Six years ago, almost no one would have suggested that the Las Vegas Marathon could become a top special event and a major tourism driver. The run had chronically low participation and could barely pay its bills. It was at risk of disappearing completely.
But where others saw embarrassment, the Competitor Group saw opportunity. This Sunday’s Rock ’n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon will be the fifth under the company’s direction, and the transformation of the event from an also-ran to a must-run has been nothing short of remarkable.
Consider that more than 30,000 runners have registered. Most of them — about 23,000 — will run a half-marathon, with about 4,700 running the full marathon and 2,500 running a 6½-mile track. Only a handful of U.S. races have more total participants. None match the experience of running the Las Vegas Strip at night.
Dan Cruz of the Competitor Group says about 87 percent of those runners are from out of state and, with their families, they’ll account for about 50,000 total visitors and almost 90,000 hotel room nights. This year’s race was moved up from its typical December slot, when it competed for hotel room space with National Finals Rodeo fans. Now the marathon gets the beautiful weather of mid-November and anchors a previously quiet pre-Thanksgiving weekend on its own.
Aside from being a top athletic competition, the Rock ’n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon is also one of the valley’s biggest philanthropic events. Its charity partner is the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, which is dedicated to researching and curing debilitating digestive diseases that affect more than 1.4 million Americans. Mr. Cruz said that after Sunday’s race, the event will have raised more than $20 million over five years for the foundation.
The marathon certainly had its growing pains as it transitioned to a nighttime event. Last year’s race was a complete turnaround from the disaster of 2011, which had too many participants, a nightmarish finishing area and allegations that volunteers sickened runners with tainted water (later proved false). The Competitor Group has learned from its mistakes and made improvements accordingly.
Some locals will complain about Sunday afternoon’s road closures, but the inconvenience is no worse than New Year’s Eve, and just as temporary. Here’s hoping the marathon continues to deliver an experience worthy of the Las Vegas brand.