Saturday, June 30, 2012

Places to Run in Las Vegas

I've lived in the Las Vegas area for nearly 25 years.  Why people come here on vacation is beyond me. But they do.  Some who visit enjoy running.  Here are some good running spots.

Your Hotel Treadmill

Running outside June-September is not recommended unless you go early in the morning (before 7:00) or after the sun sets.  It's too darn hot.  Make use of your hotel treadmill.  Find one overlooking the pool if you want some refreshing scenery.

Red Rock Canyon - $7.00 per vehicle

Red Rock Canyon
Red Rock--as the locals call it--involves a 17-mile drive west on Charleston, if coming from the strip.  The 13-mile one-way loop is the only way to get to the canyon's hikes and vistas.  It also makes for a great impromptu half-marathon.  I'll warn you before you choose the impromptu half-marathon option: The first five miles involve a serious incline.  The remaining eight miles involve hills, most of them going down.  Red Rock hosts a half marathon and marathon in March as well as a five-mile ascent run in January.  If you prefer trail-running, there's plenty of trails.  Just don't get lost and require getting airlifted out.  Not only will you feel stupid, but you'll unnecessarily burden Southern Nevada taxpayers, including me.

Valley of Fire - $10.00 per vehicle

Valley of Fire
Take I-15 north for about 45 minutes and enjoy one of Southern Nevada's hidden treasures.  Valley of Fire features the same type of red rocks as Red Rock Canyon but has better hikes and a longer road on which to run.  The Valley of Fire is way too hot in the summer and is best enjoyed in spring or fall.  Winter's not bad either.  If you're feeling up to it after a night at the tables, the Valley of Fire Marathon is held annually in mid-November.

River Mountain Loop

The River Mountain Loop is accessible from numerous locations in Henderson, Boulder City, and The Lake Mead National Recreation Area (which charges a $10.00 fee per vehicle).  The loop is a paved 35-mile path that goes through Henderson, Boulder City and Lake Mead.  The easiest way to get there from the strip is to take I-15 south to I-215 east until it turns into Lake Mead Parkway.  Go about six miles and right before you enter the recreation area, there's a parking lot on the right.  If you're a triathlete and wish to get in some training, enter the Lake Mead National Recreation Area and head to Boulder Beach.  Boulder Beach is home to several triathlons, including the Pumpkinman in late October-early November and Showdown at Sunset in April. By the way, Boulder Beach is not a good swim beach.  It's main purpose is for triathletes and people too cheap to rent jet skis.

Mt. Charleston

Mt. Charleston in Winter
This is about the only place you can run in the summer with a reasonable expectation of not getting heat stroke.  The main problem is if you start at the top of Mt. Charleston, the descent goes quick and it will be hot soon.  There are, however, plenty of high elevation trails for hiking and running.  Try the Lee Canyon side if you desire an elevation over 7650 feet.

Sunset Park

If all you're looking for is a regular old run, then head south on the Strip, turn east on Sunset Road and drive about five miles.  The park is huge and you have several options: (1) Just park anywhere and run your little heart out; (2) Find a trail at Sunset Regional Park, just after McCleod on the right; (3) Run the 1-mile or 1.5-mile loop.  The entrance for this loop (my preferred running spot) is just North of Warm Springs on Eastern.  As you're coming down Sunset, turn right on Eastern and go about 3/4-mile.  Turn left.  The loop is on the right and is impossible to miss if you're in the correct parking lot.  If you reach the train tracks you've gone too far. The small loop is a mile. The extended loop is 1.5 miles. This loop hosts occasional Saturday morning fun runs and, if you're lucky, you'll see me slogging around the track.  By the way, beware of coyotes at night.

The Strip

It sounds glamorous, but running on the Strip is annoying.  The Las Vegas Rock-n-Roll Marathon and Half Marathon is held here in December.  It's an annoying race.  You'd have more fun at the Red Rock or Valley of Fire Marathon.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Utah Valley Marathon Race Review

Editor's Note: The URL for this blog is  The author's time for the Utah Valley Marathon is 58 minutes away from being fast enough for the Boston Marathon.  This is probably not the first time you've been mislead by Internet claims.
Let’s start with the good. I finished. It took 4:12:54. It was about 23 minutes more than my goal time and about half the field passed me in the last three miles, but I didn’t care and I still don’t care. I was extremely happy when I finished and I’m extremely happy now.

