I am not a fan of Las Vegas. I realize that may put me in the minority but I just see too much waste and loss in “Sin City”. Sure the lights and shows are fun but they can’t cover up the desperation, the loss of money, the excess and waste everywhere and the extreme sexual themes with little thought about moral implications. So while I was there on business recently I was very glad I could fit in a race outside of town.
The Red Rock Canyon is about 20 miles outside of Las Vegas but it looks like it’s a million miles away. It’s rustic and barren and beautiful. No lights, no glitz, no crowds. A group called Calico Racing puts on a number of races and events in that area and fortunately they had a full and half marathon the weekend I was in town. So I decided I’d run the half-marathon for my weekly long training run. Then I saw the elevation profile. The first 5.5 miles are uphill gaining over 1000 feet. Then, of course, the next 7+ miles are downhill which actually can be harder on your knees and legs than the uphill portion.
I’m very happy to say that it was an extremely tough course but not as bad as I had convinced myself it was going to be. With temps in the 40s at the 7:00AM start a group of over 650 runners from all across the country headed out into the desert. Apparently some of them underestimated the impact of the incline because just after the first mile marker I was running past several walking, gasping people who had bolted from the starting line. As I looked at the winding road and line of people in their colorful running gear strung out up the hill ahead of me I just kept reminding myself this was a training run for me, not a race. Not having trained on hills, I knew racing would be suicide (perhaps literally!). I kept a nice steady pace and climbed and climbed stopping only at the water stations to hydrate as the temps rose quickly into the 70s with no cloud cover.
At the water station near mile 6, the volunteers shouted encouragement that it was all downhill from there. And they were mostly correct. The road dropped steadily for miles with only the occasional short incline giving our knees a break from the pounding of the downhill.
At the finish we congratulated each other for finishing what was clearly the hardest run most of us had tackled. Checking the results I was pleased with a 16th place in the field of 39 in my age group and 261st of the 655 finishers. Although I must admit I did begin to wonder what place I could have finished if I had really raced and pushed myself. But then I stopped and looked around at the incredible view and decided I was happy just to be there to be able to run 13.1 miles in that scenery far from the lights, noise and behind-the-scenes problems of Las Vegas.