Switch to night start boon for Las Vegas Marathon

On a chilly December morning two years ago, an hour or so before the first Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon and Half-Marathon was contested, Dale Eeles hatched the next big idea.

Eeles, the vice president of corporate sponsorship for Las Vegas Events, relayed that idea to Scott Dickey, president of Competitor Group, which owns all the Rock ‘n’ Roll events. As the race was about to start just before dawn, with 28,000 runners taking over Las Vegas Boulevard, Dickey found himself with Pat Christenson and Rossi Ralenkotter, president of Las Vegas Events and chief of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, respectively.

Dickey then forwarded that idea.

"I said, ‘Dale’s right. This needs to be at night,’ " Dickey recalled on Friday. "We could see the power of what the Strip had to offer."

Now, two years later, that idea will come to fruition, with 44,000 participants basking in the lights of the Strip tonight as they make their way through the 26.2-mile marathon or the 13.1-mile half-marathon.

The marathon starts at 4 p.m., with 6,000 runners setting out from the start line near Mandalay Bay and heading west for the first half of the race, and then running the second half almost entirely on Las Vegas Boulevard. The half-marathon starts under the lights at 5:30 p.m., with a whopping 38,000 runners on one of the most iconic roads from start to finish. Both races end at Mandalay Bay.

"The way we looked at this event was, what elements will give it the greatest impact?" Christenson said, describing his thought process in 2009. "A lightbulb went off all at once for us: running it at night, when the Strip is all lit up."

The first tangible result was a 58 percent leap in the number of entrants. As in 2009, last year’s event drew approximately 28,000 participants. This year, Competitor had to cap the field, and the event sold out three weeks ago.

The big turnout — primarily from out-of-state and out-of-country runners, who tend to bring along additional tourists — helped sway Strip properties to agree to the move from an early morning to an evening start.

"The key to all of this was the cooperation from all the Strip hotels," Christenson said. "Closing the Strip is a big inconvenience. But the idea of being able to push this race from 28,000 to someday maybe 60,000 or 70,000, that took a lot of the hotel properties buying in. And they did."

While most of the field in both races consists of everyday runners and even quite a few first-timers at these distances, there also will be a solid elite group, particularly in the half-marathon. This event is one of the last that American athletes can use to qualify for next month’s Olympic marathon trials, and unlike previous trials, a half-marathon standard can get runners a shot at an Olympic berth. The relatively flat, fast course has attracted some of the nation’s top men’s and women’s runners.

That said, success will be measured by how enjoyable it is for the tens of thousands of average participants — before, during and after the event. Prerace activities include a performance by Cheap Trick ahead of the marathon, and Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready doing the national anthem before the half-marathon.

During the event, the run-through wedding chapel again will be set up, this time outside The Mirage, with the volcano as the backdrop. And there will be plenty of live entertainment along the course. After the race, two official parties take place, at XS inside Encore and at LAVO at the Palazzo.

Dickey said it took these past two years to make this event ready for nighttime, but he has high expectations.

"We needed to prove ourselves, and that took time. And we still need to prove ourselves on Sunday night. But we’re confident," he said. "The casinos, at first blush (two years ago), they thought the runners were not gonna drink, not gonna gamble, and we’ve proven them wrong.

"They run so that they can eat and drink what they want, and they gamble. This is gonna be a rolling party."

Contact reporter Patrick Everson at peverson@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0353.

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