Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Race Report: Revel Mt. Charleston Marathon

Much of my racing in the first few months of 2018 centered around prepping for a double marathon weekend in late April.  While I'm well versed in completing double half marathons over the course of one weekend, I've only done the double full marathon challenge twice - and one of those times was a 52.4 mile jaunt with a roughly half hour break in between the two official marathons (San Francisco Ultra 2016).  I ended up booking the Revel Mt. Charleston race in July 2017, getting the national anthem gig, and then garnered a spot at Big Sur through the lottery the following month, and it just so happened both races were occurring on the same weekend, one day after another. For me, "training" meant upping the weekend mileage by running a couple "marathon + half" races in the lead up - which I accomplished after finishing the Two Rivers Marathon and Philadelphia Love Run Half and  Charlottesville Half and Go St. Louis Marathons. Soon, the race weekend was upon me, and I had a lot of mileage, not to mention elevation change ahead of me.

I flew out of New York with a 6pm flight that landed in Las Vegas a little after 8pm.  I was able to get the cheap rental car fairly quickly and got myself to the hotel I booked, well off the strip near the Las Vegas suburb of Summerlin pretty quickly, where my friend Angie had already checked in earlier that day. She was already in bed when I arrived, as we had a SUPER early 2:30am wake up call the next morning, getting ourselves to the Centennial Centre about 10 minutes up the highway near the Beltway, where we could park in the parking lot in front of the Home Depot, and where shuttle buses headed up to the marathon start in Mount Charleston were picking up runners. Boarding the shuttles was pretty seamless, and Angie and I were headed up the mountain in no time.

Found Almi just before I sang!
After exchanging some niceties with runners around us (including the runner sitting behind me from Mitchell, South Dakota, who shared a few mutual friends with me) I fell asleep for most of the 45 minute drive up, reaching the Mount Charleston Lodge where the startline was located. It was pretty chilly, and in the 50s at this elevation.  We disembarked in the dark and rushed over to the lodge for warmth, which was already filling with runners who were stretching or catching a few more z's before the race start.  I ran into several friends including my fellow Pinoyorkers JC and Jeanette, and my friends Pete from Dallas and Gaby from Chicago.

The startline!
The race start time began to approach quickly, so runners would head outside to use the port-a-potties. Thankfully, the sun was just beginning to rise as well, so it also began to warm up.  Many of us sported the mylar space blankets that the race provided us in our bags to keep warm, though we were requested to discard them before reaching the timing mats in order to not screw with the signal. The corrals were held back from the actual starting line a tiny bit as runners crowded around to prepare for the 6am start time.  One final bus made it up the mountain, which several friends happened to be on - Ken had texted me from the bus that their ETA was only seven minutes before the start of the race.  Those runners rushed off of the bus to get themselves quickly through the port-a-potties, and whatever bag check they needed to send down the mountain.  Luckily, time doesn't start until they pass the starting mat, so those stragglers had nothing to worry about; however, my national anthem was up, so some folks would miss it, especially since it wasn't going to be well amplified; for the third time, I'd be singing the national anthem at a race using a megaphone (after having done it in Connecticut at the Savin Rock Marathon and in Tennessee at the Flying Monkey Marathon).  Being at 7,600 feet, singing the song would be a feat, one I've done before, but I managed it well; and not only that, the runners joined in right at the end!  It was a beautiful setting, being able to sing beneath snowcapped peaks and in the fresh mountain air, literally a world away from downtown Las Vegas down the canyon.


Running into the rising sun
After singing, the runners were released to proceed toward the starting line, and then off we went, heading into the sun for a short out and back that took us around a roundabout, before returning back, and up a short, somewhat steep (and tough) uphill that felt really rough at this elevation, all within the first mile.  But as I said, it was short - and then the downhill began.  As we meandered past Cathedral Rock, the course gently went downhill, taking us past Fletcher Canyon, all the way down Nevada State Route 157, aka Kyle Canyon Road.  In fact, the first 21 miles of the race would take us down this road, featuring a smooth 4% downhill slope and spectacular scenery in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest (the largest National Forest of the United States outside Alaska) as it descended into the Mount Charleston foothills and into the desert basin of the Las Vegas Valley.
Hey everybody!
Trying to look happy and relaxed for the camera
(Photo by Revel Race Series)

