The Las Vegas Running Community

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Going the Extra Mile

V2LA-July

By Sandra Smith

Las Vegas has a split personality
There’s the Strip… where what happens there stays there and various vices are gleefully celebrated around the clock. And then there’s the real world. That’s where kids play soccer and go to school, people go grocery shopping and get their oil changed while a vibrant running community takes to the streets and trails to log countless weekly miles.

“Las Vegas is known so much as a party town, that’s what people almost expect you to be talking about instead of running,” says Jill Ormond Whitaker, a Vegas runner and fitness blogger who sums up the juxtaposition nicely. “In some ways, it’s like running and healthy living is the ‘underground’ lifestyle.” If so, this underground lifestyle is thriving in the quiet shadow of the Strip’s noisy, neon bacchanal. Populating numerous running clubs, filling parks and threading up and down rugged mountain trails, Las Vegas runners are many and multiplying. Year-round races cater to all levels and types of runners, from weekend warriors to moms pushing strollers to hardcore athletes pushing a hundred miles a week—or even in one day.

>> Charity Runs

Thin Mint Sprint Fun Run

Thin Mint Sprint Fun Run

The Vegas running community gives back by racing in many charity runs that take place throughout Southern Nevada and raise money for a broad spectrum of interests. They support families of fallen soldiers and law enforcement officers, fund autism research and collect food and clothing for needy families. These popular races attract thousands of participants every year.

Fun Runs
As popular as the charity races can be, it’s the fun runs—typically 5k (3.1 miles) in length—that often give runners a chance to enjoy racing without pressure. Kids, families, strollers and leashed dogs are all usually welcome. Runners taking part in Vegas’s assortment of fun runs might be dusted with colored powder, besieged with bubbles or chased by zombies. At the lovely Springs Preserve, racers can run with performers from Cirque du Soleil.

>> Marathons and Half Marathons
Vegas is home to several marathons, large and small. The Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon & Half Marathon is perhaps the most widely recognized in town. With a course along the Strip and run at night, this event attracts more than 12,000 runners. With music, costumes and entertainment on the sidelines, you’re guaranteed to see an Elvis or two. Optional VIP perks, including private restrooms and champagne, can be purchased. Small, less theatric marathons are also popular and well supported. Venues for these include the Hoover Dam, the Red Rock Canyon Conservation Area, the Lake Mead National Conservation Area
and Bootleg Canyon. Half marathons are a growing race category. For distance-loving runners who may not have the time to log scores of miles in preparation for marathons or longer distances, the half marathon offers a nice compromise. There is usually at least one half marathon a month in the Las Vegas area.

Mt Charleston trail

Mt Charleston trail

>> Ultramarathons
If a marathon isn’t enough, the ultramarathon (generally recognized as 50K and up) is perhaps the best example of how Vegas’s “underground” community is flourishing. Karla Kent, a seasoned ultrarunner, describes this fraternity of long-distance devotees as “the absolute best group of people, the wonderful ultra community that stole my heart.” “We are a supportive group of runners who are always pushing each other harder,” adds Kandice Marks, an ultrarunner who
enjoys challenging herself on technical terrain. “I’ve found that the ultra bug is easy to catch because of all the support.” Ultramarathons have grown in popularity in the past five years. With the advent of fast, flat, and amply supported loop courses, the number of runners achieving 100-mile race finishes continues to expand. Runners who prefer the challenges of terrain and trail will find that Las Vegas offers plenty of both. Rock scrambles, high desert trails and lack of shade combine to make local ultra-races like Elemental Running’s Ride the Wind extraordinarily taxing. Runners at this year’s 100M/50M/25M/25K race endured wind gusts of up to 60 miles per hour and a cold front that literally rode in on the wind with a bone-chilling ferocity.

>> Where to Run
Athletes in and around Las Vegas have a wide range of places to choose from when mapping out their runs. Road runners enjoy wide, clean sidewalks and paved trails in many city parks. Trail runners have only to head to the hills, in surprising proximity to the Strip and downtown area.

Las Vegas – Area Running Groups Some runners favor the lone-wolf run; others like being part of the pack. If you’re one of the latter, check out these local running groups.
>> Valley Striders (www.valleystriders.com)
>> Las Vegas Runners (www.lasvegasrunners.com)
>> LV Running Project (www.lasvegasrunningproject.com)
>> Las Vegas Track Club (www.lvtc.org)
>> Summerlin Striders Running Club (www.facebook.com/SummerlinStriders)
>> Southern Nevada Team in Training (www.teamintraining.org/snv)
>> Red Rock Running Company (redrockrunningcompany.wordpress.com/group-runs)

Winter Run Mormon Well Road

Winter Run Mormon Well Road

>> Trails
June Keogh Uhlig, who teaches photography at a local high school, is a diehard trail enthusiast. “Running ultra trails in the Vegas area is a diamond in the rough,” she says. “Miles and miles of trails, easy and hard. Forget the masses of people on the road. This is quiet and beauty at its best. The views are spectacular.” A.J. Mesalic, a member of Las Vegas’s triathlete community and avid trail runner, adds, “Not a flat piece of ground around here. Sometimes you want that for junk-mile long runs. Otherwise it’s fabulous. Wide open vistas so common it’s like ‘yeah just another great view’ after a while.” Runners can enjoy about 30 miles of scenic trails at Red Rock Canyon, a mere twenty miles from the Strip. Southwest of the city, the 32-mile-long River Mountains Loop Trail draws runners who relish the Historic Railroad Tunnel Trail which winds its way from the Lake Mead NRA through a series of railroad tunnels to the
Hoover Dam. Located in Boulder City, just beyond the Lake Mead NRA, Bootleg Canyon boasts three maintained trails. Marks, who considers Bootleg her favorite place to run in the Las Vegas area, describes it as “tough technical terrain that you have to stay focused on so you don’t fall. When you do finally take the time to stop and lift your head, you get the most amazing views. You get the most spectacular view of Lake Mead and all the mountains surrounding it.”
Mesalic favors the six-mile Bristlecone Trail loop on Mt. Charleston. “Your heart rate skyrockets on the long climb, then it’s a delightful, winding route down through ‘Sherwood Forest.’” Runners on this scenic trail will see Bristlecone and Ponderosa pines, white firs, and Common and Rocky Mountain Junipers.

