There have been rumors of a trail ultra race out at Red Rock (Las Vegas) for years, but it had never materialized, presumably because of difficulty in permitting. That was until 2021! When I heard that Joshua Eddy/Desert Dash had actually gotten this permitted and it was a go, I knew I had to sign up. Just take my money! There would be a 50k (31 miles) race and a 100k (62 miles) race.
The race was originally scheduled for late April, but was ultimately moved to early May due to COVID-related scheduling issues. That meant it would likely be fairly warm and the race would be during the legislative session, when I was flying up to Carson City every Sunday and back to Las Vegas every Friday. Specifically, the race would be during the last month of our legislative session, meaning that I would likely be out-of-shape (at least from ideal) and utterly exhausted. So, of course, I signed up...for the 100k. I told myself it would motivate me to stay in shape during the legislative session, knowing full well I would not have time to stay in 100k shape during a legislative session.
Per usual, my wife picked me up at the airport on Friday, May 7th, the day before the race. It was another brutally long week at the Legislature and I was beat down, but I decided I would give it my best shot anyway. We drove straight to Red Rock Running to pick up my packet, then stopped for a nice Italian dinner. Carb up!
I woke up very early and drove out to the designated parking area, from which we would be bussed to Red Rock Canyon for the start of the race. as there is not enough parking at Red Rock and the finish of the race was in the town of Blue Diamond, miles away from Red Rock. Start time for the race was 7am. I was in good spirits despite my exhaustion but, as I paced around waiting for the race to begin, I could already tell that it was going to be a very hot day. I opted to go with a long sleeve shirt to avoid getting sunburned. I scanned the other runners in the starting area and it was clear to me that this field was no joke. I anxiously awaited the starting gun and just like that we were off and running!
The first thing I realized is that the course was going to be much more technical than I had anticipated. Although there were a few spots in Red Rock where we ran on the road, most of the race was on single track, rocky trails, almost all of which I had never run on before. So this race was going to take an immense amount of concentration to ensure that I didn't twist an ankle (like at Rally in the Valley) or trip on a rock.
Towards the end of the portion in Red Rock, we were on a trail known as Dale's Trail. Whoever he was, I cursed Dale the entire way and vowed to never run on that trail again. It was way too rocky and narrow for my liking. I nearly ran into a cactus or two. I was making very slow progress and was in awe of those at the front of the pack who were all out running these trails tough trails.
But, it is Red Rock Canyon and, if nothing else, Red Rock Canyon is beautiful. Some photos from along the way:
As we exited Red Rock Canyon and hit the stretch of road that would take us south to the town of Blue Diamond, I was excited to have a few miles of flat road to run on. Enough with those rocky trails! Although it was definitely getting hotter, I believed I could make up some time on the road. I was right about that and I really enjoyed this part of the race. I picked up my pace and even passed a few runners along the way! It was right about this time, however, that I started having my doubts about completing the 100k given that we were only 18 miles or so in.
The largest and most well stocked aid station was in the town of Blue Diamond, which would also serve as the finish line for the race. I stopped there for a few minutes to fuel up before heading out to run the 10 mile or so Landmine Loop, a trail I had run once before. I would be right back to this aid station after those 10 miles before heading out to more remote trails.
I made a rookie mistake at this aid station. I didn't refill my hydration pack. I drank a fair amount of fluids at the aid station and, for reasons unknown, thought it wouldn't be too bad out there on the Landmine Loop and that the water I had left in the pack would be enough. But I also knew that the trail was totally exposed and it was approaching noon. I don't think my brain was functioning properly.
The Landmine loop started off well enough, but I soon started to get overheated. My strength was sapped and I was drinking a lot of water as a result. About midway through this 10 mile segment, I ran out of water. It was a terrible feeling because I knew I had a long way to go to get back to the aid station. I slowed down and had to walk and take rest breaks, only increasing my thirst. I felt defeated. I had bonked.
At around mile 25 or so, I decided I was going to drop out at the next aid station. There was no way I could go 30+ more miles, longer than an actual marathon. I was out of water. I was tired. I had things to do at home. There was no shame in running nearly 30 miles before dropping out. I started to think about how I would be home by 2pm instead of in the middle of the night. I felt a weight lift off of my shoulders. Now I just needed to finish a few more miles and then I would be done. I knew it was the right decision and one that my worried wife would certainly support.
As I made it back to the road that leads into the town of Blue Diamond, I thought I heard somebody shout my name. I also thought that I must be imagining things because I wasn't expecting anybody there to cheer me on. Almost nobody knew I was even attempting this madness. Then I heard my name called out again. I was shocked to see Greg, who I had met and paced a couple weeks back at Jackpot. He told me that he had come to return the favor and pace me the rest of the way!
I had no idea he was coming and, to be honest, I was a little disappointed at first because I knew this could foil my plans to drop out of the race. I told him that I felt horrible, that I had run out of water, and that I didn't know if I would be continuing with the race. He was very polite, telling me he would respect whatever decision I made, but that I should just sit down for a minute and get some water. As a sat there in the shade drinking and eating, I was really humbled that Greg had come out all the way out to Blue Diamond from Henderson to pace me. That would have been at least a 45 minute drive for him. And, you know what, I did start to feel better.
