Oh, right. The Las Vegas Rock N Roll Marathon races are this weekend. Always held in mid-November, this is not only the biggest Las Vegas race weekend of the year but also one of the nation’s most popular running races. This is of course thanks to the chance to run along the famous Las Vegas Strip, making the course one of the most scenic courses in the world.
I live here in Las Vegas now, but I’m not running the race this weekend. I’ve run the Half Marathon before (in fact, my half PR was at this race). I certainly have a few tips that can help others running this weekend, whether you’re local or visiting from out of town.
1. If you’re driving in, park east of the Strip.
Obviously you want to get to The Strip early, because with over 20,000 runners and countless spectators there will be a lot of traffic and not a lot of available parking, paid or not. I’d honestly get there no later than 2pm, and even then traffic/parking might already be tough.
Pretty much all available parking is at Vegas casinos and hotels and, while allowed for visitors, getting out of the area will be a pain because some running race is occupying the main drag of the City right down the middle of town.
Similar to a tip I’ll give later, if you’re coming from the west side, you will want to use Desert Inn or 215 to cross Interstate 15 and the Strip, then head towards parking closer to the start or finish line.
If heading in from the north I’d take the 95 Expressway to Eastern (seriously) and head south from there before turning towards the Strip.
If heading in from the south end, just use surface streets east of the Strip, and don’t go any farther west than the Airport south of Tropicana Avenue. Take Pecos, Eastern, or the Airport tunnel then Swenson/University.
Local or not, you want to park east of the Strip rather than west. Not only is access to Interstate 15 and key arterials limited on the west side of the Strip but several of these garage exits will be blocked off due to the race. It’d be nice to sneak out via Frank Sinatra Drive (as savvy Strip casino workers tend to do), but even if you can get to it… vehicle traffic will likely be bumper to bumper.
Meanwhile, many east-Strip casino garages between Spring Mountain and the Airport are well off-Strip. They not only won’t be blocked by race traffic, but they provide access to side streets like Koval Lane and Audrie Street that outlet onto accessible east-west arterials that can get you out of there when you’re done. Expect to pay for parking, which usually costs about $15 for the day (though may be inflated for race day). Carpool.
But don’t head west, of course! You can’t directly cross the race course anywhere between Downtown and Sunset Road. However, even if you live on the west side, or are staying west of the Strip (like people lodging at the Rio, Palms, and The Orleans), you have nearby options to cross the Strip.
Many (local or not) know they can go a couple miles south to the 215 Beltway to go west, but traffic through McCarran Airport can be tough at all hours (go all the way to Eastern and use Warm Springs if you’re going to do 215; even Sunset might be tough since it’s close to the south end of the race course).
My tip for west-siders: Get to Paradise or Swenson Road (or east of that if traffic is bad), then go north to Desert Inn Road. The D.I. Superarterial crosses over The Strip and I-15 before the next signal intersection on Valley View. From here, you can head back home as normal.
2. As a night race, you have and should take the opportunity to pre-fuel
Most races are early in the morning, so there’s little opportunity to eat a meal before the race unless you wake up early and/or can stomach a small breakfast a couple hours before the race.
But, like the Luxembourg Marathon, the Vegas Rock N Roll takes place at night, starting around 4:30pm local time. This means (unless you’re a night owl, or have kept weird hours while visiting Vegas) you have all day to eat some meals as normal before the race.
You absolutely should eat a decent, clean meal at least 3 hours before the race, or sooner if you can handle running with food in your stomach during the race. But you should also eat well before that. Have a decent breakfast, at least.
If you like naps, taking one during the afternoon is super helpful. Hopefully you’re not too nervous about the race and can relax for one.
3. Your best warmup spot is behind T-Mobile Arena
Much like an Abbott World Marathon Major, there is not a lot of freely available space for pre-race warmups. The area around T-Mobile Arena west of the starting line is a popular warmup spot for most RNR runners. But don’t expect to do more than stretching or light strides in such a confined space.
I found if you head west towards the back of the arena, towards Interstate 15, where organizers typically stash a few dozen port-a-johns for waiting runners… there’s a lot more space for full strides of about 100 meters or so. And once you get to nearby Frank Sinatra Drive, you can actually run somewhat unencumbered to warm up for a mile or two.
