With a bevy of strong American runners in the Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas Marathon's half-marathon event, Sean Houseworth was quite familiar with much of his competition.
And usually not for the better.
"I'm good friends with a lot of these guys. I run against them a lot, and they've kicked my butt a little bit," Houseworth said.
Sunday night, Houseworth did the kicking. The 24-year-old from Colorado Springs, Colo., made a big move between miles 6 and 7, leaving behind some of those aforementioned butt-kickers, then literally screaming his way across the finish line to win the 13.1-mile race in 1 hour, 3 minutes, 12 seconds.
Houseworth's impressive effort -- cutting more than 2 minutes off his personal best -- was the highlight of the event's move from early morning to the evening, a move that bolstered the field to 44,000 entrants. Running under the glitz of the Strip lights, 6,000 runners participated in the marathon, and Houseworth led a field of 38,000 at the shorter distance.
"I'd run here two years ago, and I finished in 1:05:35. That was my (personal record) up until this point," said Houseworth, who was seventh in 2009. "This is a big, big breakthrough for me. People were probably wondering why I was screaming at the end there. I'd just finally put everything together."
Houseworth pulled out to a huge lead between miles 7 and 11, with his pursuers nowhere in sight as he surged south on Las Vegas Boulevard -- while thousands of average runners and walkers, still heading north just a couple of miles into their night, cheered him on.
Jason Hartmann of Boulder, Colo., and Jason Lehmkuhle of Minneapolis cut into Houseworth's lead, but couldn't catch him. Hartmann took second in 1:03:34 and Lehmkuhle third in 1:03:37.
"I actually did think I had a chance to catch him, but he held on pretty strong. He made his move at the right time, and we just couldn't reel him in," Hartmann said. "He ran a smart, intelligent race."
Australia's Benita Willis, in Las Vegas for the first time, won the women's half-marathon in 1:10:40, fending off Amy Hastings of Mammoth Lakes, Calif., who was second in 1:11:22.
"This is the best race I've run since 2006," said Willis, a three-time Olympian who ran the marathon at the 2008 Beijing Games. "I've been through a few tough years personally. But it's all turned around in the past few months."
The half-marathon field was loaded with elite athletes, particularly Americans, because it served as the last chance to qualify for next month's U.S. Olympic marathon trials. The men had to beat 1:05:00 to qualify, and the women had to beat 1:15:00.
The field was so fast, in fact, that Houseworth finished the half-marathon minutes before Kenya's Peter Omae won the marathon, even though Omae's race started 90 minutes before Houseworth's.
That hardly mattered to Omae as he reclined in a patio lounger, a space heater warming his bare feet after his win.
"I'm feeling good," said Omae, who won in 2:29:13. "It was very hard for me, because I never run in the evening."
Hungary's Zsofia Erdelyi topped the women's marathon field in 2:48:58.
All of the top runners were ecstatic about the atmosphere created by a night race on Las Vegas Boulevard, which was lined by thousands of fans, particularly in the Strip corridor. Even a chilly evening didn't really bother runners or fans.
"It's a very different atmosphere, but it was a good different," Houseworth said. "Even the runners were being fans. It was just an awesome, awesome atmosphere. If you can't run fast here, you can't run fast anywhere."
Said Willis: "I've only ever done night races in Europe, never in America. It was something special, and it was really exciting to run a race like this."
Hartmann had already qualified for the Olympic trials, so even in defeat, he enjoyed the event.
"This is kind of a running dream," he said. "I've run the streets of New York City, and now I've run on the Las Vegas Strip. ... To feel the energy of the crowd and of the lights and the buildings, to be part of that is pretty cool."
Contact reporter Patrick Everson at email@example.com or 702-383-0353.