Race Review: Red Rock Canyon Half Marathon

This weekend, the Husband and I went to Vegas, child-free. We adore our small person but frankly, it was awesome. The Husband needs no encouraging to eat his vegetables, he showers willingly and does not need me to check his bottom after doing a poo. Totally brilliant.

We were there to meet my friend Nicola from the UK and to run the Red Rock Canyon Half Marathon, which took place on Saturday, her 40th birthday. We stayed off the strip (having been to Vegas before) at the SunCoast Hotel which was the official race hotel. The hotel was a little shabby but our room was lovely. Packet pick-up was in the casino the night before. It was very quick.

Race Day started at 5am and by 5.4 we were downstairs in the lobby, meeting the birthday girl and getting bagels, ready for the bus. It was VERY nice to simply stagger bleary-eyed out of our room onto the bus. The race was about 20 minutes away at Red Rock Canyon State Park. We had driven through the park 4 years ago, but running it would be very different. Logistics were easy, the bus was on time and we got to the start line just in time to use the loo. It was FREEZING. Seriously chilly. I huddled in my space blanket until it was time to be brave, cast it off and dash for the start line. The start line was very low-key, with about 250 runners and before we had time to get chilled, we were off.

At the start....brrr
At the start….brrrr

My plan for the race? To run with Nicola. Wasn’t fussed about my time, wasn’t fussed about running the whole thing. I wanted to run it, enjoy it and take a lot of photos. We had the additional problem that Nicola wrenched her back badly on the flight out, lugging a suitcase. A trip to a chiropractor had helped but she was a little uncomfortable and we wondered how her back would hold up.

The course is one of the most spectacular courses I’ve ever run. I think only my relay in Colorado compares. We wound our way through the state park in a giant horseshoe shape. The road was well paved and we had scrubby desert, studded with cacti and Joshua trees  on one side and gorgeous red cliff mountains to the other. It was just a really lovely place to run. Well chosen, Nic!

husband red rock
The Husband enjoys some flatness for a while
red rock
Heart-broken to not see a tortoise

It wasn’t an easy course, however. The first five miles were pretty much uphill. Pretty runnable hills, fairly decent gradients, for most of the time, but relentless. We ran a little, walked a little and did it all again until we finally reached the aid station at about mile 5 where the hills were pretty much done. This aid station had a portaloo, orange segments and delicious Pringles which tasted like manna from heaven. We lingered there a while. We were in no rush, and it was lovely.

red rock canyon
It’s all downhill from here….apart from the rollers
me red rock
I was feeling pretty good at this point!


From there, we plunged downhill. The remaining 8 miles were pretty much solidly downhill although with three or four short but not insignificant climbs. We were on track for a 2 hr 30 finish, which would do us nicely but towards the end, Nicola’s back started to get fed up with the downhill pounding and began to hurt. She was super tough and never complained, stopping a few times to stretch it out, but I could tell that she was in some discomfort and I really felt for her. To make the situation better (worse?) I put some music on for us both and sang very loudly when the inspiration took me.

red rock

The down side of amazing, spectacular views that stretch out forever is that you can see just how far it is to the finish line…and it was a long way. But soon enough we were nearing the end. We walked a little, one more time, to ease Nic’s back and then, with quarter of a mile to go, we set off running and finished with a ‘sprint’ so that we looked super awesome. We crossed the finish line in 2 hrs 35, several minutes behind the Husband and to find Nic’s boyfriend as our personal paparazzo! Awesome.

The finish line refreshments utterly rocked. Pancakes. I piled into the pancakes and syrup like a starving girl. Utterly perfect. And then Nicola opened up a bottle of prosecco that she’d put in her checked bag so we helped her drink that too!

nic red rock
Rehydrating the British way

All in all, I have to say that this was one of the best races I’ve ever run. The views were breathtaking (in every sense). Really gorgeous. It made me so happy to run somewhere so beautiful. There were plentiful aid stations giving out water and Heed – and the air was so dry I stopped at pretty much every one.  It was very well organised, the buses were on time, smooth and pleasant, and the finish line ‘party’ was great. We got a very nice black tech shirt and a HUMONGOUS medal. Well played, Calico Racing. Really nice job.

red rock me husband mic
Medals, grins and prosecco

Personally, I loved the race. Whilst the competitive part of me is interested to see how fast I could have run this course, I have to say that I really loved just being out for a run and enjoying the views. I loved running along at a chatting pace with my friend, loved stopping for photos. It was a flipping brilliant morning out.