A respite at Spring Mountains
I struggled to get my pace back up to normal, quickly realizing my stomach was in knots.  Despite the downhill and the beautiful scenery of towering pines and exposed jagged limestone rockface surrounding us, miles 3-6 were a strugglebus of keeping with a good strong pace.  At mile 5, we found ourselves doing a loop of the parking lot of the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area (and a slight uphill section to get to the lot).  After breaking real quickly at an aid station and port-a-potty, I continued on my way, finally able to throw down some mileage at a pace I was happy with - a couple 9:15 miles, even an 8:47 in there.  I had found Marathon Maniacs Las Vegas Ambassador Karen along the way, who introduced me to her friend Martha, a fellow maniac and world traveler herself, who's run in many different countries like me! 
The scenery made for a good photo op.
(Photo by Revel Race Series)
Massive limestone rockfaces looming over us
Early on in the long downhill stretch
The scenery changed as we passed cliffs and more desert-like surroundings, a canyon studded with Joshua trees typical of the Mojave Desert.  By mile 9, we were at 5,381 feet of elevation, having descended already 2,250 feet down the canyon. Another slight elevation gain of roughly 20 feet met us near the 11 mile mark, before the land emptied out considerably.  The halfway point of the race was noticeable, first with the large grouping of port-a-potties assembled in a gravel lot next to the road, then with the mess of discarded space blankets along the side of the roadway at the half marathon's startline.  I passed through in about 2:17 and change.  Gaby, who had barrelled out forward ahead of me near the start, was having a tough race, and he had slowed down as I passed him near this point.

This is what it looked like for hours around us. Just desert all around.
Those mountains on the horizon don't seem to be getting any closer.

Nearing the halfway point.  I think.
Heat is starting to get to us... mile 20
The next six miles had us descend through open desert land, with the dottings of ranches on the left side of the road, all along the way. The summit of Gass Peak, the highest peak in the Las Vegas Range of Southern Nevada, sat directly in front of us, a mere 15 miles away, but dominating the scenery.  The heat started to get to me around mile 18, with the sun shining brightly overhead.  We were also still descending, knocking off another 2,000 feet of elevation loss as we reached mile 20 at the height of 3,100 feet.

We finally made a turn at this point, bearing right along a frontage road of US-95, and almost immediately, the temperatures soared to make it feel like we were running through an oven.  Probably, the heat-island effect of all the black top surrounding us, I struggled through the next couple miles, as we approached civilization for the first time.  At the 22 mile mark, just after passing underneath Skye Canyon Park Drive (and our first shade of the entire race, I almost wanted to just stay under there for awhile!) we were running on Oso Blanca Road along the edge of a cookie cutter residential neighborhood.

Burning up. It's so hot. (Photo by Revel Race Series)
Running down Fort Apache Road.  It's so hot.
Coming in for the finish.
(Photo by Revel Race Series)
We turned onto Grand Teton Drive, then ran down palm-lined Fort Apache Road for most of the next two miles, running down residential complex after residential complex within the neighborhood of Centennial Hills, giving me somewhat of a traumatic deja vu experience, remembering the latter miles of one of my least favorite races I've run, the Phoenix Marathon (now known as the Mesa-Phx Marathon.)  Along the way, I leapfrogged with my fellow New York friend, Alexis, who was racewalking the course at a solidly strong clip.

We took a left turn along Centennial Parkway with only a mile left to go, and with the sun baking us like crazy, I made the turn onto Durango Road for the last 0.4 mile.  I powered on through and we looped around into the parking lot of the Thunderbird Family Sports Complex, crossing the finish line to the sound of cheers of spectators and other finishers. I managed a 4:57:36, enough to give me the fastest of 10 marathons thus far in 2018. From the start at the top of the mountain to the finish, we had descended an impressive 5,200 feet, 7,681 feet down to 2,506 feet.

Victory Headstand.  Mountains all around.  Quads completely shot
Pinoy finishers!
The heat definitely baked me and slowed me down toward the end, and after finishing, I was feeling woozy enough to beg for shade to cool me down and a need to sit down.  Having cold, wet towels provided to us was a godsend, and after finding a few other friends who finished earlier (to take pictures, of course...) and demurring any food (my stomach wasn't feeling up to it at all), I found Angie and headed to the shuttles to take us back to our cars, and Angie and I headed back to the hotel to quickly get ourselves showered, checked out, and out the door.  We drove over to the Suncoast Hotel and Casino to pick up Almi; when we arrived and she jumped in the car, Angie realized that they had run together for nearly 20 miles of the race with the pacer!

Bling on the plane...
en route to San Jose!
With lots of ample time, we headed to the airport to drop off my rental, then spent an hour chowing down on food (I finally had an appetite, and it was STARVING) in the glitzy Amex Centurion Lounge at the airport, courtesy of Almi's credit card membership.  Almi and I left Angie at the lounge (her flight was a few hours later) and headed out near boarding time to our gate for our short flight to San Jose. At the gate, we found my friend Ken, who was somewhat delirious after suffering through the heat as well; the three of us, plus another runner we met during boarding, were attempting the nuttiness of a double marathon weekend with excessive elevation change. Tomorrow... we would run the Big Sur Marathon.  Another 5,000+ feet of elevation change, but this time, just as much up as there would be down.  Time would tell to see how sore we'd be at the start of Sunday morning's race.

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