I began to think about how significant it would be to finish this race and how nice it would be to do it with a friend by my side. But I was also aware that Greg had no idea how hard this course was. I told him I was willing to keep going, but that he needed to know it was going to take a very long time to finish these next 34 miles. He believed it would take us another 6 hours or so to finish the course, but I quickly disabused him of that notion, telling him I thought it would take more like 12+ hours. I asked him if he was up for that and if his wife would be okay with it. He said yes to both. He had not brought a headlamp but fortunately I had an extra mini flashlight in one of my drop bags waiting for me later on the course.
Once I felt ready, off we went, into the unknown...
It was getting very warm, but we headed into the desert, where we knew there would be no relief from the sun for hours yet. We headed towards the Hurl, the biggest climb on the course. It was really nice to have somebody to talk to and to take my mind off the pain. We did the best we could, but I was pretty exhausted and we resorted to mostly power walking/hiking while trying to run the flatter, not so rocky parts (there weren't many).
At one point, I felt a sharp pain in the bottom of my foot, like there was a thorn in my shoe. I took my shoe and sock off (no easy feat) to discover that some kind of splinter had actually gone into the bottom of my foot. I knew I wouldn't be able to get it out and my feet were too dirty to even want to try. The risk of infection would be too great. So I just hoped the occasional sharp pain would go away. It did or maybe the pain elsewhere just caught up. [Note: I never did remove that splinter.]
We anxiously awaited sunset so that we would get a reprieve from the heat of the day. After all, I had been out there all day. Greg was a trooper, encouraging me and showing a lot of patience at what must have been a very slow pace for him. The miles added up as we went up and over the Hurl, to the Late Night trail and then through the tunnel under Blue Diamond Highway and over to Cottonwood, all trails that I had never been on before.
As we headed further south, we traveled further and further from civilization. We could see the bright lights of Las Vegas in the distance, but they seemed 100 miles away. I thought about the fact that we were out here in the middle of nowhere on a Saturday night, just trying to survive and finish this race, while millions of people were simultaneously enjoying themselves and partying on the Las Vegas Strip. Honestly, I was right where I wanted to be. I would have it no other way.
As it got later and later, we talked less, each of us just focusing on the next step. The silence was only interrupted by the grunting that resulted from the occasional unintentional kicking of a rock, more painful to the toes the more often it happened. And it happened more often the more tired we became, as our muscles just didn't want to cooperate in lifting our feet high enough to clear all of the rocks. It was brutal!
In the most remote part of the course, we were on a jeep trail with huge rocks. It was unrunnable (at least to me) and technical, the effort made more difficult by the darkness. It took all available brainpower to focus on the little ring of light right in front of us, mine from my headlamp, Greg's from his mini-flashlight.
The volunteers at the last few aid stations were amazing. They were very encouraging and even laughed at my lame jokes. It had gotten fairly cold and windy out there, but they kept a smile on their faces, as they tended to the last handful of runners on the course. I am sure they were as eager as I was to be in the comfort of their own homes. I am grateful they were there for us as we toughed out the last several miles.
Next thing I knew, we were at mile 61, then mile 62. The end was near!
As luck would have it, my headlamp battery finally died just as we got into the town of Blue Diamond, with the finish line in sight. The sun had set around 7:30pm and it was already after 2am. That battery worked hard to keep the path lit for me for nearly 7 hours!
I don't believe that I have ever been happier to see a finish line. I resolved to jog to the finish and Greg went ahead to get some footage of the moment.
Here is video of the finish:
Instead of a traditional medal, I earned a really cool wooden plaque as well as a print.
Up to that point, this was the most difficult race I have ever completed. I was relatively out of shape (running only a mile or two most days leading up to the race), the course was really difficult and unfamiliar to me, and it was hot out. The course had a total elevation gain of over 7,000 feet, more than the Grand Canyon. I honestly don't know how I finished the race, especially given how bad I felt around mile 25. There is no doubt in my mind that I would have pulled the plug if Greg had not shown up to pace me. For that, I am incredibly grateful. It was such a generous thing for him to do.
So just how tough was this course? 37 of us toed the starting line for the 100k. Only 21 of us finished. I finished in 17th place. It took me nearly 20 hours. The winner? 12 hours!
Thankfully, Greg had parked closed to the finish line and he offered to drive me back to my car so I didn't have to wait for a shuttle at 2:30am. Another generous act from a great guy!
Shortly after the race, it was announced that the race would be moving to November. That would obviously make for much better weather, but I don't think I have another Red Rock 100k in me. Now a 50k? Maybe. Stay tuned.
Here are the Strava details:
And here is the GPS of the course we ran:
And, finally, enjoy some memes because, if you can't laugh at yourself, what's wrong with you?
Steve Yeager is an ultra runner who rarely turns down a challenge. When he is not out putting miles on his shoes, he practices law and serves as the Speaker in the Nevada State Legislature. Steve lives in Las Vegas, Nevada with his very understanding and patient wife, Bita.