Organizers ready for the midnight run down the E.T. Highway

It’s midnight, and you’re running along Nevada’s Extraterrestrial Highway.

On either side of you, people are dressed as space invaders, aliens and Star Trek characters. It’s pitch black, and being on an open-range road, you’re keeping an eye out for the occasional cow or snake that may pose a roadblock.

Your fellow runners and walkers have come from faraway places such as Switzerland or Germany, all to say they’ve run a marathon in Rachel, the gateway to Area 51.

At the finish line, the Little A’Le’Inn is waiting.

Las Vegan and marathoner Joyce Forier saw an opportunity seven years ago to appeal to alien-curious visitors, so she organized the E.T. Full Moon Midnight Marathon via her business, Calico Racing. The thing is, Forier isn’t a science fiction fan. At all.

While researching Nevada and its unique locales, she discovered Highway 375. The desolate roadway made for a perfect marathon venue, and the alien appeal could attract runners looking for something different. With a midnight start time and glow-in-the-dark necklaces, Forier knew she was onto something.

“I don’t know if there’s life outside Earth. ... I just think it’s fun,” she said.

Forier was ahead of her time.

On Aug. 17 and 18 Forier is expecting about 700 participants to the alienesque marathon, a figure significantly down from last year’s 906 total.

Last year 65 percent of her athletes came from outside of Nevada, from 42 states and nine countries. Entry fees vary from $55 for the 10K to $105 for the 51K.

“Nowadays it’s a lot more prevalent to have races that start at night,” Forier said.

She created hers out of necessity: a midnight start made sense for the venue, and glowing jewelry was more of a safety precaution than it was a gimmick. Participants also are required to wear reflective clothing or a headlamp.

“Other races like this tend to be manufactured,” Forier said.

And they’re cutting into her bottom line.

While supply for races has increased the past few years with themed runs popping up like wildfire around the country, Forier said demand hasn’t changed much.

“It’s our first year that we’ve ever been down,” she said.

Since January all her races — she hosts about nine each year — have been down about 25 percent.

“I think it’s possibly because it’s diluted now,” Forier said.

Each year, all her races combined typically attract 5,000 athletes, and half of those people are from out of state.

Her runs help other Nevada venues, too. The Hard Rock Hotel hosts a prerace expo and is the bus departure location for those who need to catch a ride to Rachel, while the Little A’Le’Inn hosts racers during their extraterrestrial stay.

The 10-room inn has been sold out during marathon weekend for almost a year, and owner Pat Travis said many of the runners buy souvenirs.

“Every little thing adds up to being more and more for any small business,” Travis said. “We are very proud that we are part of this.”

The extra business isn’t without a struggle though; employees have to stay overnight to keep up with the event. Usually the inn and restaurant only are open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

When she started Calico Racing, Forier said, the Las Vegas area was a “tremendous” market to develop because there wasn’t much here in the way of races. Her first race, called Running with the Devil, was scheduled for its seventh incarnation late June but was canceled one day prior because of the excessive heat warning in effect. Forier was expecting 436 runners from seven countries who flew in for the race.

“It’s been horrible for me as an organizer,” she said.

The run has been rescheduled to Sept. 14 and she remarketed it as “Sympathy for the Devil” to persuade herself not to host it again. It’s too much of a headache.

“It’s my way of saying goodbye to the race. I’m very sad to lose it,” Forier said.

As for the future of Calico Racing, she’s searching for new Nevada locations but said she’s at a crossroads. She doesn’t want to do kitschy races for the sake of being kitschy. Instead, she wants to continue to show people places in the state they may not otherwise visit.

“We have really beautiful places in Nevada,” Forier said.

She just needs the runners to show up.

Contact reporter Laura Carroll at lcarroll@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4588. Follow @lscvegas on Twitter.