‘I Thought the Wind Was Going to Win’ — Runners Persevere at Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas

Down the closing three-mile stretch of Sunday night’s GEICO Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Half Marathon, Jeffrey Eggleston and Paul Katam ran side by side. Or one just a stride in front of the other. By themselves, alone.

Actually, they did have one companion. Nature’s howling wind.

“It was me, the other athlete and the wind,” said Eggleston, 31, who lives in Boulder, Colo. “It was a battle between the three of us, and I thought the wind was going to win.”

Eggleston wound up holding off Katam and a wind that gusted up to 43 mph, winning in 1 hour, 4 minutes, 40 seconds. Katam took second in 1:04:48.

In the women’s half marathon, former University of Arizona All-American Jennifer Bergman won in 1:15:22. Olivia Mickle of Beaverton, Ore., finished second in 1:15:51.

In the GEICO Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon, Andrew Lemoncello, a 2008 Great Britain Olympian in the steeplechase, took first in 2:21:47. Tommy ‘Rivers’ Puzey of Flagstaff, Ariz., finished second in 2:34:36.

Williana Rojas of Venezuela won the women’s marathon in 3:08:18. Jen Annett of Canada took second in 3:08:54.

Including the 10K, a total of 30,819 runners, walkers and wheelchair athletes toured The Strip, and the subject everyone talked about was the weather. The sun shined at the start, rain doused the runners for a bit, but no one could dodge the biting breeze. The wind tossed cones, cups, cardboards and bark from palm trees scurrying across the course.

“I was dying at the end,” said Eggleston, who needed bobby pins to keep his long hair from flapping in his face. “The wind affected everyone.”

“I’ve never run in wind like that,” said Bergman.

“It felt like running into a wall,” added Rojas via a translator.

In the men’s half marathon, a pack of 10 runners dwindled to three by Mile 7. By Mile 10, it was a two-man show, Eggleston and Katam.

“I tried a half dozen times to throw surges at him,” said Eggleston, who defended his half marathon title. “I’d sprint for 30 seconds, a minute, but I couldn’t get rid of him.”

With half a mile remaining before the finish in front of The Mirage casino, Eggleston took off one more time. Katam couldn’t respond.

“I didn’t want to leave it to a sprint,” said Eggleston.

With a personal best of 2:10:52 in the marathon, clocked last year in Australia, Eggleston is the fourth fastest American qualifier for the Feb. 13 Olympic Trials marathon in Los Angeles. More than 140 American men have qualified for the Trials.

Of the February race and his chances of finishing in the top three and heading to Rio de Janeiro for the Olympics, he said, “Oh, my. I respect the race. I respect the competition. But I believe everything’s possible.”

Bergman, the women’s half marathon winner, didn’t decide to enter the race until Thursday when she learned she’d have free housing.

“I like last-minute plans,” said Bergman, 24. “You have no time to stress.”

Before committing to the race, she was planning to run a 12-mile tempo workout.

“This is more fun,” she said.

Bergman took the lead with about three miles to go and never surrendered it.

Maybe no one was better steeled for the stiff wind than Lemoncello, the men’s marathon winner. Lemoncello grew up in St. Andrews, Scotland, hard by the North Sea.

“It’s a windy place, but nothing like this,” said Lemoncello, who grew up running on one of golf’s most famous tracks, The Old Course.

Puzey, the men’s marathon runner-up, trains in tranquil Flagstaff, Ariz., and admitted the Vegas sensory overload taxed him.

“You run (in Flagstaff), you kind of do it for the solace,” he said. “You come to a place like this, I felt I was on the verge of a panic attack.

Rojas, 32, the women’s marathon winner, was tackling the 26.2-mile distance for just the second time.

“It was way too cold for me,” said Rojas, who lives in Panama. “I come from the tropics.”

But she loved Vegas, which she was visiting for the first time.

“Oh, beautiful,” she said via a translator. “The music. Everyone applauds. My heart was pounding. It made me run faster. Quite an incentive.”

Vegas by the numbers

— The races attracted runners from all 50 states and 64 countries.

— Wedding bells were in the air. At the three-mile mark, 45 couples quickly exchanged vows before darting back on The Strip. Another 144 couples renewed their vows.

— Twenty women from Chile, sponsored by Brooks, ran Sunday. They were dressed as devils, replete in red devil horns, black capes, some toting pitch forks. It’s the fifth year they’ve run Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas. The first year, only two runners made the trip. By Year 2, with larger numbers, they dressed as Playboy bunnies. Year 3, they dressed as fairies. Last year’s costume was an ode to Minnie Mouse.

— There were too many runners dressed as Elvis to count, but none were faster than Ian Sharman. Sharman finished eighth in 2:50:13. He holds the world record for fastest marathon dressed in an Elvis costume, 2:42:52. Said the 35-year-old Sharman. “If you’re gonna run as Elvis, you’ve gotta run Vegas.”

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