I remember hearing about Bootlegger in 2020, but I can't remember why I didn't run it that year. But I do remember the weather was terrible that day - cold and windy with hail. So maybe it was a good thing I didn't.
In 2021, I was slated to be out of the country when the race was taking place so I didn't sign up. When my overseas trip got canceled due to COVID, I had completely forgotten about Bootlegger. Until my friend Scot Rutledge reminded me by asking me to join him on a training run for it out at Red Rock Canyon. Though the training run ultimately didn't happen, the gears in my head started spinning. Now that I would be in Las Vegas, why not give it a shot? There would be a 25k and 50k option. Scot was doing the 25k. But you all should know by now that there would only be one option for me - the 50k. I asked my friend, Leah Elmquist, about the 50k, as she had run it the year before. She told me that parts of the course were fairly technical but that it was a good race. That was all I needed to hear and signed up for the 50k.
I drove the 40 minutes or so out to Boulder City on race morning. The race started at 7am and I arrived around 6:30am. It was cold, which was expected, but it was also very windy, which was unexpected. Wind had not been in the forecast. I checked in and went back to my car to try to warm up before the start.
I was very thankful that I brought a winter hat and gloves. I would need them for sure, especially for the first loop. I should note that the 50k consisted of two identical 15.5 mile loops, each with over 2,000 feet of climbing. You could leave a drop bag at the start line so that you would have access to it at the midway point of the race. I stashed a couple of gels in there, as well as an extra long sleeve shirt and a headlamp, just in case it I needed it. The cutoff was 10 hours, but it gets dark around 4:30pm.
Although it was cold, we were treated to an amazing sunrise that morning.
Right before the start of the race, I took off my puffy jacket and stuffed it in my drop bag and then we were off. I ran the first few miles with Scot. It was a good time, though I think I might have talked his ear off (as demonstrated by the photo below). So it was at least a good time for me.
You will note that I am wearing the now legendary Lululemon race shorts which, coincidentally, are very easy for rescue helicopters to spot, should the need arise. And this was my first time wearing my brand new Red Rock Running Company donut shirt, given to me by my friend Eric Jeng. It was a big hit with the other runners and at the aid stations. And then of course I had to rock the Golden Knights hat and gloves.
Scot pulled ahead after a few miles and I let him go, content to run my own race since I was running twice as far and climbing twice as high. I have a bad habit of going out too fast and I didn't want to do that in this race. I then spent some time running with and getting to know another really cool person, David Boley, who is a legit ultrarunner. Check out his ultra finishes by clicking here. He was recovering from an injury and running the 25k. I am sure he will be back to longer distances in no time. Along the way, he snapped the selfie below.
So the race was going pretty well. I felt in control and I was being careful on the rocky terrain. Then, for just a few seconds, I let my concentration lapse because we had reached a sandy part of the course that didn't appear to be too rocky. And then, boom, in an instant, I rolled my left ankle...on a part of the course that wasn't even rocky. Go figure. David was right behind me and saw it happen. He asked me if I was okay. I lied and I said I was, but I knew this could be a problem. It hurt with every step that followed. I slowed down and David and a couple of other runners pulled away.
I had to reassess things now. I wasn't sure that I would be able to finish the 50k. Heck, I wasn't even sure I would be able to finish one loop of he course, at least not at any kind of reasonable pace. I alternated walking and jogging, but my ankle hurt, more so when I stepped on large rocks. About a mile later, I rolled it again and went down to the ground pretty hard. Thankfully, no one was around to see that. But I knew that was it - the pain was real and intense. There was no way I could do 25 more miles on an injured ankle...or could I? I set a goal to make it through the first loop and then re-evaluate.
But wouldn't you know it, after a couple more miles, it started to hurt less. Or maybe my brain just got used to it or stopped processing the pain signals. I was extra careful not to roll it again. At the next aid station, I told one of the volunteers I had rolled my ankle and he said, rather appropriately, "Bootlegger will do that to you." His fellow volunteer also said he liked my shirt. That was nice.
Below are some photos I took from along the course. Note that you can see the Las Vegas Strip in the distance in a couple of them.
And below a couple of selfies because Mom likes the photos more when I am in them and no one was around to take photos of me at this point of the race.
As I approached the final aid station before completing loop 1, I was feeling hopeful. That final section was a bit flatter and less rocky and, therefore, more runnable. I actually started to move at a decent pace and my ankle appeared to be holding up at least. Other than the ankle, I felt pretty good. And just like that I finished my first loop, in a little over 4 hours.
Scot got some cool video footage of me finishing the first loop, though he didn't get the part where I accidentally knocked over Leah's celebratory beer. Sorry Leah!
And although he was done with his race, Scot had stuck around to make sure I didn't need anything before he left. What a guy! I love how supportive the ultra running community is. We took the photo below and chatted for a bit. I hydrated up and ate some food, including bacon, yes bacon, extra crispy too! David was there as well to see how I was doing and encourage me. I threw my headlamp in my bag just in case, as I didn't want to be out on that course in the dark. I also made a mental note to always have some athletic tape in my drop bag. I am not sure I would have used it to tape my ankle, but it would have been a nice option.
Originally, my goal had been to take the first loop slow and try to run a faster second loop. Negative splits. That was now out of the question, but I decided I had enough time to complete a second loop, however painful it might be. So I set off for the second loop and hoped for the best. I didn't come all this way to DNF this race.
I largely power hiked/walked the second loop, mostly to preserve my ankle, but also because my legs were just flat out tired at that point. I jogged a few parts that were flat, but my goal was to keep my miles under 20 minutes so that I would not be in danger of missing the cutoff. That was a struggle at times with the ruggedness of the course.
We had become so spread out at that point that I only saw a couple of other runners towards the end of the second loop where you had to do an out and back to get to the final aid station. So I put my earbuds in and let the music take over. It was quite peaceful to be out there in the mountains. It never really got warm enough for me to want to take my hat or gloves off. Man am I glad I brought them! It would have been very cold otherwise.
And then I saw the finish line and, at that, I rejoiced. The second loop took me almost 5 hours, but I finished the race so I didn't care one iota that I was slower than expected or that my second loop was slower than my first. I finished the race in just over 9 hours in 30th place out of 33, only escaping last place (DFL!) by 18 minutes. Race director extraordinaire, Joshua Eddy, did me the solid of taking this photo when I finished.
And I earned a super cool handcrafted medal (as well as a celebratory beer)!
When it was all said and done, I climbed 4,700+ feet over 31+ miles. And I burned over 4,200 calories, which would allow me to eat whatever the heck I wanted at the holiday party my wife and I were going to later that night (and I did just that at Barry's)!
Here is the Stava data:
And here is the GPS map of the course:
And my splits:
This was a tough race, made tougher by my ankle injury. This was definitely one of my more resilient finishes. I am proud I was able to tough it out. My ankle wasn't happy with me at the holiday party later that night and I had to take a couple weeks off of running to give it time to heal. Was it worth it? Absolutely. Would I run the Bootlegger 50k again? It would be nice to see what I could run without a sprained ankle. So a strong maybe. Only time will tell...
And, per usual, here is a TikTok video I made of my adventure:
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 in the Nevada State Legislature. Steve lives in Las Vegas, Nevada with his very understanding and patient wife, Bita.