Archive for March, 2014

The 2014 Red Rock Canyon Marathon

You know those races that have you wondering “what was I thinking?” at the start line and “that was amazing, I can’t wait to do it again!” at the finish line? Red Rock is that race for me.

I wrote posts in 2013 (here and here) about the tough course (huge elevation gains) and beautiful scenery at the Red Rock Canyon Marathon, and how nervous I was leading up to it. I watched this video many times to try to anticipate the course and its determination to crush a prairie runner. This year, I felt confident. I had run the course before, done relatively well, and was itching to do it again. Thanks to NASCAR Sunday in Las Vegas and being married to a motor sports fan, March 8th was able to become Half Marathon Saturday.

Then, almost exactly a month before the run, I injured my right hamstring. 14.4 km into a 17 km long run I got a sudden, searing pain near the distal end of my hamstring muscles, right above the knee joint. It was enough to take my breath away, make me scream and leap off my treadmill. (The kids were unfazed by this. After all, Tangled was on!) I stretched, rested a few minutes, walked a bit, then finished my run very slowly. (If my training plan tells me to run 17 km, I simply cannot stop at 14.4 km. I likely should have, but I just can’t. Type-A much.)

The next day, my hamstring was stiff and sore. I got out my Active Isolated Stretching (AIS) strap and stretched it out the best I could, then took the day off. The next day I attempted a run, only to have the same sudden, stabbing pain at just 2.2 km.

I booked a massage for the Wednesday that week and took a few more days off running. I’m not a person who gets injured, so I was totally blind-sided by this, and had no idea how to properly recover. A massage therapist myself, I knew massage would help, so when Jodie asked me “do you want me to work it pretty deep?” I answered without hesitation “I want you to tear it apart.” She did just that and the next day I was able to plod through a slow, careful 5 km. Friday I did speed work and Saturday I was able to do an 18 km long run. More careful runs and two more massages later I was feeling cautiously optimistic about the half. With Spider Tech Tape on my hamstring and my AIS strap in my carry-on we boarded the plane for Las Vegas.

I love running races on trips. It’s fun to have race medals from other places and it’s a great way to see places you might not otherwise see on a typical “tourist” trip. This is only my third “away race,” but there are many more on my “want to run” list.

Ready to rock Red Rock!

Ready to rock Red Rock!

Red Rock Canyon Conservation Area lies just outside of Las Vegas. It is home to the endangered Desert Tortoise, and all runners must sign a “I will not harass the tortoises” waiver (my tortoise sighting count is still firmly at zero, I think it’s likely too cold for them at this time of year). Parking is very limited, so the race director arranges for shuttle buses to transport all runners and spectators to the start/finish lines. Our race entry also covers our admission cost to enter the park.

Photo credit vegas.com

Photo credit vegas.com

There were two big changes to the event this year that were big draw backs for me. First, the start time was made significantly earlier, with a 6:45 a.m. start for the half marathon (I think last year’s start was 7:30, but I’m not 100% positive on that). I like to arrive early (bathroom strategy), so that meant boarding the shuttle by 5:30 and leaving our hotel room by 5:00 to make it to the shuttle across town. Getting up at 4 a.m. (breakfast strategy) while on holidays isn’t too exciting, especially for my night owl husband. The earlier start time allowed for the addition of a 5K event, which is great… but… sooooo early!

The second change that was a con for me was that spectators weren’t allowed at the half marathon start line. In 2013, spectators were transported with runners on the shuttles to the start, then about a half hour after the gun they loaded up all our fans and took them to the finish line. In 2014, there was a designated spectator shuttle bus, and it went straight to the finish line. This is the one and only race all year that my husband is able to accompany me to, so it was disappointing not to have him there before the start. It was so nice last year to take pictures and give my warm clothes to him right before the start, then wave when the bus passed and know he was taking more pictures. He was at the finish when I got there of course, but both would have been better.

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We set off after ditching our warm clothes on a shuttle bus. The temperature was much warmer than last year, and I was comfortable in a tank top and shorts (in March! How novel!). This race takes place on the road, but it’s a one way road, so we don’t have to worry about traffic as long as we stay on the proper side of our cones. The road is marked with cones for the entire route, which is very helpful. Water stations are also very plentiful on this run, I would estimate there are around 7-8 aid stations with both water and electrolyte drink, sponsored by Hammer.

This race truly is as grueling as a road race comes. One mile flat, four miles uphill, then a few miles of big downhills (runners with knee injuries beware!), then flat again. The finish is on a slight incline, which looks like nothing, but after nearly twenty-one kilometres it’s a lot harder than it should be! Amazing panoramic views of the valley spread out before you on one side and the mountains rising high above on the other side truly make up for it though!

I had no idea how my hamstring would hold up. I had fresh spider tape on it, I stretched it, I was hydrated, I did everything I could. A motivational speaker I heard a few years ago said when you stand at the start line, don’t be nervous because you did everything you could. There’s nothing more you can do now, so there’s no use worrying. Put your training behind you and run the race.

So I did. I started out slow and conservative, sticking with a group of runners slower than I usually run. I let myself get nice and warmed up before I started picking them off. I felt strong on the hills, stronger than I did last year. I had zero pace expectations and rarely looked at my watch. The triumph I felt when I got to the top of that last big hill (pain free!) was incredible and I couldn’t help but hold my arms out in celebration. I wasn’t the only one.

Worth it. (Photo credit Lonely Planet)

Worth it. (Photo credit Lonely Planet)

Almost done!

Almost done!

Fuzzy finish line

Fuzzy finish line

In the end, my chip time for the Red Rock Canyon (half) Marathon was 2:04:31, about 45 seconds slower than last year, and my slowest half marathon to date. After an injury and a bitterly cold winter that forced me indoors for 90% of my training, I am pretty pleased with that. I was 119th out of 389 half marathoners overall and 13th out of 70 in my age group of women aged 30-39. By my search results I believe I was also the sixth Canadian overall, and the top Canadian female.

The finish line food at this race was amazing. Brownies! Coffee cake! Applesauce! Cookies! PANCAKES! I would’ve liked a bottle of water I could take along on the bus back to town instead of a paper cup, but I’m sure the cup option saved a lot of money. My maple leaf headband drew some attention at the food table, and I met fellow Canadians from across the country.

Race bling

Race bling

In the end, the pros outweighed the cons, and if we return to Las Vegas for NASCAR week next year, I will set three alarms and drag a large grumbly man to the rental car at 5:00 a.m. again in 2015.

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This race is organized by Joyce at Calico Racing. Her organization uses race proceeds to help fund big cat rescues. You can learn more about Calico Racing here.

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