Sunday, December 13, 2015

State #26, Nevada, Hoover Dam Half Marathon, December 12, 2015

I took Friday off from work to fly out to Las Vegas for this marathon. I spent a busy morning getting the girls off to school, fitting in a frenzied bit of Christmas shopping, dashing in for my monthly Weight Watchers weigh in, purchasing my preferred GU, packing, and taking care of some banking before getting to the airport. Whew! What a whirlwind!
The flight out was fine. I sat with two men, who were cousins, heading to Las Vegas for a fun weekend of gambling. They were entertaining, and we discussed our families, my running, healthy eating and Las Vegas. The flight was very long (more than an hour longer than normal) due to extremely strong headwinds. Needless to say, we were all relieved to finally arrive in our destination and be able to deplane.
I picked up my rental car and just barely made it in time to the bike shop where I needed to pick up my number. Thank goodness the plane wasn’t any later in arriving, as I made it to the number pick up with only 20 minutes to spare. The bike shop was in a suburb of Las Vegas called Henderson, and I quickly found a grocery store nearby where I grabbed my last few necessities for race day. Conveniently, I spied a pizza restaurant across the street from the grocery store and decided to give it a try for dinner. Metro Pizza served up a delicious plate of spaghetti and meatballs. Just the perfect thing after a long flight and before a long race.
I then made my way out to Boulder City to retire for the night. It was dark outside at this point, so the views on the drive out were lost to the darkness. The historic district of Boulder City was super cute to drive through. It had just the perfect combination of kitschy 1950’s architecture and feel, alongside some cute restaurants, shops and homes, all decorated with Christmas lights. I knew I probably wouldn’t have time to explore it on this trip, unfortunately, due to the quick out and back travel plans, but it is on my list for the next venture out to Las Vegas for sure.
I couldn’t easily find my hotel, as my GPS didn’t recognize its street address, but I knew the hotel was near the Hoover Dam, so I just went according to that landmark. I made it to the Hoover Dam Lodge eventually, thoroughly exhausted.
Upon entering the hotel, I was reminded why Vegas isn’t my favorite place. The hotel had an attached casino (a requirement in the area), and the smell of stale cigarette smoke greeted me. Almost instantly I felt like I had a headache, and the smoke only made breathing the dry air even worse. I got my room keys, but when I got up to my door, it wouldn’t open. Long story short, a security guard had to come and forcefully open the door for me. Lovely. If you are ever headed out to the Hoover Dam, I do not recommend the Hoover Dam Lodge. I won’t go in to tons of details about it, but it wasn’t so lovely. I chose the hotel because it was the main sponsor of the race was close to the starting line. But for friends who run on location, I'd recommend looking for a more standard chain hotel maybe in Henderson, which is a short drive away. Also, the race offered a shuttle bus from the strip if you wanted to check out that scene on race weekend. 
Thankfully, I managed to sleep pretty well, and due to the time difference and late race start time (9 am), I was able to sleep for a good long time. The redeeming thing about the hotel was that it was very close to the race start. I drove there in minutes, and as I made my way to the entrance to the Lake Mead recreation area, I was blown away by the incredible view.
View of Lake Mead from the entrance to the Lake Mead Recreation Area.

This is the view I didn’t see the night before as I drove in. It is just magnificent! I drove down to the Boulder Beach area with about 30 minutes to spare before the race start time. I chatted with a few folks as we waited, and met a woman from Edmonton who had run the race before. She gave me a run-down of the race topography. It was hillier than I expected. The weather was good (about 50 degrees at race start time), but the winds were very strong. It wasn’t going to be an easy run.
Lake views from parking area near Boulder Beach.
Panoramic view of Lake Mead from Boulder Beach area.
Starting arch and finish line with lake in the background.
More gorgeous views of Lake Mead.
Heading to the starting line near Boulder Beach.
The starting command was given and we were off exactly on time, uphill. The first 3 miles of the race led uphill, mostly in a gradual grade, but definitely in a noticeable way. The route at this point was a paved path, fairly wide that led along the lake and up in to the rocky hills. The wind seemed to die down for this portion of the run, but the uphill nature made for slower than usual pacing. The landscape was just gorgeous though. We were surrounded by large canyonesque rock formations, desert flora, blue skies and abundant sunshine, and of course, the vista of Lake Mead. 
Approaching first railroad tunnel.