Runners looking for something a little more green will also love the trails of Mt. Charleston which has snow in winter and moderate temperatures in summer. “Mount Charleston is in the seventies all summer, and I can climb to almost 12,000 feet, all within an hour’s drive from Vegas,” points out Ultrarunner Colleen Zato.

>> Parks and Town
Those who prefer to run on paved or flat trails have plenty of options. Floyd Lamb Park at Tule Springs, which Whitaker refers to as “a little oasis in the desert,” is just fifteen miles from downtown Vegas. Flat and relatively even trails take runners past four small lakes, groves of trees hosting a wide variety of birds and grassy lawns on which peacocks can occasionally be seen. Sunset Park and the Clark County Wetlands Park both feature short, flat and paved courses that are perfect for runners out for a few brisk miles. Those who have canine running partners will want to bring them along as well. Considered part of the Las Vegas metropolitan area, the City of Henderson is just a few miles southeast of the Strip and downtown area. With nearly 60 well-kept parks containing more than 120 miles of trail, Henderson is a haven for Las Vegas runners. Fremont Street and Las Vegas Boulevard (aka, the Strip) are also popular spots for runners getting in early-morning or evening road miles while taking in a few popular sights.

>> Gear
Las Vegas runners have plenty of excellent options when shopping for shoes, clothing and other gear as well as hydration and nutrition support. Fleet Feet Las Vegas (7575 W. Washington Ave.) and Red Rock Running Company (7350 W. Cheyenne Ave.) are staffed by friendly, knowledgeable folks who love to run. Chain stores such as Finish Line, REI, and Sports Authority also have local stores. Special Considerations for Running in Las Vegas From October to May, the running conditions in Las Vegas are near ideal. With temperatures ranging from daytime 50s and 60s to nighttime lows in the 30s, running is comfortable.
But summer comes early to Vegas and with a vengeance. Although there is little to no humidity, the heat can be brutal, often exceeding 100 degrees during the day. Many of the trails, parks and desert areas have little to no shade so runners are exposed to the intense summer sun for the duration of their outing. Kent suggests that her experience running the legendary Death Valley race, Badwater 135 “would be a lot tougher to finish if I weren’t lucky enough to live in a place that’s almost as scorching as the hottest place on earth.” During the hottest months, June through September, it’s best to plan runs for early morning or evening, when the sun relents. In any case, sunblock, lip balm, and hydration gear are absolutely indispensable. “Make the heat and sun your friend,” advises Uhlig. “I am a stage-3 skin cancer survivor and I don’t let this place take me down. Be careful, be cautious and live!” Trail runners in the Vegas area should keep an eye out for snakes, especially rattlers, which enjoy the warmth of the rocks and can often be found sunning themselves in the middle of the trail. Desert
tortoises are protected and should be left alone. Scorpions and stinging insects are often present and runners are advised to wear insect repellant while being mindful of their environment.

Mt Charleston trail

Mt Charleston trail

Las Vegas Race Sampler
Whether you fancy a 5k fun run or a 100-mile ultra, you’ll find the race(s) of your dreams right here in Sin City.
>> Running from an Angel 13.1M/10K/5K, January (calicoracing.squarespace.com/running-from-an-angel-marathon)
>> Jackpot Ultra Running Festival, February (www.beyondlimitsrunning.com/app-events/JackpotUltra)
>> Six Tunnels to Hoover Dam, March (www.mountainmanevents.com/sixtunnels.htm)
>> Ride the Wind 100M/50M/25M/25K, May (elementalrunning.com/races/ride-the-wind)
>> Moms Rock! 10K/5K/1-Mile, May (jusrun.com/races/momsrock)
>> Dads Rock Too 5K/1M, June (jusrun.com/races/dadsrocktoo)
>> Flight of Fire 13.1M/10K, June (elementalrunning.com/races/flight-of-fire)
>> Poker Run 12H/10K/2.5M, July (elementalrunning.com/races/poker-run)
>> Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance Runs 50K/50M/100M, July (www.tahoemtnmilers.org/trt-endurance-runs.html)
>> Twilight Red Rock 13.1/5k, September (www.calicoracing.com)
>> Color Fun Fest, October (colorfunfest5k.com)
>> Glow Run, October (www.glowrun.com)
>> Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas 26.2M/13.1M, November (runrocknroll.competitor.com/las-vegas)
>> Las Vegas Turkey Trot ~ Six Tunnels to Hoover Dam 12K/5K/1M, November (www.mountainmanevents.com/turkeytrot.htm)
>> Resolution Run 10K/5K/1M, December (elementalrunning.com/races/resolution-run)
Sandy Smith is a freelance writer and editor based in Las Vegas. Her nonfiction writing focuses on real food, trail and ultra running, craft beer and artisan cocktails. A transplant from New York’s Mid-Hudson Valley, she enjoys traveling and exploring the trails and brewpubs of the West Coast.

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