Runners brave lonely Nevada road during marathon near Area 51

Updated August 6, 2017 - 11:30 pm

David Van Hook’s wife didn’t share his excitement over his plans to spend a few days two hours north of Las Vegas for an alien-themed road race.

“You’ve got to be crazy to run in the middle of nowhere at midnight,” she had told him back home in Green Valley, Arizona.

Van Hook was undeterred. The 70-year-old liked the costumes and swapping stories over drinks with fellow runners after the Extraterrestrial Full Moon Midnight Marathon, which also includes several shorter races.

Perhaps more importantly, he couldn’t forget how last year he placed second in his age group in the 10K race. He would redeem himself this year.

And so, on Saturday, the retired train conductor joined about 600 other people registered for the 11th annual ET Full Moon event in Rachel, 100 miles north of Las Vegas.

Runners paid $45 to $130 to participate in one of five distances, from 5K (3.1 miles) up to 51K (31.69 miles). Some paid another $30 for a bus that brought them to and from the town of fewer than 100 residents.

The marathon started at the stroke of midnight. Runners traveled along State Route 375, the Extraterrestrial Highway, near Area 51 and known for tales of UFO sightings and intrigue. The racers braved rare oncoming traffic and the possibility of cows roaming the open range.

A light rain fell on the racers, dressed in reflector jackets and headlights, as they ran in Sunday morning’s wee hours. Some wore glowing shoes, glowing backpacks, tutus. The crowd included a Brooklyn middle school teacher and a Washington, D.C., physicist for the Naval Research Laboratory.

One woman dressed as an angel. A man squeaked with each shuffle in his alien suit, his head poking out of the front of the costume made to look like a child’s body held in the alien’s arms.

Steve Delaney, a retired Las Vegas local who has volunteered with marathon operator Calico Racing for about eight years, said recruiting volunteers gets tougher every year.

Calico faces more competition from new marathons and races that pop up, he said. Some of Calico’s other races include a twilight jaunt in Sunset Regional Park and one along Lovell Canyon Road.

Racer participation peaked at about 1,000 during the early years of the marathon, a qualifier for the Boston Marathon. Rachel locals also used to volunteer, but interest has waned over time, he said.

The race hours also might have hindered any local following.

“The locals go to sleep and wake up without even knowing what happened,” he said.

Nevertheless, Delaney said, the marathon has its devotees. He himself likes the crowd and Calico owner Joyce Forier.

“She wants to give people experiences they can’t find anywhere else,” he said.

The Little A’le’Inn bar and grill, perhaps the best-known business in the tiny burg, served as the finish line for all the racers Sunday.

The inn has about five employees, 15 rooms for rent starting at $45 and hamburgers served on paper plates. Connie West’s family has owned the inn for about 30 years.

Her parents bought the business shortly after moving to Rachel so her journeyman father could work at what was then called the Nevada Test Site, now the Nevada National Security Site. They had fallen for the close community and quaintness.

West said she often hears similar sentiment from visitors, many of them from overseas and interested in aliens or an odd stop while visiting Las Vegas.

“Someone from every country has come through that door in the past 30 years,” said West, 49. “Even some (from countries) that don’t exist anymore.”

The marathon is good for selling drinks and Little A’le’Inn shirts and merchandise, she said. The nearby Jenkins family dropped off some watermelons to sell to racers to help market the family’s farm.

The biggest event in town remains the Alien Run motorcycle rally, which has better hours and offers better sights for spectators, West said.

The rest of the year, a steady number of tourists visit the inn and Rachel seeking signs of intelligent life and to visit Area 51. The inn also hosts Boy Scout troops passing through.

At the finish line, Anoop Javvadi, 25, placed first in his age group with a time around 30 minutes in the 5k.

Out of breath and drenched in sweat, the software engineer raced with fellow colleagues from Las Vegas-based online shoe seller Zappos.

Javvadi said he always has been interested in aliens. He believes Earth can’t be the only planet to support life and has attended lectures on the topic.

“It was great,” he said after the race. “I can’t believe I did it.”

Van Hook, the retired train conductor whose wife, Judy, stayed home this weekend, arrived at the finish line about 15 minutes after Javvadi.

He said he beat his time last year and might have placed first in his age group by default. Van Hook didn’t see any 70-year-olds on the highway.

“But I won’t tell anyone that back home,” he said.

Contact Wade Tyler Millward at or 702-383-4602. Follow @wademillward on Twitter.

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