Race: Flight of Fire Trail Half Marathon
Distance: 13 (+2 miles)
Terrain: Trail (gravel and stone slabs)
Elevation gain/loss: 1,200ft
Weather: Veryhot and sunny
Summary: ran hard, enjoyed the views, got lost, fell over, finally finished and then had a beer.
Early in May I was fortunate enough to be in Las Vegas for my brother-in-law’s wedding. In an effort to kick start my running mojo, following months of niggling injuries, I decided to jump in at the deep end and enter the Flight of Fire trail half marathon. The race takes place in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, to west of Las Vegas, follows existing rugged trails that cut through you guessed it, huge swathes of red rock.
With temperatures hitting +100°F through the week I was glad of an early race start. It was, however, a tad weird walking through a packed smoky casino at 4:30am in my running kit. On arriving at Red Rock Visitors Centre the views weren’t the only thing to make me double take. The good people at Triple Dare Running, putting on the race, had beer and bloody mary’s on offer for anyone who wanted something to calm any pre-race nerves.
After a rather sparse race briefing, we were off. Having looked at the course profile I knew the first half was basically uphill so had planned on taking things rather easy to save my legs for the inevitable quad bashing that was to follow. Caught up in the moment, however, I was quickly in 2nd place behind local runner Raymond Fong at far too fast a pace. After 3 miles I let Raymond pull away and tried to relax and enjoy the views without wiping out on the switchbacks and take regular sips from my handheld.
Stretching my legs on the first downhill since the start I was glad to see the first aid station, topped up with Gatorade and was back on the trails.
The next few miles mixed between open river bed pebble strewn trails and traversing slabs of smooth red rock. With no sign of anyone catching up with me I pushed on with my legs feeling surprisingly good.
With a little over 2 miles left I came into the last aid station. I (stupidly) decided not to take on anymore water and asked how far ahead 1st position was. Spotting orange markers heading down the tarmac scenic path I checked that the route did indeed follow go downhill. Big mistake.
I opened up my stride and made sure to keep an eye out the orange markers. Unbeknown to me the markers I was now following were for road works and I should have taken a sharp left just after the last aid station. Following the road round I saw the finish and knew something was wrong when my watch said only 11.3 miles. Adamant that I didn’t want a DQ I frantically asked Ryan, a race director, if I could make up the distance. He asked me how many miles I’d done and suggested a section that would make up the mileage and allow me to finish.
Passing all the other racers who I had previously been ahead of was demoralising but I plodded on with heavy legs to the turnaround point and rejoined the trail. With it now mid morning and the sun beating down the decision not to pick up water was a ridiculous one and my pace slowed dramatically. However, catching sight of other people on the trail to chase down it made the effort to get going again that little bit easier.
The final mile and a bit was a hard slog up an incline and then along those energy sapping gravel trails. It took all my effort to keep going and with now very tired legs I took a tumble in the last 800 metres and cut my knee and hand up a treat. The last 200 metres had loads of volunteers on hand to cheer and shout me into the finish despite my beaten up appearance. With one last push I sprinted and made it over the line in 2 hours 19 minutes coming in 20th out of 74.
Gill, my lovely wife (running widow), had driven out to the finish area and was there to mop up the aftermath. This entailed telling me not to be such a miserable bugger, to stop complaining about getting lost and go have a beer.
Once my toddler tantrum had finished I congratulated Raymond, who had comfortably held his lead and won in a blistering 1:38, and also thanked Heidi and Ryan at Triple Dare Running Company for putting on such an amazing race. The guys at Triple Dare did mention they had a three day multi-stage event in October but my legs were too knackered to think about running.
After a short stroll at the visitors centre and inhaling two bags of salted peanuts I retreated to the comfort of an air conditioned car. As Gill drove us around the scenic route we took in the unbelievable views across the canyons the race cuts across. Given the chance I would definitely go back to have another crack at the race but maybe make sure to follow the right course markings. If anyone spots me going off course at Blaydon give me a shout/slap on the head.