A unique and challenging experience
I had my eye on the REVEL race series for a long time and was finally able to work it into my plans to run the Mt. Charleston Half this year. While I'd read and heard positive things about them, such as fast, mostly downhill courses, great support, and beautiful scenery, many of those same reviews also advised to prepare properly for running such a long distance on a decline; that it is a different challenge altogether from running other road races.
Packet Pick-Up/Expo/SWAG The expo/packet pickup was held at the Cox Pavilion in the University of Nevada-Las Vegas campus, which is approximately a 10-minute drive from the center of the Las Vegas Strip. The process to collect the bib was fast and simple, with little or no lines and no waiting at all. Just had to show my photo ID and interestingly, sign a statement promising not to disturb the desert tortoises that are native to the area. They are an endangered species and disturbing them can scare them and make them pee too much, which can in turn lead them to dehydration and potentially their death. The desert tortoise is also the race's official symbol/logo and used on the medal and official race merchandise.
After getting my bib, I picked up the tech shirt included in the race swag. I love its color, design, and material and feel like will be using it quite a bit in the future. In addition to the tech shirt, the race also included a pair of GOODR sunglasses; you could choose between the gray and black ones. I found that to be an amazing addition, as those sunglasses generally retail for about $30 and are quite popular with a lot of people. There was plenty of race personnel on hand at the expo; very friendly and helpful to answer any questions I had, such as specifics on the logistics for race morning, etc. In addition, there were several areas with great looking race banners for photo ops. We had a great time joking and monkeying around with those.
As far as the amount and variety of vendors, I would say this is one of the smallest expos I have ever attended. My guess is that there were approximately 12-13 vendor booths at most, and I was able to get through the two rows in about 10-15 minutes. I didn't necessarily mind this, as I had all the gear and nutrition I needed for the race and wasn't looking to buy anything in particular. However, I know that isn't always the case, as sometimes having a large Expo with tons of vendors and options/bargains on gear is one of the things a lot of us look forward to on a race.
Race-morning logistics If you are one of those people who have a hard time either going to bed VERY early or waking up way earlier than normal, this may not be the race for you. The start time for both the full and half marathons is at 6:00 a.m., at a location up on Mt. Charleston, and because of the road closures for the race, you can only reach those start lines on the buses provided by the race.
The half marathon bus loading times start at 3:15 a.m. and end at 4:15 a.m. at a Walmart parking lot located in North Las Vegas, approximately 30 minutes from the Las Vegas Strip. That means that in order to wake up, get ready, catch an Uber from the hotel, and be at the bus loading area in a timely manner, we had to set our alarms for 2:45 a.m. at the absolute latest. That part was not something I was looking forward to at all. But I do understand the reasons why those times were setup that way. The weather in late April in the Las Vegas area, which is really a desert, can have temperatures rise rapidly into the high 70s and low 80s shortly after sunrise. Not optimal racing conditions for most people. This is the main reason why race organizers have already decided that starting next year (2020), the race date will be moved up almost one month to the first Saturday in April. Here is a portion of the email sent out by race organizers a few days ago about this: "In order to reduce the likelihood of warm temperatures on race day, REVEL Mt Charleston is excited to announce the 2020 event will take place on Saturday, April 4, 2020. All future races will take place on the first Saturday of April. Average temperatures in early April are absolutely ideal for running."
Start The bus ride from the Walmart parking lot to the half marathon starting area took approximately 30 minutes, so we arrived there shortly before 5:00 a.m. That area doesn't really have any buildings or structures; it's just a large open lot full of gravel to the side of the road which leads up the mountain. The sun had not come up yet and there was a strong cold wind at that time, so several of us huddled for a while inside one of the gear trucks from the race. We then took off our warm-up gear, placed it in our drop bags and gave them to the truck that would take it to the finish line.
The start was unlike none I had ever seen. No corrals or gated areas; all of it open and with several banners marking where the spots where the various pacers gather at. We quickly found the one we were looking for and were soon on our way. The view of snow-capped mountains behind us and the first rays of sun coming up ahead of us made for a truly gorgeous and unique way to start a race.
Within 2-3 minutes of starting I felt that the pacer we were following was going too fast for me, so I decided to let her and the group go and just run my own race. I quickly settled into a much more comfortable pace that I felt I'd be able to maintain for most of the race. For the first 3-4 miles, the temperature felt fine, but after that the sun started getting tougher as the race progressed. By the time that I had reached miles 7-8, I felt it was too hot already. That being said, the pounding my legs took from the downhill was a bit less than what I was anticipating. I believe that the hill repeats (up and down) workouts we did on the weeks leading up to the race helped somewhat in that respect.
Course & Support The course is point to point and follows a wide and downhill asphalt road into North Las Vegas. The road is in great condition; I don’t remember any potholes or cracks to be concerned about. For the bulk of the way, the decline is approximately 4%. When it reaches the 7-8 mile point it flattens out a bit but still declines overall all the way to the finish. The only exception is a short uphill on a turn into a neighborhood, but nothing that is too high or demanding.
I felt that the support on course was fine with plenty of volunteers and tables well-stocked with water and electrolyte drink. I was carrying my own electrolyte on a handheld bottle, so I took only water at every station, which were located at every even mile starting at mile 2. Overall, I started feeling the effects of the constant downhill pounding on the quad muscles at around mile 7 or so. It is a different sort of discomfort, one that gets in your head a bit and makes you wonder how much longer you will be able to handle, not the usual soreness on the calves I typically feel on most races. I was able to keep up with my targeted pace until about mile 10. From that point on until the finish line, while I had to really focus to stay in rhythm, I was still able to close the last 3 miles strong and into the finish line. All in all I feel I can do even better next year on this course, in particular now that I am familiar with it and know better what to expect on it.
Finish Line/Medal/Food The finish line had plenty of volunteers handing out medals, water, and electrolytes, and was quite wide with plenty of room on one of the sides for runners to walk or greet friends and family. The medal is somewhat unique with an image of the desert tortoise and a blue/gray ribbon. Not the most attractive design I’ve seen, but not bad either.
The post-race food and refreshments included pizza, chocolate milk, fruit, and beer. The beer was served inside a separate, restricted tent area where they were checking IDs. The beer provided was great and icy cold. The canopy there also provided welcome shade from what was by then a full-out sun beaming down.
Something that did impact me a bit on this race was the drier, desert climate there. Not on the actual performance, because I didn’t suffer any cramps or muscle issues at all. But even though I made sure I was properly hydrated prior to the race and drinking water at every station during it, my mouth had a dry cotton feel to it since early on, and by the time that I finished, my lips were quite chapped/cracked and I had to go buy lip balm afterwards.
Within a few days after the race, they emailed us with a link to the free race photos included with registration. They are high quality and include the race logo, and add great value to the overall package and experience that the race provides.
Conclusion I feel this is a neat and different style of race that is worth the price of registration and even more. Now that I have gone through it, there is no doubt in my mind that the challenge of running downhill for 13+ miles is one that can be easily underestimated. However, one can prepare properly for that challenge and not only do well at it, but also have quite a bit of fun and enjoyment during it. The race organizers clearly know what they are doing and go to great lengths to prepare and put up this event, including weekly Facebook Live sessions covering everything from course description to climate and much more. It is a race I would recommend to anyone who hasn't had an opportunity to experience it yet.