Traveling to run a small and obscure race have often resulted in my favorite race experiences. When Amanda suggested taking a weekend trip to Laughlin, Nevada, I immediately jumped on board. I’d never been to Laughlin, knew nothing about the event, and had no expectations for the three-day weekend except to run some miles and enjoy some alcoholic beverages.
Naturally, we hit a lot of extended-weekend traffic on the way out and 4 hour drive took us about 6.5 hours. Since we had the option of picking our race packets up on Saturday morning, we weren’t stressed and just enjoyed the ride. Plus, I was the designated car DJ, so the drive up was basically a rave party. Reading the Yelp! reviews on our hotel/motel probably wasn’t a great idea – one of the reviews had a picture of various cleaning supplies and the author explained that they had to go to the store and get them after checking as the shower was moldy.
My first impression of Laughlin was that it was a very miniature version of Las Vegas and in the middle of a large desert (it is!). On the way up, I did some research and learned that the city basically only exists for tourism purposes and is busiest during the summer months. It is nestled up against the Colorado River and very popular for water sports May-August. Amanda said that the river is jam packed with jet skis, boats, and other water vehicles. A number of hotel, casinos and restaurants line the riverfront and there is a a river walk which connects all of them. Franchise-type restaurants (Cocos, McDonalds, Panda Express) and unique eating establishments are sprinkled throughout the city, so we had plenty of food options. There was a casino and bar in every single hotel and the city seemed to be awake 24 hours. The Colorado River delineates the states of Nevada and Arizona and Bullhead City, AZ was within waving distance of Laughlin, NV. In fact, I ran in three different states over the weekend!
We were relieved to find a mold-free shower in our room at the Pioneer Hotel (i.e. least expensive hotel in Laughlin). It was by no means a Hilton, but it had beds, a working toilet, and a locking door. We had dinner at Pints in the Colorado Belle and then explored the riverfront. After I lost $10 on a cat-themed slot machine, we set our alarms for 5:00am and went to sleep.
The race started at the Avi, which was about 20 minutes away. The Avi seemed like its own isolated little “city,” but it was really only a hotel, casino, and probably a few restaurants. The race started at 7:00am, but we had to stop for gas, coffee, breakfast (coffee and chocolate for me) and pick our bibs up, so we left at 5:45am. Logistics are usually easier for small races, and in this case, we were able to park right next to the start line. There were about 230 half marathon finishers in 2015, so we knew this would be a very small event. Bib pickup went smoothly and the porta potty lines moved quickly. The temperature when we started was about 62 degrees and there was just a slight wind. My weather app showed strong winds later on in the day and I just hoped that we had a headwind on the way out and a tailwind on the way back.
In looking at the 2015 results, I noticed a name which looked familiar. I reached out to the person to ask about the course and what to expect, and she said that the course actually runs on mostly gravel. Though I hadn’t noticed before, the race was in fact categorized as a trail half marathon. She advised me to wear shoes with a bit more cushion and to NOT wear racing flats. Sure enough, a majority of the terrain that we ran on was a loose gravel. At 7:00am sharp, about 220 of us left the start line… into a slight headwind!
The course was my least favorite type, an out-and-back. I spent the first mile passing a majority of the runners, and then miles 2-3 running with and passing a few more. My effort level was 6/10 and I felt fantastic – I estimate my pace to have been around ~7:20. The headwind wasn’t pleasant, but it was manageable. I saw the lead runners after the turnaround and saw that I was the first overall female, and the fourth overall runner. The headwind had picked up significantly between miles 4-6.5, so I was very happy to turnaround and hopefully be carried to the finish by a tailwind. Thankfully, the out-and-back course wasn’t a straight line and we had a few curves here and there. It felt like we were running deeper and deeper into the desert.