Of course, vehicles are rolling through that street and the surrounding driveways en masse to drop off participants. So you need to take it slow at intersections and be careful, even when traffic appears stopped. You don’t want to get hit by a crazy taxi right before the start of the race!
Jogging south of the arena is generally safer than jogging north, as the Excalibur and Luxor parking garages and Reno Avenue tend to be less busy. North of the Arena, there are more casinos, driveways and cross streets, and it’s along the heart of the race route, meaning you run into more crossing spectators and event staff.
Personally when I ran the race, I only warmed up for about 1.5 miles looping back and forth in a C shaped route from the north end of the Arena (Park Avenue) down to a walkway beneath Tropicana Avenue and around the Arena perimeter. It was still crowded, but allowed enough space to jog easy. And I did a few strides near the port-a-johns. You can’t go far wrong taking it easy and doing that.
4. The Flash and Dash disappears for the first three miles
The casino scenery pretty much comes to an end south of Tropicana Avenue, with the Luxor and Mandalay Bay providing minimal scenery to one side. If not for the Welcome To Fabulous Las Vegas sign, the race wouldn’t bother stretching the route south to Sunset and back, but the landmark is a key selling point on the course so they must.
The tradeoff is, after all the fire and brimstone start to the race, after passing the hordes of onlookers looking down from the Tropicana Avenue walkways… the course gets kind of boring. After quickly passing the aforementioned south end casinos, it’s pretty much just you and a few thousand overexcited, huffing and puffing friends for a couple miles.
Save for passing the famous sign to your left, there’s nothing other than the airport and I-15 to look at amidst dimming skies until you hit the turnaround and head back up towards the center of town. You relive the strikingly droll experience until you return to Tropicana Avenue about 3.5 miles into the race, where the scenery livens up and becomes more exciting and consistent with everyone’s expectations.
The good news is, once it does, the decor pretty much stays that way for Half Marathon participants until the very end. Just be ready for the start of the race to be more of a typical scenery-light race, albeit with a lot of people around you running.
5. For flatlanders, the first two miles may be harder than expected
If you don’t live in a place that’s completely flat, you can ignore this. Vegas has its inclines and hills, but this race isn’t terribly hilly at all.
However, especially for flat-land midwesterners and people who live near coasts, the race begins with a subtle 50 foot elevation climb that crests at the Sunset Road turnaround. The start of the course may feel unusually difficult if you’re used to flat ground runs back home with little overall climb.
But the slight elevation grade is not the only factor slowing you down. Even though Vegas isn’t mile-high Denver, the Las Vegas Valley does sit at least 2000 feet above sea level, climbing in any direction out of Downtown. This elevation is where available oxygen begins to noticeably thin out.
Anyone who lives closer to sea level will feel the difference, not just because of the elevation but also (obviously) because you’re in a desert and the air is very dusty and dry. So that available oxygen also lacks available humidity, making it a bit harder to take in.
I imagine visitors won’t run more than a couple times in the area before the race, and they might even run under indoor climate control on a treadmill when they do. So this relatively thin dry air might shock their system a little bit during the race, not strikingly so as the high altitude in the Rockies might, but definitely enough to slow them down within a couple miles if unprepared.
Dial it back a bit out of the gate, not just to temper the over-excitement everyone feels at the start of this race, but to mitigate the combo effect of the slightly higher altitude, the possible effect of the slight climb south, and the definite effect of the drier air.
6. The thin, dry air creates sneaky dehydration and cramping.
Along with slowing you at the start, the thin dry air takes a bit more out of you per mile than the air back home or indoors. You may be able to easily weather that in the opening miles, but you need to be very mindful of its cumulative effect over the entire race.
Those running the 10K probably shouldn’t worry much. Those running the Half and the Full Marathon absolutely need to exercise caution amidst experiencing the many distractions along the course.
I’d strongly recommend taking fluid at every aid station along the way, even if you don’t feel you need it. Just stick to water if Gatorade isn’t your thing or you don’t feel you need fuel. Take three sips, and you can toss the rest of the cup if you wish.