I'm awesome
That being said, it definitely was not a peak performance. I made a lot of mistakes.
  • I'm too fat.  183 pounds is a good weight for regular people, but not for marathoners (I'm 5 feet, 10 inches).
  • I started out too fast. Not a huge surprise, since everyone starts out too fast in their first marathon. The crazy thing is I consciously tried not to go out too fast, but I did. 
  • The race start area was a bit chaotic. Between port-a-pottie lines and U-hauls backing up and buses barreling up the canyon, I was completely out of my routine. 
  • I was having stomach issues. Part of the pre-race chaos stemmed from stomach issues, issues caused by nerves. It was my first marathon, after all. 
  • I got no sleep the night before. The last bus left at 4:15. I went to bed at 9:30. I left my bed at 10:30. I went back to bed at 11:30. I stared at the ceiling until midnight. I woke up at 1:00 A.M. I stared at the ceiling for 15 minutes. I woke up again at 2:00 A.M. I stared at the ceiling for 15 minutes. I woke up at 2:55 A.M. I never fell back asleep. 
  • I didn’t sleep enough the entire week. My mama was in town (I'm blaming my slow performance on my mom?  That's weak). It was the last week of school, a hectic time for teachers. 
  • I didn’t drink enough the day before. When you’re driving from Las Vegas to Provo (a 5-hour drive) with five kids (9, 6, 4, 2, 10 months), the last thing you want to do is have to urinate every three miles. For that reason, I drank very little the day before. Even though I drank at every single water stop and multiple times at some, I was still peeing rust afterwards.
There were some other things, out of my control, that may have slowed me down.
  • The hills—as one might expect—were a lot more daunting in person than they were on the website elevation profile. 
  • There was a headwind. I’ll be honest. The headwind didn’t really bother me, although every other person I’ve talked to who did the race complained about it. I didn’t think much of it. Of course, just because it didn’t bother me doesn’t mean it didn’t slow me down.
More random positives
  • I’m a competitive person, which is why it’s so surprising how uncompetitive I was during this race. At no time did I ever feel I was competing against anyone but myself. I never tried to real anybody in. I didn’t feel bad after anyone passed me (and there were literally hundreds who did). I was just so appreciative that all those people showed up to support me as I attempted my first marathon. Some even gave me stuff to drink and eat (My Boston Marathon veteran wife, by the way, suggests that if I had been more competitive I wouldn't have embarrassed the family by getting chicked several hundred times). 
  • I don’t know who the Utah Marathon Pacers are, but they deserve a hardy pat on the back. I used them at a couple different points to get my legs moving again. Unfortunately, I couldn’t keep up with them for more than a few miles each time. 
  • Whoever decided to put creamsicles at the end of the race deserves an award—a Nobel Prize or something. I ate four of them. And let’s not forget about the chocolate milk people. Heavens to Mergatroid! I chugged about five of those. I also wolfed down a couple of oranges and pounded five or six cups of Powerade.
These are two of my five kids enjoying a delicious creamsicle.
The Actual Race

Miles 1-7. 58:35. This isn’t as fast as it seems. The first seven miles were mostly downhill. I felt good. The top of my foot began to hurt at about mile six.

Miles 8-11. 36:19. Miles 8 and 9 had some serious hills. Once I got over them, I settled in at a pretty good pace. I tried the sideways run for extended periods going up the steeper hills and was pleasantly surprised at its effectiveness.

Miles 12-13. 20:05. I started feeling pretty bad for some reason and slowed down considerably. The curvature of the road didn’t help matters much and there was some hilliness and headwinds. Luckily there were numerous porta-potties set up for the half marathon. The pit stop added a minute-plus to my mile 13 time.

Miles 14-16. 27:18. I stumbled out of the port-a-pottie and felt pretty good. I was at slightly under 1:57 at the halfway point and latched on to the 3:55 pacer for a couple miles. I slowed at mile 16. My right Achilles had started to hurt prior but it had stopped by mile 16. Mile 15 would be my last sub 9-minute mile.

Miles 17-20. 40:30. I had lost the 3:55 pacer by this point and was hurting significantly. I knew if I made it past the last uphill around mile 18 that I would finish. The expected burst at mile 18, unfortunately did not happen.

