneau athlete Zack Bursell, 30, outpaced the field in Saturday’s Equinox Marathon at Fairbanks, winning with a time of two hours 57 minutes and seven seconds over the 26.2-mile course.
“I feel pretty awesome,” Bursell said minutes after the race. “I mean, you finish a marathon it hurts, but I feel about as good as I imagine you could at this stage. I’m pumped.”
Bursell was the only runner under three hours. Anchorage’s Mike Rabe, 43, finished second in 3:04:34 and Anchorage’s Chad Trammell, 39, third in 3:06:46. Palmer’s Christy Marvin, 43, was the top female, finishing eighth overall in 3:19:53. Each placed first in their age division. It was Marvin’s seventh Equinox win (2013-14, 2016-19, 2023), surpassing six-time champions Stan Justice, Bob Murphy and Matias Saari.
Bursell averaged 6:46 per mile during the race in a plan that included starting out with the pack at the front among 400 runners leaving the soccer field near the Student Rec Center and Patty Center Gym on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus.
“I planned to be patient and trust my instincts,” he said. “Make a move when it is time and make them hurt.”
Going over the course the day before the race with his support crew — father John and mother Jamie — Bursell found those spots that would benefit his running style and training.
“We were pretty thorough about mapping it out,” he said. “When to eat and when to drink, stuff like that. It helped a lot.”
His race fuel plan was a Maurten Gel and water every 30 minutes provided by his race crew.
“Kind of a lot, I was knocking back gels left and right,” he said.
Pre-race fuel was a coffee, a fig bar “and a gel.”
“Last night I had some pizza,” Bursell said. “Most important now is to eat a lot of food and take a nap.”
Bursell said he kept his GPS watch in his pocket. “Just trying to win and not focusing on time at all.”
The first 10 miles Bursell sat back in a lead pack of six runners before taking a lead that was never relinquished along a course that runners have to balance “striding out” on faster sections, but also finding efficiency on technical trail sections.
“I felt really comfortable on the trail portions,” he said. “Running in the terrain on the trails in Juneau forces you to be competent in that. Shifting gears is kind of tough but I found myself really looking forward to the trail portions. It was at those points that I feel I was able to do some damage to the other guys out there.”
That first infliction began just before mile 10 and an 1,800-foot climb up to Ester Dome and continued past mile 12 approaching a twisting rough trail called “zipper” between the two peaks of Ester Dome and ascending to the race high point where a four-and-a-half mile out-and-back awaits.
“I decided to start climbing pretty hard,” Bursell said. “Then there is an out-and-back section at the top with steep up and downs and technical, rough trails. I decided to push pretty hard on that, too.”
Bursell held a three-minute lead on the single track, rocky-and-rutty trail that forced runners to battle their footing down — only to have to run up to Ester Dome again. At mile 17 racers head toward the “chute,” a third of a mile downhill plunge.
“From there on, I was just trying to survive,” he said. “Just trying to make it to the finish. I wasn’t pushing particularly hard because I wasn’t able to. Just hanging on.”
At mile 19 the race was downhill on paved road to a trail route at mile 21, a short uphill at mile 22.7, and a mixture of short ups and downs on trails to a steep uphill at mile 24.8, which led to a rolling double track toward mile 26 on the UAF campus soccer field.
“The last five or so miles I really had to focus,” Bursell said. “I had made a couple pretty hard moves mid-race and while I knew everyone else was hurting, I was definitely hurting, too. I unleashed everything I had. There wasn’t much left. I was just really trying to enjoy the moment. While I was pushing pretty hard I did have a big grin on my face. It was pretty cool. I had a lot of friends and family cheering me on. It made it easier to push.”
Other finishers with Juneau connections included: Anchorage’s Owen Hatcher, 31, 11th overall 3:28:28; Petersburg’s Kayleigh Eddy, 25, 14th overall 3:32:16; Petersburg’s Nathaniel Lenhard, 24, 22nd overall 3:46:04; Quinn Tracy, 43, 85th overall 4:33:41; and Forest Wagner, 42, 131st overall 5:00:57, among others. Complete results can be found at www.equinoxmarathon.org.
Bursell credited his training plan and working with his father for the win.
“I felt really prepared going into this,” he said. “We keyed on consistency more than anything. I’m a pretty impulsive person and take mountain days when it is nice out in Juneau. I used to just do that a lot and then take a few days off. It was really inconsistent. For the build-up to this, my dad and I decided that I should try to rein it in a little bit and run consistent mileage and I think that has helped a lot.”
Other keys were a summer win for Bursell in the Juneau Ridge Race, a strong placing at Seward’s Mount Marathon, a runner-up finish in the Juneau Half Marathon and a 5k race with alumni friends against the local Juneau high school teams two weeks ago.
“Every race gives you something to learn from,” Bursell said. “A learning experience, absolutely. Today I learned it is really important to trust your instincts and stay true to your own gut feeling about your pace. There were times when guys would make moves early and I could have gone with them but I would have been burning unnecessary energy. They all ended up coming back to me. I just had to be really patient and trust that I could do it over the full distance of the race. It was fun. I think people from Juneau should come up and do this race. It was awesome.”
Bursell’s win puts him among the top 60 of Equinox times kept since the inaugural race in 1963. Anchorage’s Aaron Fletcher holds the fastest mark of 2:38:14 set in 2019. Anchorage’s Anna Dalton has the fastest female time of 3:07:22 set in 2021.