Way back in January 2015, I got a private message via my blog from a race director in the US wanting to tell me about an inaugural race he was putting together. Little did I know that the Laughlin/Bullhead Half Marathon would motivate me to tackle the #yearofthehalf – and Run Laughlin became my ‘flagship’ race of 2015!
It didn’t take me too long to decide to Run Laughlin. Mark Villalovos, the race director, was a true inspiration, putting his heart into creating a race from scratch. His enthusiasm was infectious. As the day of the race drew nearer, I got more excited about Laughlin because it ended up being a trifecta of coolness for me:
- It fell on my birthday!
- It was my 12th half marathon of 2015
- It was my 21st half marathon ever (and – just as a reminder, especially if you think in miles – a half marathon is 21.1 kilometres!)
We flew into Las Vegas on Friday, December 4, rented a car, and headed off to Laughlin, Nevada. If you’ve never heard of Laughlin, like I hadn’t – it’s a little spot on the west side of the Colorado River, right at the very southern tip of Nevada. It’s grown into a successful casino town (third most visited, after Vegas and Reno). And it’s pronounced ‘loff-lin‘ (rhymes with ‘cough’).
We checked in at the race’s partner hotel, Colorado Belle. A lovely and thoughtful touch was that every runner received a welcome gift, put together by Mark’s wife, Denise.
Then we went to the little expo to pick up my race package. Although it was small, there was such a friendly, vibrant energy at the event. I was offered my bib and I actually requested a different number…so I got #143 since, as I told the volunteer, I would be turning 43 the next day!
I was absolutely delighted to finally meet Mark in person, and thank him for organizing the event.
Wandered to a couple of the casinos, and had a great carbo-loading pasta dinner across the street at Tropicana. Bedded down fairly early to prepare for the next morning’s event!
The desert gets cold at night, and it was very brisk as we headed to the parking lot of Laughlin Outlet Center. I struggled with what to wear, and decided to stick with just my BibRave t-shirt, along with my BMO Vancouver Marathon gloves! During the pre-race announcements, was able to shout out that I was one of the (few?) folks down from Canada, though someone from Rhode Island had certainly travelled further to get there.
Saw a flash of orange and grabbed a selfie with fellow BibRave Pro, Laurel (@RheaCycleHer)!
To give you the full race experience, I’m going to try a different approach to describing the race when it started just a few minutes after 7am!
Now, run Laughlin with me…
You head out along the main ‘strip’ of Laughlin, past several of the casinos. But soon, after about a kilometre, the route turns to the left, and your gradual ascent begins. Remember yesterday, when you arrived in Laughlin? Remember the view from the highway, overlooking the town and the river, and the mountains beyond? That should have been your first clue.
For three kilometres, it’s an uphill trudge. Not only that, but there’s a dry desert wind blowing. If only the wind was coming from behind, pushing you forward – but it’s buffeting you from the side, causing bibs to flap vigourously. It’s tough. It’s endless. You’re breathing through your mouth, and your tongue is dry as a bone.
Thankfully, you finally reach the peak, and make a sharp turn on the road down towards Davis Dam. There is a water station, which you eagerly take advantage of. Though the elevation is decreasing, you’re now facing a headwind, blustery and persistent. But you’re not a quitter, you forge ahead.
At the 7km mark, you can see the Davis Dam looming to your right, but the route takes you to the left onto a dirt track. You hadn’t been sure what to expect – maybe in your mind it was a wide open space with scrub brush and cactus lining a long straight road.
It’s not like that at all. The dirt is loose and rocky, and you are surrounded by hills and outcroppings of ancient desert stones. There’s no breeze now in this sheltered canyon. The sun is beating down and you’re glad you decided to forego the long sleeves and run in a t-shirt.
At one point, you are pursued by a desert bandit after you snap his picture! “You’re not gonna get no reward for me!” he drawls, but you outpace him.
At the turnaround, you realize that you’ve actually been going uphill again this whole time. Now you’re heading back, cheering on the other hearty souls who are fighting their way on unstable footing. You even get a cheery ‘Happy Birthday!’ from a fellow BibRave Pro (Laurel!) who knows it’s your special day!