As the race progresses and you tire, you probably won’t need me to tell you to take fluid at stations. But if you wait until then to start drinking more then it’s too late. The dry thin air will have already done damage and will compound it no matter how much you take in from there. I don’t think you’ll get KO’d into a DNF, but you will likely slow dramatically down the stretch and you can kiss any A or B race goals goodbye.
My family and I have seen multiple cases of the delirium and effects hitting people hard in the final 2-3 miles of the Half. My sister has run this Half several times and seen people collapse and freak out randomly during the final stretch. I myself cramped hard in my calves just 100 yards from the finish, and that was having taken fluid at every station religiously. I can only imagine how much harder the effects hit people after 20 miles in the full Marathon.
Locals who run routine 10-15 milers in the Valley with few ill effects need not worry. People from dry, high altitude climates who do the same also need not worry. They know how to handle these conditions.
Most of those running, however, aren’t used to the subtle effects of the air. They feel the 40-50 degree air and see the setting sun and think it’ll be a cool and easy climate. They’re half right. The temps are mild and the skies are dark. It’s highly unlikely you’ll overheat. But the air is also dry and thin. Hydrate and pace yourself like it.
7. For the Marathon, the 2nd half of the race is very dark and dull.
I ran the Half Marathon. Most who know this race recommend you run the Half. They’re lukewarm on running the full Rock N Roll Marathon.
The reason is because, while the 10K and Half course (after mile 3) is relentless flash and dash from the neon of the Strip… the Full has to take a 13 mile detour off the Strip into darker, less scenic local neighborhoods. After going all the way north into Downtown and returning south, the Full splits off from the Strip at Mile 11, and you take a very long detour before returning to the Strip near the end of the race.
Even though I haven’t run the Full, I grew up here and know the neighborhoods through which the 2nd half of the Full runs. They’re not as interesting. At this time of night, they’re kind of dark. Your only company are other runners, aid station volunteers and course marshals, and a smattering of curious spectators (while not dangerous at this event, this area is not the most inviting part of town).
They at least altered the course in recent years to stay closer to the Las Vegas Strip (they used to send runners well west of I-15!). But much of the back end of the Marathon course is still just a lot of ‘down the block and back’ through Downtown side streets, then a long lonely stretch along Oakey and MLK Blvd… parts of town not particularly scenic. There’s also a weird loop around barren property near Sahara, then one more potentially demoralizing out and back detour alongside the Desert Inn Arterial before the finish.
The Marathon itself is already a struggle, not just in itself but with the dry thin air I mentioned. Plus you’re running late into the night, a time of day where your body naturally turns down.
Add in a marathon that, after 10-11 miles of flash and dash, sends you into a relatively murky abyss for much of the duration under night skies, and mentally/emotionally it can be very hard to get through the back end of this race. You thankfully rejoin the Strip a few miles before the finish, a big boost once you do (the D.I. out and back detour aside). But until then, it’s quite a sobering journey for aspiring marathoners.
I’ve had friends and peers run the Full to some success, but it’s not a Full many recommend for the reasons stated. This weekend’s big draw is the Half, and that’s where most of the excitement lies.
If you are in fact running the Full, just be ready after looping back from Downtown for those out and back detours into lonely, not so scenic parts of town. If you’re not focused on running your best down the stretch, you’re going to have a hard time finishing this race.
8. The race ends with another subtle hillclimb.
Remember, flatlanders, when I previously mentioned the subtle climb to start the race? Well, after reaching Downtown on the north end and turning around near the 10 mile mark, you’re heading away from the City Center again. So, remembering you’re in the Las Vegas VALLEY, guess what the elevation is doing?
You’re climbing once again. Those experienced with hills, again, won’t notice much. If the total climb on your runs back home is closer to 10-20 feet, you’re going to feel it down the stretch, whether you’re running the Half or the Full. Those running the Full will experience more ups and downs as they out-and-back through the City Core. But those running the Half are basically ramping upward until the finish line.
At least when you started the race you were fresh. After mile 10, you’ve been somewhat dehydrated and are of course somewhat fatigued. Any effects from the dry thin air and the subtle climb are going to hit you harder than they did under dimming skies near McCarran Airport.