At the halfway point/turnaround, I still felt really good. The tailwind decreased my effort level, so I decided to gradually speed up as I ran back toward the start/finish. I was cheering on the other runners, smiling, and just enjoying running in a new place. My pacing was haphazard for the second half as the wind picked up. Sometimes it felt like it was pushing me from behind, and other times it felt like I was being blown sideways. At one point, a huge gust blew sand across the path and my visor almost flew off. I think I became a bit overzealous after mile 8, because I started to feel not great. There was a male runner in a green singlet about 800 feet in front of me, so I focused on keeping the distance between us the same and then trying to reel him in after mile 12. The water station volunteer at the 10.5 mile mark was literally fishing on some rocks next to the, which made me chuckle. I started to feel better at 10 miles, knowing that we only had 3.1 miles left.
The gravel started to get to me at about mile 11. I didn’t mind in the beginning, but pushing off of a loose surface with tired legs wasn’t ideal. I kept green singlet in sight and grinded (or rather, graveled) it out to the finish. For this race, I actually wore my Garmin to know the time of day, but didn’t turn it on for the race. I knew that we’d started at 7:00am sharp, so when I looked down at my watch with a quarter mile left to go and saw 8:28am, I was in a bit of shock. When the finish clock came into sight, I saw a 1:30:xx and the shock level grew. My last “fast” half marathon was in July of 2015 (1:32), after which my health declined quickly. Just a week prior to this, I’d run a 1:39 half marathon, albeit a hilly and at-times technical trail one. My official finish time was 1:30:41.
After a 2-mile cool down run with green singlet guy (Kevin, from Ohio), I waited for Amanda to finish. The wind had picked up significantly between 8:30 and 9:30am. I had to walk around with a towel over my face because big gusts would blow sand right into all of us waiting at the finish line. I am so glad that the race started at 7:00am and that we all got to run the second half with a tail wind. Had we started later, I felt like I could’ve jumped up and just let the wind carry me away! After Amanda finished, I picked up my overly large trophy and we left.
We were both pretty wiped out from only 5 hours of sleep pre-race and then running 13.1 miles, so we went into nap mode after showers. Not surprisingly, we both woke up ravenous and enjoyed a delicious lunch at Daniel’s Restaurant on the River. I was craving salt, but more specifically, pickles, so I ordered a side of those and created a seriously intense and salty salad with chicken as my protein.
After lunch, we took a small day trip out to Oatman, Arizona. Nestled into the Black Mountains of Mohave County, Arizona, Oatman went from being a smattering of tents to a full blown town within one year after two prospectors discovered $10 million in gold in 1915. Between 1915-1917, Oatman was a characteristic gold rush boom town and home to some of the largest gold producing mines in the west. After sucking out $13,600,000 worth of gold, the town’s main employer (United Eastern Mines) ceased operations. A few years later, the remainder of the town’s gold mining operations were shut down by the U.S. government due to the war. Oatman’s location on Route 66 kept the town afloat – it served as a rest and fuel stop for those traveling between Kingman and Needles, California. Unfortunately, a new route between Kingman and Needles was built in 1953, no longer necessitating the use of Route 66. Only about 130 people reside in Oatman now, but it’s definitely worth a visit.
The main street is lined with small stores and places to eat. Most of the shops sell antiques, tourist-y items, and/or some interesting pieces of clothing. A lot of of it is western style and I saw a few beautiful pieces of Native American style turquoise jewelry. The Oatman Hotel looked like a really cool place to eat or have a drink, but we didn’t end up going in.
Also, semi-wild burros mill about in the street and many of the stores sell burro food for about $2. They’re very approachable and just kind of walk lazily about while getting pet and fed. While we were on our way out, a group of three burros started to put on a little… show for everyone. I heard one young child exclaim “look, they’re playing!” and couldn’t help, but laugh. Before we left, I bought a small booklet about Oatman to read during the ride back home. I wonder what life would’ve been like in Oatman back in it’s heyday!
On Sunday, I went out for a solo sunrise 6 miler with no route plan. The main strip in Laughlin is very short, but the bridge over to Bullhead City, AZ had a sidewalk, so I ended up running to Arizona. I actually did more miles there than in Nevada, but it was mostly on the sidewalk alongside a busy road. I did a simple three out, three back, stopping here and there to take pictures and SnapChat. I spotted a big hill off to the side on my way back and decided to run up it, which was a good idea because the view from the top was lovely.
We began our uneventful trek back mid-morning and just like that, Easter weekend was over!