And you can’t help but admire this woman from Vegas…
Hey look! Another hill! But this one is short and steep, up to the top of the Davis Dam, holding back the Colorado River and forming Lake Mohave.
You’re slightly beyond halfway in the race when you cross the border into Arizona! Not only are you in a different state, you’re also in a new time zone!
Another hill – a kilometre up and another down – with the absolute best water/cheering station waiting for you! You’ve been taking a few photos along the way, but with the view over Lake Mohave you can’t help but snap a selfie before crossing the dam back into Nevada.
The River to the Finish
Now you’re cruising! You pick up speed on the downhill, and get a fantastic view of the dam you’ve just crossed – twice!
There are fewer people around now. You’re running the scenic Colorado River Heritage Greenway Trail – overlooking the mighty river, with Bullhead City, Arizona on the far side. It’s pretty warm now, you’re glad that you thought to wear sunscreen. But you’re not really sweating – it’s weird running with so little humidity. You finally spot a casino in the distance!
Unexpectedly, the path twists to the right and, oh no! you’re headed uphill again! Just a wee bit, though, enough to reach the beautiful pedestrian bridge that takes you across the highway. Then, you’re back on Casino Drive. Welcome to Laughlin, NV! One more kilometre to go!
The crowd cheers as you sprint to the finish, receive your medal, and celebrate the completion of the inaugural Laughlin/Bullhead Half Marathon! Congratulations!
In the parking lot of the Colorado Belle Hotel, everyone gathered for a celebratory awards ceremony. We got food – fruit and a bagel – and there was even a free beer included with race entry! A DJ followed by a live band. Festive and fun.
We stayed around for about an hour, but then decided it was time for my birthday brunch. Throughout the day, I ran into folks wearing their medals and/or I Run Laughlin t-shirts – lots of congratulations going around.
The remainder of the Saturday was spent on some local sightseeing and a bit of casino time. Even the slot machine knew what day it was!
Sunday took us into Arizona and some amazing desert driving.
Plus one of the most spectacular sunsets I’ve ever witnessed.
Home again on Monday after one of my favourite TravelRuns to date! Thanks to Mark and the entire Run Laughlin team for making the weekend such a success!
Chip Time: 1:54:21
Average Pace: 8:44 min/mile (5:25 min/km)
Place Overall: 50/295
Age Category Place: 7/19
From the moment Mark reached out to me about participating in the inaugural Laughlin/Bullhead Half Marathon, I was hooked. In the months leading up to the race, communication (in the form of emails) was excellent, giving lots of info about what to expect both on course and in town. Social media activity – primarily Twitter and Facebook – was consistent and engaging.
In terms of the race itself, the event was well organized, the course was absolutely stunning, the volunteers were enthusiastic and engaged. One of the best runs I’ve done!
Held just off the lobby of the Colorado Belle Hotel & Casino, packet pickup was a low-key affair held on Friday evening. Although we didn’t arrive too late, it was reassuring that we could pick up our bibs until 10pm. Given how far we were coming from, I appreciated this fact. The process was smooth and quick, and it was fun to chat with some of the local folks and volunteers on site.
Orange t-shirt! Orange gear bag! Orange medal! Welcome gift upon check in! Very happy!
Extremely scenic views of the desert, running across a dam into another state and time zone, the Colorado river. Such a unique environment for me to race in. Also one of the toughest races I’ve experienced in terms of the hills we encountered, the dry desert air and the challenging winds. This certainly impacted my overall performance, resulting in one of my slowest half marathons in nearly 3 years. Nevertheless, it was a great experience.
The post-race party was fun, with free beer (one per runner!) and live music. I generally don’t stick around for awards ceremonies, since I never place. I stayed around long enough for the 5k awards, but was so eager to get on with my day (and brunch) that I missed awards for the half. My only ‘complaint’ is that the awards didn’t move along a bit quicker, but I understand wanting to ensure that most people have finished before doing awards.
Would I Run It Again?
On the merits of the race itself, yes! Although Mark told me post-race that there were a few ‘kinks’ to work out, I thought everything went really well. The factors that would prevent me from attending are primarily my own issues: the time it takes to get to Laughlin, and the abysmal value of the Canadian dollar. But from the perspective of a runner recommending a race – I recommend that you Run Laughlin!