Willow Winter Solstice Marathon Races

Willow Winter Solstice
Half-Marathon and 5K
December 15th, 2018

We are getting old! For 2018, we decided to shorten our race directing day and eliminate the Marathon (28 mile) distance. It allows us to better monitor racers, keep folks warmer and limits volunteer time. Racers are finished up sooner and can head on the road with more light and finish with more energy to wrap presents!
Every year, we hem and haw about whether or not we are going to put on this race. The time of year is tough with the holidays, we aren't getting any younger and have less tolerance for bumps in the road and when we have to start thinking about putting it together, we feel like we want a break from thinking about running for a while (Well, Dave likes to think about running all the time!). But the truth is, we really just love to see everyone! Living in Willow, we get to Anchorage less and less and have a harder and harder time getting ourselves out of the house. We hope that you all feel the same. We want to give all of you a reason to keep running through the fall and winter. We want to give you a break from the crazy holidays and allow you to just sit back and relax with a cup of hot cider and a bowl of soup and take a deep breath and congratulate yourselves on a race well run. We want to thank all of you who keep coming back year after year and can't wait to see everyone. 


On this page, you'll find:
Overview of race information
Course description
Aid Stations
Race Rules
Trail updates
Registration here - Ultra Signup

Race Overview:
Route:  An out-and-back course taking you from the Willow Community Center, winding over Willow Area lakes and to a turn-around in the Willow Swamp. The course is entirely on Willow's beautiful trail system.
Distances: 13.1 mile half-marathon or 5K (see below for more detailed description of each race course)
Start time: 9AM for both races  
Start/Finish location: Willow Community Center, Parks Hwy, mile 70.    The community center is reserved for this event. Friends and family will be able to hang out and await your return.
CostHalf marathon $50,  5K $30.  
Registration/On-line sign-up:  Here (opening October 17th, 2018, using ultrasignup.com).  Online registration will close Thursday December 13th, 2017 at 11:59pm. Please do not try to sign up at 11:58pm and get upset if you can not get it completed in time. There will be race day signup available (cash and checks only). The cost for race day sign up is yet to be determined. We try to make it somewhat cost prohibitive in order to make you sign up online. While we understand that it is hard to predict race day weather, and this weather may influence your decision to run the race, as race directors, knowing the number of racers ahead of time makes race-day planning much, MUCH easier. So, make sure to run in all kinds of winter weather- cold, warm, punchy snow, hard packed, icy conditions- then you will be prepared for everything!
Participation prizes will be guaranteed to the first 120 runners signed up.  There will be finisher medals for all three races.

Course description:
All racers will start at 9AM together, at Willow Community Center. Taking the trail across Willow Lake, you cross over to Elmsweiler Swamp, heading south to Long Lake. The 5Kers will turn around here. Half- marathoners will continue all the way down Long lake and cross over to Crystal Lake. From there, Vera Lake will take you to the Willow Swamp where  half-marathoners will turn around and head back to the Community Center for the finish.  The course will be marked in both directions.
Both courses are out-and-backs. It will be dark for a significant portion  of the race and possibly very cold. An out-and-back course makes it easier to keep track of everyone and get runners help if needed . Once runners cross the road to Vera Lake, there will be no more possible road access. There are 2-3 places accessible by car where friends and family can cheer you on during the race.
- The 5K course is very walker/hiker friendly and we encourage walking! You will have plenty of time to walk the course and be back to enjoy the warm drinks and goodies inside. If you are a fast walker and the trails are packed, walking the half-marathon course is feasible if you want to be out there that long. Please see the time cut-off guidelines below. 
Go here to see the race trails: http://waco-ak.org/uploads/Trails/Plan2006/West_Gateway_Trails.pdf
Please be aware that the trails you will be running on are multi-use. Please no dogs.  Expect to see both snowmachines and dog mushers.  They tend to be quite friendly and cautious around Willow, but sometimes they are moving fairly fast. Please give them the right of way.  Assume that motorized vehicles can not see you. Headphones are STRONGLY discouraged as they limit your reaction time.
Aid Stations: 
Willow Swamp: Turn around for 1/2 marathoners. There will be water provided here, cold and possibly hot as well. Might be some donuts....
Finish: There will be hot refreshments and soup at the finish for racers.
There will be snowmachine aid along the course, tracking and monitoring racers. Do not hesitate to flag them down if you need help or assistance. 

Race rules: (So, once you start reading, you may feel these rules and wording/tone might seem a bit harsh. Please consider two things: 1. It gets down to -40F in Willow. During the day. 2. Races have rules in response to runners who do dumb things.)
1. You must check in/sign up by 8:30AM race morning. Race meeting starts at 8:35AM. If you do not pick up your bib or sign up by 8:30AM, you will have to wait until after the meeting. This may or may not be before 9AM.

2. Snowshoes and spiked shoes are allowed. You may need them, depending on the trail conditions. 

3. Please do not litter on the trails. If you see obvious race-related trash (snowmachiners don't eat the new peanut butter GUs around here) please pick it up. We thank you. 