Miles 21-23. 28:12. Two things occurred as I passed the mile 20 milestone: (1) I ate some Gu and pounded half a banana; (2) The 4:00 pacer jogged by. I had a decision to make. I could either slog it out and finish at around 4:05 or I could go for 4:00 or flame out. I went for the glory. The most enjoyable 2.5 miles occurred here. I felt strong. I felt happy. I had not run into the infamous wall at mile 20 like everyone said I would. I felt myself tire just before the 23-mile mark right before my family cheered me on. Mile 23 would be my final sub 10, 11 or 12-minute mile at 9:55. 

Miles 24-26. 37:50. I hit the wall right after passing the 23-mile mark. Every cell in my body wanted to quit. My left quad started cramping up. Half the field passed me. I even stopped to walk two times for about a 100 yards. But I kept going. I was too tired to do anything but set one foot in front of the other. I knew I was going to finish and I no longer cared how long it would take. The words of Dean Karnazes inspired me forward: “If you can’t run, walk. If you can’t walk, crawl. Just don’t quit.” Luckily, I didn’t have to crawl. Both walks were very short. I took short strides to prevent the quad from locking up.
This is mile 23. That's my baby on the right.
The last .35. 4:19. You can strategize all you want about running tangents and all that crap, but putting it into practice is a different story; hence, I ran 26.35 miles. There were two chutes at the end. Those who ran the half marathon to the left; those who ran the marathon to the right. When I entered the right hand chute, I was the beneficiary of a burst of energy and a sense of exhilaration that I do not recall ever experiencing. I could have cared less about my goal time, who beat me, whom I beat, who was watching. I raised my arms triumphantly, crossed the finish line, bent over (I may have wept for a few seconds), and shouted as I pulled at my shirt. I couldn’t believe I had actually finished. I was just so proud to have accomplished a goal that had been in the back of my mind for over 15 years.

I did reach one goal. I had never finished in the top half of a race before. I was 866 out of over 2,059 entrants. I finally finished above the mediocrity line. Next time I’ll finish in the top half of my age group.  

Looks like I'm still running from mediocrity. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Book Review Part 2: Born to Run by Christopher McDougall

I know everyone's read this book.  I've read it twice.

I read it last September and loved it.  I included a review of it in my top running books of all time review that included Born to RunUltramarathon Man, and Once a Runner.  As with all successful endeavors, there was an anti-Born to Run, anti-barefoot running backlash, which made me reconsider just how much I liked the book, so I read it again.  

The book was better the second time.  

In addition to McDougall’s clear and sound arguments against the running shoe industry, he tells a great story and captures the joy of running.  I’m no barefoot runner, but the principles of sound running form (I contend it’s more a book about running properly than it is about running barefoot) he espouses, which I started implementing via Chi Running after numerous nagging injuries, have been invaluable as has my switch from an inflexible motion control shoe that caused numerous calf problems to a neutral running shoe.  

I even bought a pair of Kinvaras, but the toe box was way to narrow and I returned them.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Book Review: The Perfect Mile by Neal Bascomb

I’m adding The Perfect Mile to my pantheon of great running books, which now includes The Perfect MileBorn to Run,Ultramarathon Man, and Once a Runner.  

Bascomb narrates the quest of three runners, Roger Bannister, John Landy, and Wes Santee, for immortality by running the four-minute mile first along with the duel between Bannister and Landy at the Empire Games in Vancouver in 1954.

It’s very difficult for the average weekend warrior, crackerjack athlete (like myself) who has “real life” responsibilities to relate to elite athletes.  That’s why reading about Bannister, Landy, and Santee is so refreshing, elite athletes with actual non-athletic responsibilities, who went out and dominated anyways. Anyone trying to achieve a new running benchmark--be it a four-minute mile or a ten-minute mile or running 10 miles without soiling themselves--will benefit from reading this book.

Spoiler Alert: If you don’t know who broke the four-minute mile first and you want to be surprised by what happens, stop reading now (and crawl out from underneath the rock you’ve been living under since 1954).

Bannister was in the process of obtaining his medical degree while training for the mile.  The day he broke the four-minute mile for the first time, he spent the morning tending patients at a hospital—not in the capacity of a doctor, but in the capacity of a lowly hospital worker. The morning after breaking the four-minute barrier, he was back to work—although his coworkers did hoist him on their shoulders and give him his due.

Landy, who had educational and work responsibilities, and Santee, who was screwed over by the hypocrisy of the U.S. Amateur Athletic Union several times while attending and working at the University of Kansas, had to focus on more than just running fast, even taking menial jobs at the University to supplement his scholarship. 

These are athletes normal folks can relate to, although we normal folks are simply trying to qualify for Boston while these guys were chasing immortality.