View of Lake Mead from Railroad Trail. 
After mile three, we progressed on to a gravel path/hiking trail. Things flattened out a bit here and an amazing view of the lake appeared on my left. This path was called the Railroad Trail, as it had apparently been an old railroad route. The tracks are long gone at this point, but the railroad tunnels carved through the rocks were a marvel to experience. All I could think about as I ran through them was John Henry and his hammer smashing through the mountains. Exiting each tunnel was like stepping in to a framed photograph of a gorgeous landscape. It was truly breathtaking.
This flat gravel path lasted until about mile 4 and a half or five, and then we started to head downhill a bit. This was a nice change of pace for my legs, but  I knew I’d have to run back up on the return trip after the turn around. This part of the path was a bit more serpentine, winding this way and that and mixing some uphills with downhills. But mostly this portion was downhill. As we got closer to the dam, power lines became more prevalent. It looked pretty industrial in the hills at this point, and then we came to the part of the path where we had to run in single file. It was paved again at this part, a sharp downward ramp of a sidewalk that zigzagged in switchback fashion down to the observation area near the dam. It was really fun to run down, and I grabbed at the railing alongside the path as I whipped around each u-turn of the corners. At the bottom was the incredible Hoover Dam. Wow! What a wonder. I stopped along with some other runners to snap a photo. I wish I’d had a chance to tour it this trip, but I’ll have to put that on the list for next time, too.
Me and the Hoover Dam!

Steep switchback path leading to and from the  dam.
As expected, the climb back out was steep and difficult, and I needed to take a couple of short walk brakes. I didn’t mind, as I knew that this wasn’t a PR kind of race. It was a challenging race, but not so challenging that it felt discouraging. On the contrary, all the unique aspects of this race kept it fun, exciting and very memorable. The uphills back from the dam were tough, but luckily the wind wasn’t too much of an issue. Yet. Once we got back to the flatter portion through the train tunnels that all changed. 
The phrase “wind tunnel” has taken on a whole new meaning to me. As I started on the flat gravel  path on the return trip, the wind kicked in…right in my face. I felt about as battered by the headwind as my flight had been the night before. Up ahead, as I approached the first tunnel, I figured I’d get a little break, thinking the tunnel would protect me; rather the wind came whipping through that tunnel like nothing I’ve ever encountered before. Holy crumb! I could barely move my body forward. It was killer, but somehow I made it through. Luckily, the remaining tunnels weren’t as bad, but the wind stayed in my face from basically mile 8 through 12 and a half. Bleh.
What should have been a nice, easy downhill path toward the finish was instead a difficult push against the wind. I kept on as best I could, until around mile 10 when I had to remove the ankle strap timing device, as it was killing my left ankle. I stopped at a water station to switch it to my right side, and although it helped a bit, my left ankle sustained the pain for the rest of the run. Ouch, ouch, ouch!
I could see the parking area near the beach and finish line, but as the woman I met before the race warned me, the race runs past the turn where the finish line is for one more out and back (uphill) stretch. Still pushing against the wind, this was the greatest challenge for me. When you are this far along in the race, you just want to be finished. It is such a mental blow to have to run an extra mile beyond where your eyes know the finish line is. I swear, it felt like that last turn-around was never going to come, but eventually it did and I powered on with the wind finally at my back.
I crossed the finish line with no fanfare, but happy to be finished, collect my medal, ditch my ankle timer and drink a nice cold chocolate milk. Mmmmm. I walked a bit to let my legs shake out and then headed to the results board. My official time was 2:07:17—disappointing on some levels, as I always try to beat the 2 hour mark, but considering the terrain and conditions, I felt ok about it. Then I saw the finish line stats…I finished 6th in my age category, 19th for the women overall and 56th for the whole half marathon field. That cheered me right up! 
Race number, t-shirt and finishers medal.
I had to high-tail it out of there after a bit of stretching to get back to the hotel to shower up and catch a 3:15 pm flight back home. As I drove out, I soaked in the magnificent view one last time. It would be great to come out here as a family and bring the girls hiking here. They would love it. Plus, apparently you can kayak and paddle board and enjoy the lake in the warmer weather. That would be a blast, too.
I made it to the airport with about an hour to spare, so I grabbed lunch before the flight home. The tailwind on the return trip made for a faster flight which was a welcome end to all that other wind. Nevada is in the books. I’m officially more than halfway done, and that feels DAM amazing. 

My Strava app record of the 1500+ ft race elevation. It was no joke!
P.S. The next morning I reviewed the information from my Strava app that tracks my runs, and the official distance was 13.5 miles, so I guess I fared a little better than I thought. (I knew that last turn-around sign felt farther away than it should have!!!)

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