Don’t be surprised if you really feel like you’re slowing down as you head back south, or that keeping pace is somewhat harder than usual. It probably should be.
The Half is probably one race where I’d recommend people try to focus most on making good time during the middle, rather than finishing strong. Expect to slow a bit at the end no matter how hard you run. Try to do your most damage from mile 2 to mile 10, and then focus from miles 10-13.1 on a steady solid effort the rest of the way.
9. Take extra snacks at the finish line.
Never mind that you should grab and eat whatever they shove at you after finishing a long race.
You really want to grab extra snacks and carry them out of the finishing area, because it’s going to take you considerable time to get out of the area and to a place where you can relax and eat.
Even if you’re staying at a Strip hotel and plan to eat there, the crowds at these restaurants will be vast and the wait times long. You will lose precious peak-refueling time waiting for a chair, let alone your meal.
Take extra snacks, and eat those as you’re transiting to your post-race meal… especially if you plan to get right back to training after this race. Your beaten, recovering body will thank you for the extra effort to refuel right away.
10. If you aren’t staying on The Strip, you should go off-Strip for the post-race meal.
First, if you’re staying on-Strip near the finish line, even given what I say below, it’s worth your while to stay close to your lodging and dine near your hotel. The time and effort to travel away from where you’re staying isn’t going to save you much trouble. Though nearby restaurants will be crowded, you’re best off eating nearby after the race.
That said: For locals, every restaurant at every casino near the finish line will be:
– Difficult to reach, even on foot, with all the runners, spectators and other tourists
– Slammed with a long wait for everything
When I last ran the Half, my family and I met up at a restaurant near the Miracle Mile near Planet Hollywood, far enough off the Strip to not be surrounded by thousands… but it still took a long time just to walk there from the finish chute. And even without Rock N Roll crowds it took some time (understandably) for my meal to get to my table. There were a lot of people there. Also, though I don’t remember the exact price (and I think my brother in law was nice enough to pay that time), what I ate after the race wasn’t cheap.
It’s the Las Vegas Strip. Even when there’s not an annual major race taking place… every Strip restaurant is very popular and crowded, all the time.
If you need to commute anyway, and are willing to get to your car (which you hopefully parked east of the Strip in a garage separated from the Strip), crawl through heavy traffic to drive out of there, and drive to a restaurant of your choice away from the action… your post-race meal will be a much nicer experience. It likely won’t be as expensive. The restaurant likely won’t be as crowded. You also have more options!
Even if you take a while to run the race and get out of the Strip, it shouldn’t be much later than 9pm and many restaurants should still be open. Even if you get out later, many off-Strip casinos have decent dining options at that hour, and there are many sit-down-and-dine 24 hour restaurants in the area (it IS Vegas, after all!).
Bonus Tip. If you’re taking Uber/Lyft after the race…
Walk to a spot that’s easy to drive to and request there. Your ride will be able to reach you more quickly than asking them to drive into a mess of traffic. Think as if you’re a driver: How easy is it to drive up to where you’re standing? How easy is it to drive back out? That’s how long your ride is going to take to get there and drive you out of there.
Consider paying to use the Monorail. The Las Vegas Monorail is an extra $5, but think about it: The monorail can pass over all Strip traffic and take you far away from all the action, as far south as Mandalay Bay and as far north as Sahara, away from the finish line and all its traffic. Rideshares can get to you more quickly once you’re away from the finish line and course.
The time saved by using the monorail to get away may be worth it. And since rideshares charge you by time as well as mileage, it might also save you money in the end.
You can get on the Monorail at the MGM Grand or Bally’s/Paris, depending on where near the finish line you are. Head north, away from MGM Grand. (Going south to Mandalay Bay or Luxor won’t help you since they’re on the Strip along the race route.)
Since the north terminus at Sahara Station is right next to the race course, going there to escape traffic is probably not a good idea. Instead, I would recommend the prior north end stations at Westgate Hotel or the Convention Center, both of which are well off-Strip on Paradise Road and (while still busy) far less trafficked on race day. For most I would highly recommend catching the monorail there and then requesting a ride.
So, best of luck if you are running Rock N Roll in Las Vegas this weekend. Regardless of what race you’re running, I hope these tips help you have the best experience possible.