Monday, March 11, 2013

Red Rock Canyon Half Marathon

Red Rock Canyon with snowy peaks
Welcome to Vegas

When you hear the words "Las Vegas" the first thing that comes to mind probably isn't mountains or snow. Fat guys dressed like Elvis? Sure! Casinos shaped like the Eifel Tower, Statue of Liberty, or a giant Pyramid? Check! But, there's actually more to Las Vegas than all-you-can-eat buffets and drive-thru wedding chapels. Drive just ten miles outside of town, and you will find yourself in the beautiful Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

This was the second straight year that I was able to run the Red Rock Canyon half marathon put on by Calico Racing. I'd first run the race last year in 2012 while in town visiting my family (my mother and two brothers both live in Vegas). This year the race date luckily happened to coincide with a business trip that brought me into town for a work conference.

Erik and Matthew
Last year I ran the race on my own, but this year I managed to talk my friend Bill Pritchett into staying after the conference and running the race with me. Bill lives in Michigan, so the only time we usually get to run together is at work conferences. When I described Red Rock Canyon to him I vividly described the beautiful, breath-taking scenery. However, what I omitted to describe was the tough, breath-taking hills that climb to over 5,000 ft elevation!

Also, this year my brother Erik and my nephew Matthew Rice were hinting that they might show up and give the race a go themselves. While most people who sign up for this race are experienced veteran half-marathon runners with years of racing and training under their belts, neither Erik nor Matthew had done much, if any, half-marathon specific training. Matthew plays soccer. Erik ran the 800 meters in highschool and played college football. But soccer fields and tracks don't have 2,000 ft hills!

Mean Mugging

Bill and I got to the race early, with plenty of time to warm up, use the bathroom, pose for pictures, and most importantly -- take our shirts off and strut around intimidating the competition. It was cold out with temperatures hovering just above freezing beneath the snow-capped mountains. But frozen nipples are a small price to pay for getting inside the head of your competition.

As the race was about to start, Bill and I made our way to the front of the pack. Erik and Matthew were still nowhere to be seen. I'd later learn that they were still in the bathroom, having just arrived at the last minute, as the starting gun went off.

Last year I had made the mistake of going out a bit too aggressively, trying to stay with the race leaders in the early miles. This year I vowed to go out more conservatively, hanging back in around 10th place for the first few miles. Then, if I still felt good once we got into the hills, I would pick it up and try to reel in as many people as possible during the remainder of the race.

Surprisingly, I managed to stick to my plan. Even when I got passed by the lead woman a mile into the race I told myself not to worry about getting chick'd. "You're still in 8th place," I told myself. I was optimistic that I would hopefully catch and drop quite a few people once we got up into the hills.

Studying the runners ahead of me, I picked out a couple of guys who I expected to crack soon including a couple of bigger guys who seemed to already be working too hard (and breathing and sweating too hard) this early in the race.

By mile 3 I found myself up in 5th place. The lead runner, a guy in blue, had already opened up a sizable lead and was moving out of sight. But runners 2, 3, and 4 were all running together in a pack, just a fifty yards or so ahead of me. Sizing them up, I figured I should be able to beat at least 2 of the 3. That would put me on the podium in the top 3 overall -- my secret goal going into the race.

Holding on for Life

As we approached the steep hill before the halfway point I quickly reeled the group in and moved up into second place. "Sweet" I thought, "maybe if the lead runner cramps up or gets hit by a bus you can win this thing". But the celebration was short lived. As I glanced back behind me, I saw that one of the three guys I had passed earlier was clawing back distance and pulling back up to me.

Grimacing at the finish line
I tried every trick in the book to drop him. As soon as he caught up to me and slowed down to catch his breath I attacked with a surge. And when that didn't shake him, I tried altering the pace with a short burst of speed followed by a lull, and then another burst. But nothing worked. And then he counter attacked me! And it was all over. We had just run a 5:50 mile at mile 10 of the race and I just couldn't match the 5:30 pace he was throwing down.

As I watched him pull away building a 1:20 lead over the last 3 miles, I resigned myself to third place. But even that was going to take a fight. As I looked back, another runner in a yellow shirt was charging hard and closing on my 30 second lead. My legs were on the verge of cramping and I wanted to quit. That's when my mother drove by in her car cheering me on -- giving me just enough extra encouragement to keep moving.

I held on for 3rd place and managed to run a half marathon PR of 1:27:21, about 8 minutes faster than the 1:35 I ran on the same course last year! I was also pleasantly surprised to learn that I was the top American finisher, as the two guys who finished in front of me were from Ireland and Great Britain. Here's the official results.
3rd place overall, first American!
My buddy Bill Pritchett finished not long after me, in 1:45, claiming 2nd place in his 50-55 age group and taking home one of the coveted hand-made sand-stone awards! Erik and Matthew both finished as well, despite their lack of training, and crossed the finish line looking strong in around 2:20 (with a 2:19 chip time). So it was a great day for everyone!

1 comment:

Michael Maximilien said...

Nice write up. Matching 5:30 pace is pretty amazing, don't think I've ever sprinted that fast for more than a few meters, needless to even try and stay at that pace in a race. Great job man. BTW, show us a close up of the hardware!