The next time you visit Vegas, pack your running shoes.
Running probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Las Vegas.
Gambling, exotic-themed casinos, five-star restaurants and a range of great shows have been some of Sin City’s calling cards for years. When it comes to this adult playground, you might even think of Elvis before you think about running. But — believe it or not — Vegas actually has plenty of redeeming qualities as a running destination.
Just a short drive away from the glowing lights, incessant chiming of gaming machines and all-night action on Las Vegas Boulevard (aka the Strip) is a jackpot of trail running options. There’s also a vibrant running community in this man-made desert oasis, including good running stores, a varied range of local enthusiasts and races almost every weekend.
OK, sure, if you’re in town for a trade show, a bachelor party or just a wild weekend with friends or your significant other, you might think you don’t have the time or ability to squeeze in a run. But with a bit of preplanning and extra effort, you can actually make the typical Vegas experience a little less destructive on your body.
It’s quite possible to turn a weekend in Vegas into a healthy endurance escape over a debaucherous getaway — running the rocky and rolling 12-mile loop at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is an idyllic adventure. With the bevy of restaurants offering healthy eating options and many luxurious spas, Vegas also caters to any post-run cravings and recovery needs.
“Once you get away from the casinos and the Strip, Las Vegas becomes an entirely different place,” says Jim Ketcher, a casino worker, longtime trail runner and long-ago 2:38 marathoner. “For me, the best way to escape from all of the blinking lights and loud noises is to go for a run at Red Rocks. But there are tons of trails here if you have the time and the mindset for it.”
If nothing else, every runner who visits Vegas will get a kick out of running down the Strip. It can be a rather bizarre experience with rowdy partygoers and gamblers staggering around on the sidewalks at all hours of the day and night. The best time to go is at sunrise, when the lights are still aglow and revelers are staggering back to their hotels. Doing something healthy in a typically less-than-healthy environment offers a unique perspective and offers a chance to revive yourself after imbibing in all of the glittery excitement.
And chances are good that you’ll see someone that looks a lot like Elvis on your run.
Where To Run
Located about 20 miles west of the Strip, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area (redrockcanyonlv.org) offers more than 30 miles of trails, most of which are suitable for running, including a semi-technical 12-mile loop through the interior of the park. The 200,000-acre park has stunning mountain vistas, an array of cacti and desert wildflowers and a horde of wildlife (ranging from bighorn sheep and coyotes to rattlesnakes and desert tortoises). Another option is the 32-mile River Mountains Loop Trail southwest of Las Vegas, which includes the 7-mile Historic Railroad Tunnel Trail, a rail trail that snakes through five tunnels as it meanders from the Lake Mead National Recreation Area entrance to Hoover Dam. For a shorter urban run from a hotel, it’s easy to create a 4- to 6-mile loop that incorporates the sights and sounds of Sin City, including the iconic Welcome to Las Vegas sign and the fountains at the Bellagio hotel-casino.
Where To Race
When it comes to races, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon and 1/2 (Nov. 17, stripatnight.com) is the marquee attraction. The event begins at dusk and runs down the Strip (which is closed to traffic), sending runners past the iconic casinos, classic drive-in wedding chapels, and the wild sights and sounds of Fremont Street in the older part of the city. Not ready to run long? New this year is the 6.5-mile “Half of the Half” race. All of the courses are flat, fast and finish on the Strip not far from the famous volcano at the Mirage casino. Numerous pre- and post-race parties are on tap for runners, including the big post-race bash at Lavo Nightclub at the Palazzo.
Other compelling races in the region include the Gold Butte Days Half-Marathon and 5K (Oct. 19, goldbuttedaysfestival.com); Blood, Sweat & Beers Day & Night Trail Races (Mar. 1, desertdash.com), which include a variety of distances from 5K to 30K; the Xterra Lake Las Vegas Trail Runs (Apr. 13, xterraplanet.com); and the Mustang 50th Half Marathon and 5K at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Apr. 19, mustang50thhalfmarathon.com), which celebrates the 50th birthday of the Ford Mustang.
RELATED: Taking Your Workouts To The Trails
Where To Eat & Drink
With dozens of critically acclaimed restaurants, Vegas is definitely a foodie’s town as much as it’s a party town. Among the recently top-rated restaurants on Yelp.com are Guy Savoy (3570 S. Las Vegas Blvd.), a French restaurant inside Caesar’s Palace that’s known for its artichoke and black truffle soup, and Gordon Ramsay Steak (3655 S. Las Vegas Blvd.), which offers huge prime-cut steaks and chops, plus amazing sticky toffee pudding. One of the best burgers in town can be found at Holsteins Shakes and Buns (3708 S. Las Vegas Blvd.). And although you might think twice about having sushi in the desert, Vegas has some of the top raw-fish joints in America, including Nobu at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino (4455 Paradise Rd.).
Where To Shop
Arrive in Vegas without your running gear? Stop by the Red Rock Running Company (7350 W. Cheyenne Ave.) or Fleet Feet Las Vegas (7575 W. Washington Ave.) for shoes, apparel, hydration gear and local trail knowledge. Finish Line (6611 S. Las Vegas Blvd.) and REI (710 S. Rampart Blvd.) also have stores in town, while Skechers, Nike and Adidas concept stores can be found adjacent to the Strip.
If you want to run in Las Vegas, avoid the scalding hot summer months at all costs. The weather is much milder between October and May, with ideal running weather during the winter months. From November through February, evening lows will drop into the low 40s and high 30s, but the afternoon temperatures typically hover in the 50s and 60s. Most trails are very exposed to the elements, and the climate is extremely dry, so be sure to take sunblock and bring some kind of hydration device.
This piece first appeared in the October 2013 issue of Competitor magazine.