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REVEL Mt Charleston

M_Sohaskey FIRST-TIMER '18

REVEL Mt Charleston

BOTTOM LINE: The REVEL race series exists for one (main) reason: to help runners exploit gravity and qualify for Boston. And if you’re a skilled downhill runner who appreciates panoramic … MORE

BOTTOM LINE: The REVEL race series exists for one (main) reason: to help runners exploit gravity and qualify for Boston. And if you’re a skilled downhill runner who appreciates panoramic desert views, then Mt Charleston — REVEL’s most popular race — is right in your wheelhouse. Despite its 5,100 ft elevation loss over 26.2 miles, the downhill course feels comfortably runnable and never too severe. But be warned: while the course does deliver on its promise of fast and scenic, the last 4+ miles level out significantly, with a couple of uphill jags that feel even more challenging thanks to all the downhill that came before them. And if you think you’re sore the day after a flat marathon, you ain’t felt nothin’ yet — my quads were like concrete pillars the day after Mt Charleston. Not only were they acutely sore for several days afterward, they were still heavy and sluggish over a week later. Luckily the race is held on a Saturday, which allows most folks an extra day of recovery before having to waddle back to work.

I ran Mt Charleston not to qualify for Boston but as training for the Comrades Marathon “down” run, so I wasn’t out to smash any PRs. And happily so, because along with the leveling out of the course in mile 22, the day warmed up in a hurry once we turned off the mountain onto the Hwy 95 frontage road (this IS Vegas, after all). As both the sun and temperature rose in the later miles, I saw and heard folks around me try in vain to maintain pace, their BQ hopes slipping away with every step. And Katie, who was waiting at the end, agreed that she’s never seen so many finishers crying and suffering at a finish line. Case in point, I spent ~30 minutes after the race massaging a fellow finisher’s cramping calves as she literally screamed in agony with each muscle contraction, all while Katie fetched water and Powerade to help her stay hydrated. (My patient claimed she couldn’t stand to get to the med tent.)

In summary, severe downhill course + hardcore Boston hopefuls + desert heat = a take-no-prisoners race experience unlike any other. And the formula clearly works, because the race sells out quickly and an impressive 30% of finishers qualified for Boston this year. If you’re not running Mt Charleston to chase a PR or BQ, you’re definitely in the minority. And I look forward to running with REVEL again because, well, this is my kind of craziness.

Pro tip: Mt Charleston does sell out months in advance, so if you miss out but still want to run, I recommend you add your name to their wait list. I’ve been pulled off the wait list the past two years, though I couldn’t run last year since I’d already committed to Eugene. And though it’s tough to know how much advance warning you’ll be given, odds are high that someone will drop and open up a slot for you to chase your BQ dreams.

PRODUCTION: Smooth sailing for the most part, with one exception: the bus driver who shuttled us to the start line at the top of the mountain took a wrong turn — twice. By the time we reached the start area we had six minutes to disrobe, warm up, check our drop bag, make a porta-potty stop and do anything else we needed to do. Luckily the start was delayed by a few minutes, but still I found myself in the porta-potty when the gun went off and ended up running from the back. No big deal, and especially since this isn’t a large race so I didn’t have to worry about weaving around other runners — but that’s the kind of pre-race stress I can do without.

Aside from our navigationally challenged bus driver, race production was on point. The expo, held at the Cox Pavilion on the UNLV campus, was small and easily navigated, though the predominantly local vendors and expo offers seemed out of sync with the demographic of largely out-of-town runners who come to Mt Charleston with one goal in mind: to qualify for Boston. Aid stations were well distributed and well equipped by awesome volunteers, while snarky signs along the course (e.g. “Can you believe YOU paid US to do this?” and “It’s a hill — GET OVER IT”) made clear that anyone seeking sympathy was in the wrong place.

The highlight of the day may well have been the icy towels that awaited us at the finish — WOW, talk about nirvana. As usual my stomach was in no mood to eat after the race, though both food (pie and Papa John’s Pizza) and Lagunitas Beer were readily available to all finishers. Unfortunately but not surprisingly, the line at the massage tent was too long and moving too slowly, so I skipped it. Not that a few minutes of painful muscle manipulation would have changed the course of the next two days for my aching quads.

Admittedly I’d like to see the organizers better integrate this race with the community — there were very few spectators along the route, and it didn’t feel as though the locals had any idea a marathon was happening. Hopefully improving community integration is on REVEL’s roadmap, since community support (e.g. Flying Pig, Missoula, Richmond) helps a good race become a great one while creating a more welcoming, less “run and done” vibe.

SWAG: In addition to its downhill courses, REVEL is popular for its thoughtful swag which for the most part didn’t disappoint: gloves and space blanket for race morning in case it got cold at the start line (not a problem for our bus, which arrived six minutes before the start), nicely wearable short-sleeve gray technical tee with black side panels (one of the nicest in my collection), and oversized finisher medal which, despite its impressive size and cool orange stained-glass effect, strikes me as ho-hum because it’s emblazoned with the REVEL logo which is neither artistically satisfying nor symbolically meaningful. I’m just not a fan of a company advertising itself on its medals; I’d prefer a city skyline or similar. But to end on a positive note — free race photos plus a personalized highlight video! Another way in which REVEL goes the extra mile to take care of its runners.