4. Half-marathoners, be prepared to feed yourself. The only aid station is at the turn-around and there may or may not be food available. If there is food, it is likely to be the unhealthy kind, like donuts. You will burn a lot of calories out there, especially if it is a -30F year, so make sure you have enough food.

5. Mandatoy gear: headlight and reflective gear front and back. Recommended gear: insulated water system (with knowledge on how to keep it from freezing up!), spare undershirt, additional overlayer(s), handwarmers, food ( In addition to hat, gloves, coat etc). No outside assistance. Expect to be self-sufficient except for aid stations. 

6. There will be no option for drop bags. If you leave something with a volunteer, do not expect to get it back. It is very difficult to keep track of racers' clothes and gear. Expect to carry what you have on the entire way. We generally have a handful of lost-and-found items at the end of the race. If you feel you have left something, please feel free to email us and we can see if we have it. If we do, we will try to drop it off somewhere or meet you to get it back to you. 

7. Time cutoff: Time cutoff for both races will be approximately 4-5 hours.  If you don't think you can finish the half-marathon (in possibly very cold temperatures on snowy trails) in this time frame, please consider signing up for the 5k. Race changes can be made on race day. If moving to a longer race, you will have to pay a difference in race fees. Please come by 8AM if wanting to change races. While these time cut-offs are specific, if someone is making reasonable time, looks good and moving forward, we will not pull you from the race. 

8. No dogs. Running with a dog on or off leash as a race participant will result in disqualification. This means NO DOGS. If someone with you brings a dog, they must be on a leash at all times and are not allowed inside the Community Center. If you feel that you are an exception to this rule for any reason, please e-mail the race director.

9. There will be no race refunds or transfers.  To clarify this statement, if you can not run the race, you will not receive a refund. You can not transfer your race entry fee to another race. If you can not run the race, we will not mail you your swag. Extra race swag is given to additional racers or our wonderful volunteers.  You can not transfer your bib to another runner meaning if you can not run the race, and a friend, family member or co-worker wants to run, tell them to go to the sign up website like everyone else and sign up under their own name. You do not want to be a runner on the remote trails of Willow at -20, freezing your butt off with someone else's name associated with your bib. That would mean you do not exist according to our race info and we will not come to help you. First and foremost, this is a safety issue. If you e-mail us and ask for an exception to this rule (either because you have not read it or feel you deserve an exception) we will not reply. 

10. Race officials reserve the right to pull your bib and pull you from the race if it appears that you are in trouble and should not continue. This is for your safety and for the safety of volunteers. If we deem you do not appear prepared to be out on the course, we will tell you so. All of our volunteers have hundreds of hours of experience outdoors in the winter in Alaska and are good judges of someone in trouble. 
 *****We want to encourage people to come to Willow and run in the dead of winter! BUT! Please be aware that it may be cold and dark with very little direct sunlight. Please be prepared for a -30 to -40 below start and finish. It easily can get that cold here. Dead of winter is fun. Dead you, not so much. Check out our local weather and trail reports page for frequent updates. Please train for cold weather and be prepared with extra clothes, handwarmers and more extra clothes. Warm conditions with fresh, punchy snow can be just as difficult as you will be sweating and moving slower.  THERE IS NO SUBSTITUTE FOR EXPERIENCE in the cold and knowing how to dress appropriately.

*****If you have not spent time training in cold weather or running on snow, please do not sign up for this race, or stick with the 5K. You need to be  prepared for ANY and ALL winter conditions, including very cold weather and layering as well as warm weather with deep snow. If you are concerned about your training level at the time of the race, please down-grade to a shorter race. 
**** Willow often has much different trail conditions than the rest of Southcentral. We receive more snow, it is colder and grooming while excellent, is less packed if we receive a lot of snow. This is not Anchorage or Wasilla. If you want to simulate the race course, come up and run around Willow before the race. There are over 100 miles of groomed trails up here waiting for you! The Willow Trail Committee is an invaluable resource for trail conditions. They have an active Facebook page. 
 Post-race Fare:
- As in past years, we will have a soup/chili/cookie/whatever-you-want-to-bring Potluck. More info on this as we get closer to the race. We will plan to have baked goods and soup/chili for the finishers. This potluck helps us out a ton as it allows us to put on the race during a very busy time of year. Your soup/chili/bread/cookies/goodies make all the difference in the world for us and are very appreciated. We understand that everyone can not bring stuff. For those who can, thank you. We always make several batches of soup and chili ourselves but it is hard to make sure and provide enough for everyone. 

 Accommodations: One of the reasons we love living in Willow so much is the somewhat isolated nature of the location. Unfortunately, this is not the best for out-of-towners needing a place to stay in the winter. Both places listed below have great accommodations and are close to the race in Willow. You may also find some airB&Bs around the area these days. 
-Winter Park Cabins. 907-495-5884 winterparkcabins@mtaonline.net
- Eagle Quest Lodge and Cabins 495-1116 www.eaglequestalaska.com
Trail updates:
- OCt 16th, 2018: RAIN, RAIN, RAIN.