Marathon joins other big events

Las Vegas has long been a city of bold proclamations.

Pat Christenson perhaps made one of the boldest Friday, at the news conference for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon and Half-Marathon.

"This may be the biggest weekend in the history of our city," Christenson, head of Las Vegas Events, said while on the dais at Mandalay Bay’s convention center.

From NASCAR stars cruising Las Vegas Boulevard ahead of Friday night’s awards show, to rodeo athletes plying their trade at the Thomas & Mack Center for the National Finals Rodeo, Christenson had already seen two events helping bolster the local economy.

Come 6 a.m. Sunday morning, he’ll see something that seldom happens in Las Vegas. The Strip will be closed in both directions for the Rock ‘n’ Roll races, which will flood the street with nearly 28,000 participants. Both races start and finish at Mandalay Bay.

"They certainly have delivered for the city," Christenson said of Competitor Group, which bought the event from financially plagued Devine Racing after last year’s marathon, then quickly doubled its size. "I’m looking forward to seeing 27,000 runners on the Strip."

Said race spokesman Dan Cruz: "It’s kind of like bringing in the circus."

That circus will provide an elephant-sized boost to the economy. Cruz said similarly sized Rock ‘n’ Roll events in other cities have provided an economic impact of up to $40 million. Many of those cities don’t offer the wide variety of entertainment options that Las Vegas does, and with the overwhelming number of entrants traveling in for the race, marathon officials project an economic impact of $50 million. That includes the sale of 30,000 room nights.

"Eighty-five percent of the field is from outside of Clark County, and 35 percent of the runners are first-time marathoners or half-marathoners," Cruz said.

There are entries from 39 countries. That includes runners from 13 nations comprising a world-class elite field which will compete for a big chunk of the $107,000 in prize money.

One such runner is Russia’s Alevtina Ivanova, who has her eyes on the biggest prize: winning the male-female challenge. The women’s elite field will get a 19-minute head start Sunday morning, and while the men’s and women’s overall winners will claim $15,000, the first one across the finish line will get an additional $10,000.

"I think it’s possible that the challenge will be won by a woman," Ivanova said through an interpreter. "And I hope that maybe it’s me. I’ve worked very, very hard."

Indeed. She won the Nagano Marathon in Japan in April 2008 with a personal best of 2 hours, 26 minutes, 39 seconds. Then she got pregnant and delivered her second child, a baby girl, last March.

She left no doubt as to what was more difficult.

"It’s harder to give birth to a baby, because you don’t have any time for training," she said with a laugh.

Still, the 34-year-old has the top time in the women’s elite field, just ahead of Kenya’s Alice Timbilili (2:26:43). Ivanova said she’s confident she can make her trip to Vegas pay off, as long as she can keep her focus while running past all the lights of the Strip, with the race starting pre-dawn.

"The Strip is very beautiful, and I’d like to look at all the exciting things on the Strip. But they can disorient you," she said. "My main goal is to focus on the running and the strategy."

France’s Benoit Zwierzchiewski leads the men’s elites with a personal record of 2:06:36, but he’ll face stiff competition from a field dotted with Kenyans and Ethiopians, along with American Justin Young.

Plus, there’s the matter of that 19-minute gap to close on the women.

"We’re in Las Vegas, so we figured we should make the men chase the women and chase the money," said Matthew Turnbull, the event’s elite athlete coordinator. "What we have to do is look at the field very closely — we want to make this as fair as possible. I believe the women’s winner will be around 2:29 to 2:30, and the men will be around 2:09 to 2:10."

The top American male and female will also earn $1,000.

Even locals can cash in on the prize money, with the top Nevada man and woman earning $1,000 apiece, and second place claiming $500.

Though the marathon is the feature race, the half-marathon will far outdraw it, with an expected 20,000 of the nearly 28,000 entrants. Several speedy runners are expected in that field as well, with the men’s and women’s winners earning $3,000 apiece.

But elite athletes comprise an extremely small segment of the total field. The overriding theme will ostensibly be a 26.2-mile running party — or 13.1 in the case of the half-marathon — replete with hundreds of runners dressed as Elvis; 85 running couples either getting married or renewing their vows at the run-thru wedding ceremony outside Paris Las Vegas; and bands rocking the runners onward at every mile.

"On race day, it’s just going to be wild," race general manager Adam Zocks said. "We’re doing things that have never been done before. The production at the start line is going to be a huge spectacle, something no one has ever seen, and we’ve never seen.

"We’ve got the full Strip closure, with the full support of all the Strip properties. It will be wall-to-wall excitement throughout the race. I think we’re going to make a lot of people happy this weekend."

Contact reporter Patrick Everson at or 702-383-0353.

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