And then, later on, after naps….we hit the Strip!

Proud to be an American…
me husband us vegas
NOT wearing lycra for once
Red or black? Red or black?

IMG_7054 IMG_7061

26 Comments Add yours

  1. Kate says:

    I am so glad to hear that you don’t have to check your husband’s bum after a poo. That made me laugh!

    1. Cathryn says:

      It was one of the main reasons I married him. 🙂

      1. Layla says:

        Hahaha!! I loved that whole first paragraph, and now your response completely cracked me up!

        That bottle of prosecco sounds like a brilliant idea, and the race course looks lovely! And your shirt is fantastic.You always find the best things!

      2. Cathryn says:

        My friend made it for me, she has a printing machine. She’s amazing. And yeah, toilet training is kind of crucial in a prospective husband 😉

  2. Jess T. says:

    Fabulous!! So glad to hear you had a wonderful weekend away! and I love the pics!

    1. Cathryn says:

      It was a lot of fun but my liver is glad to be home.

  3. Mike says:

    Lucky you! I ran the RRC half marathon course a couple of years ago during a January trip to Vegas (I do recall that “Tortoise Xing” sign), and it really is gorgeous. Plus this is the right time of year for a race out there, before its desert tendencies swing toward the other extreme. Calico does a great job, and if you liked Red Rock Canyon you should keep in mind their ET Full Moon Midnight Marathon… not the most scenic marathon (it starts at midnight, after all), but definitely a unique experience if you don’t mind running with a headlamp.

    Sorry to hear you went tortoise-free, but did you happen to catch sight of any burros along the course?

    1. Cathryn says:

      I saw no wildlife at all. I was gutted!! That midnight marathon sounds wonderful, I’d love to do that. (Well, the half).

  4. Grace says:

    Vegas, baby! That sounds like a great race. I love tiny races (250 runners!!!!!). And your shirt. YOUR SHIRT. Neon AND it says #thisgirlcan? Sign me up.

    1. Cathryn says:

      My friend has a printing machine and she printed it for me. Send me one of yours and I’m sure she could do one for you too. I love it so much. Also, neon 🙂

  5. Looks like a lot of fun. I love the idea of running such a pretty race at a fun pace with a friend. May have to try that one. Great job!

    1. Cathryn says:

      It was the first time I’ve run a race for fun and once I settled into it, I LOVED it! Def doing something like that again.

  6. Naomi says:

    I have made feeble attempts to run around the casinos on the Strip and I must say, this looks like a much lovelier experience. There’s something about the desert that feels magical!

    1. Cathryn says:

      Yeah, the strip is so busy I can’t imagine it’s easy to get running smoothly unless it’s super early (and thus not that cool). The desert was really lovely.

  7. TomInStPaul says:

    Cathryn, I was just an outstanding day wasn’t it? Sunny but not too hot, blue sky, beautiful hills & desert, great volunteers and, of course, other smiling runners! Thank you for sharing your experience.

    1. TomInStPaul says:

      Whoops, meant “It” was just an outstanding day. “I” was just really beat by the hills. 🙂

      1. Cathryn says:

        I guessed what you meant 🙂 We were all beaten by the hills. So glad I wasn’t running the marathon.

    2. Cathryn says:

      Thanks so much for leaving a comment!! It was such a great morning, wasn’t it. The pancakes were spot on!

  8. This run looks so beautiful! And running without rushing is a gift. Sometimes in the rush, we miss the best parts.

    1. Cathryn says:

      You’re so right. I’d never done it before but I’m SO glad I did, I enjoyed it so much.

  9. Jen says:

    Sounds fabulous all around! I hope you went to at least one all-you-can-eat buffet — aka, my favorite part of Vegas. 🙂

    1. Cathryn says:

      We did the buffet at our hotel but it was a bit lacklustre. I missed out.

  10. Robyn Cook says:

    I’m considering this race for 2016. With such a small field, we’re there any slower runners or walkers? I’m not a new runner, but I’m not exceptional either…I sure wouldn’t want the party to be over before I got there, it just looks so amazing!

    1. Cathryn says:

      I think there were many slower runners than us – and there’s also a marathon who run the first 13.1 from end to start and then back from start to finish, so you would have them for company as well. It was a really fun race and beautiful. Hope that helps!

      1. Robyn Cook says:

        Thanks! I think we’re going for it! I am glad I stumbled upon your blog – I would much rather hear first hand experience 🙂

      2. Cathryn says:

        I’m so very glad it was useful.

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