DIFFICULTY
2
PRODUCTION
4
SCENERY
4
SWAG
4
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Toughest 10K in the USA

M_Sohaskey FIRST-TIMER '16

Toughest 10K in the USA

The first thing you’re likely to notice about this race is the name—you’ll want to pay attention to that. This is a one-of-a-kind trial-by-fire, and if you’re an endurance snob … MORE

The first thing you’re likely to notice about this race is the name—you’ll want to pay attention to that. This is a one-of-a-kind trial-by-fire, and if you’re an endurance snob who looks down on shorter distances, trust me you’ll look up to this one. Pulling into the parking lot adjacent to the race venue, my brother @CSohaskey and I immediately noted the number of vehicles sporting “26.2” stickers; clearly this was not your typical family-friendly 10K. This was a race that attracted masochists and those in search of a singular challenge. And they’d found it in quiet, suburban Newbury Park.

What makes this the Toughest 10K in the USA is of course the hills, made more challenging by the uneven, single-track dirt trails used to access them. By the time I reached mile 4, I found myself longing for a nice flat 26 miles. My brother’s Garmin recorded a total elevation gain/loss change of 2,123 ft while mine logged 1,954 ft up/1,945 ft down. Ironically, in 76 races this was the first timed 10K I’ve ever run, so it’s now officially my 10K personal best and less than 12 minutes short of my half marathon PR.

The race begins (and ends) with ~½ mile on asphalt, circling the Newbury Park Academy that doubles as the staging area before transitioning to dirt and making its first real ascent. This initial uphill is steep enough to require your second (and third) wind, and will cue the nervous voices in your head to start questioning what you’ve gotten yourself into. This is just a warm-up though, so don’t listen to them since the rest of the course will only get steeper. And keep in mind the uphills are the easy part—after all, what goes up must come down. That said, at each peak you’ll be rewarded not only with an aid station but also with amazing panoramic views in all directions. To the victors go the spoils.

Much of the course is narrow single-track, so at the same time you’re babysitting your own suspect footing, you’ll be watching out for other runners approaching in the opposite direction at varying speeds and varying levels of body control. On one steep grade I put a momentary scare into the woman ahead of me, who could hear me shuffling quickly downhill toward her and was bracing for the collision that (fortunately) never came. On another descent—a narrow single-track with slanted sides and a narrow groove down the middle that made for tenuous footing—I could hear the fellow just ahead of me respond to the steep grade in real time: “Shit, shit, shit…” before finally regaining control of his momentum. At one point, hoping to slow my own momentum I reached out to grab a thin branch which broke off in my hand as I slid by. Sorry, Mother Nature.

Despite all this, I lost my footing and ended up on my backside only twice. And I never fell forward (this is the key to success—your butt was designed to land on, your face was not). And though the Toughest 10K is a definite challenge and a race your quads won’t soon forget (my left quad and IT band were still tight 5 days after the race—5 days after a 10K!), it’s not a dangerous course. As long as you maintain focus, take your time and avoid being reckless, you’ll get up and down just fine. Unlike the Mount Marathon course in Alaska where runners routinely cross the finish line bruised and bloodied—and where one fellow disappeared mid-race, never to be heard from again—this was not a group of reckless runners. Everyone was careful and courteous, and even the two 70-year-olds in the group eventually found their way down from the hills, completing half a loop on the Newbury Park Academy dirt track before finishing on the field.

The Toughest 10K isn’t cheap—we paid $65 a month before the race—but then again for an experience this unique, the price is actually very reasonable. Certainly more so than a $190 Disney half marathon. And given that my calves, quads and IT bands have a year to forgive & forget, I can definitely see myself running again next year.

Pro tip: For greater success on uphills, power-hike with your palms resting on the tops of your quads, to help drive each leg downward like a piston. I followed this strategy at Ice Age, and it helped tremendously by lowering my center of gravity, improving my balance and providing more power on steep ascents. And on particularly steep descents, sideways is the only way to go.

PRODUCTION: Low-key and easy peasy, as befitting a race of ~100 finishers. We rolled up 30 minutes before the 7:30am start, parked next door in The Home Depot lot and quickly picked up our bib, timing chip and t-shirt. This left plenty of time to visit the indoor restrooms at the Newbury Park Academy. There’s something very special about low-key trail races, particularly when you can talk your intrepid brother into running with you. The course was well marked, so there was no concern about taking a wrong turn and, you know, accidentally bypassing one of the killer climbs. 🙂 And Alex, who was manning the finish line mic, enthusiastically announced each and every approaching finisher while encouraging others in the crowd to cheer them across. Thanks, Alex!

After taking a start line selfie with all his runners, race director Caleb encouraged us to take our time, hike the steeper hills sideways to slow our momentum, and basically treat the race as a beautiful 6-mile hike. And he and his team had an impressive post-race party awaiting us at the finish on the Newbury Academy sports field, with plenty of snacks (see photo), a few interesting sponsor tents, a raffle for cool prizes and a series of competitions that I watched while seated atop a foam roller—including a 40-yard dash (yes, you read that right), a push-up contest and a plank competition in which the 67-year-old winner held perfect planking posture for over EIGHT minutes. So much for 6-second abs.

SWAG (see photo): It’s been a while since I got a cotton race t-shirt, but this one’s a definite keeper with the wicked course profile printed on front, and in fact I’ve already worn it proudly a couple of times. The medal too is unusually eye-catching for a trail race, depicting (what else?) the hills of Newbury Park, so your quads will always be reminded of what they accomplished, even after the joyful muscle memory fades.

DIFFICULTY
5
PRODUCTION
5
SCENERY
4
SWAG
4
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