“Bright light city gonna set my soul, gonna set my soul on fire…” Vegas, baby! This was my lucky number 11 and after last week’s marathon in Flagstaff, I needed a win. Mama needs a new pair of shoes! I was not happy about my performance during the previous week’s marathon, no matter what excuses I had floating through my brain. Too much altitude, volcanic silt, tumbling ass over teacup – these are things that could have been avoided or trained through with a little more research and preparation on my part. While I was still in Flagstaff, I made sure I did another run at 7000 feet to force my system to accept these oxygen restrictions and then when I got to Las Vegas, I made sure I ran in the middle of the day to get my body ready for increased heat and its effect on my body. I was glad that the legendary “dry heat” didn’t wear me out like humidity does. I surveyed the course and mapped out the hills so my body could properly imagine the exertions that would be required of it. This slice of desert was goint to be a slice of dessert.
I did not choose to run the route of the Rock ‘N Roll Marathon. Although this is a great city course, the Rock ‘N Roll marathon series is really about the event and the races are designed as an overall “ultimate marathon experience”. As luck would have it I found out at the last minute that there was a little marathon right outside of the city called the Labor of Love Marathon. Not a lot of local runners had heard about this marathon. Instead of running in the more popular Red Rock Canyon this marathon takes place over that ridge of the mountains in a little place called Lovell Canyon. I would not be surprised if you have not heard of it. The locals I was staying with weren’t even sure it was part of Las Vegas (it is). So no bright lights. No dancing girls. No fancy shots and late night partying until the break of the start line for this guy.
Once again, packet pick up was only available the day of the marathon, alerting me this would be a smaller field of racers. The race director did do an excellent job mapping directions to get us to the odd starting line.out in the middle of beautiful nowhere. It was absolutely stunning. It had snowed the night before and so the white sticky stuff clung to every surface except the road. In fact, as we were running, we would hear snow dislodging from branches, but the ground was so warm that as soon as the snow hit, it melted and left the smallest of moisture marks. This was a race that had a wide variety of distances and with the larger distances, they had the 50 milers, the 50kers, and the marathoners all start at the same time. This was nice, not just for the group photo taken at the start line, but also because I had more runners around me during the race, although some would continue on after I had finished.
The course is a bit of an odd out and back. From the start line you run out ten miles, turn around and run back three miles and the head back to the furthest point before you run your final 10 miles. As beautiful as the scenery was, I’m usually not a fan of out and backs, much less the addition of the added out and back loop on the far side. I would have preferred adding on 3 miles of trail to mix up the view a bit. The benefit of the early morning snow was the out and back wasn’t as repetitive as normal. As we ran out the starting gate, we were greeted by high desert winter scenery with snow highlighting the firs and cacti lining the road, making the greens pop against the monotonous khaki landscape (it made me feel like I was Clint Eastwood in The Outlaw Josie Wales but it was warm enough not to wear the mexican blanket poncho). On our way back it had warmed up enough to give us dessert views of Joshua Trees that made us look like we should be on the back cover of the 80s album cover. All the while we had dramatic mountains and cliffs looming to either side of us.
This is a great race to pace yourself with hills and inclines. The first 4 or 5 miles are mostly a steady incline with a few hilly bumps, building to a large drop off. As I was running up, I was keeping positive because I knew this would be the final road home. Having the last four miles be such a gentle, steady decline would be a balm to my tired legs. At mile 5 you have the big hill. The next hill is actually larger, it just doesn’t have the large grade angle that mile 5 has. Running downhill in mile 5 gives you that wonderful feeling of running as a kid – steep enough to take you fast, not so steep to make you feel like you are out of control. Of course, as I’m running downhill I had someone piping up “Just remember – we need to climb this on the way out”. Although true and somewhat intimidating, my recomendation is to run the mile you are in. Mile 5 is a beautiful free for all – take it and run like the wind. As you start the climb from miles 6-10 although a steeper grade, I feel there are some very nice plateaus between inclines to give your legs a rest. Once you reach the main turn around, you basically have 3 miles of downhill to your advantage. Seize it. This would have been a good place for me to make up some time but I stayed conservative needing to rebuild from mile 13-16. But then you have another 4 miles of downhill after that so my recomendation is to take advantage of that intial downhill turn around while your legs are still fresh. The final hill at mile 20 that I warned you about at mile 5 isn’t so bad. Keep your head up, keep moving, it is almost exactly one mile. One mile of hell to run, walk, or crawl through and then on to 4 miles of downhill heaven to finish. If you are from the lowlands, although this race starts at 4650 ft, you are above 5000 ft for the majority of this race
The finish line party was fun. The race director was there to talk and encourage all the runners. Fresh hamburgers off the grill, all sorts of sweet treats, choclate milk, juices and electrolytes. Overall this was a fun race, but I think it was a little pricey. There was a race photographer, but he stayed at a spot that was conducive to capturing the majority of racers, whereas I felt the most dramatic scenery was much further along the course. No free photos (though this photographer was better priced than most, especially for individual shots). A shirt, a medal, some nice after race food. I know I was late to sign up, but for a race that doesn’t advertise a cause, I felt this was a little pricey. This will be the subject though of a future post comparing a number of races. I would recomend this race for beautiful scenery and moderate challenge for the marathon.
Run The Mile You Are In
I really felt this is a lesson I have been learning all along and I feel like all those little lessons came to fruition today. Most of this race I tempered to how I felt at that moment and the road that was directly ahead of me. Two of my running buddies from this race Debbie Goodwin and Jaime Lynn said I was trucking along at a pretty steady pace and then we got to a hill and pow! I took off like a shot (the general congeniality of all the racers at all distances definitely made this race a lot less work). I had a little hiccup holding me back during the miles 10-13 but running each mile for on its own merits felt really good this day.
Enter Small Races for Big Gains
This race is monumental for me. Not only did I feel like I got my mojo back after gasping for air the last couple of marathons, this is the first race I ever won my age category!!! That’s right. I walked away with a first place win Male Aged 40-49. No, I was not the only participant in the category. There were two of us and I won fair and square. I certainly had nothing to do with the odd oil slick that sent him tumbling nor the suspicious smoke screen that blinded him before he ran into the cactus. This may not seem like very much, but it was thrilling to have someone walk up to me after the race and hand me a trophy. I have told friends before, if you want a PR race a new or odd distance. Now I can tell them, if you want to win your age category, find a smaller race.
Although I was feeling a little depressed after last week’s race, I feel like I had the mental tenacity to turn it around and focus on utilizing the lessons from SP Crater to advance my running education. At a finishing time of 5:44:41, it was not my best time, but it did plant me firmly within my current best effort with a decent altitude and moderate to difficult hills to conquer. Comparing it to the El Paso Marathon, my first altitude race (though I didn’t realize that until recently) I came in at the same time, with a course that was a higher difficulty, and I recovered much cleaner, my body bouncing back and feeling fresh as early as the same day. I felt strong and my legs were giving me no problem whatsoever. I am looking forward to the beautiful scenery and similar conditions next week in Utah, so I can build upon my current success and perhaps PR at a high altitude. As always, I appreciate your feedback and constructive commentary. Please like and share this post in whatever social networks you enjoy!