In my previous post about my vacation, I talked about my experience at the Blood, Sweat and Beers race in Boulder City, NV. I gave a short summary in that post, but mainly talked about how I got heat exhaustion at the end of it. I wanted to use a separate post and talk more about the race. Kinda like a race report, but more a review of the race overall, and less of just my experience of it.
The Blood, Sweat and Beers race are desert trail races in Bootleg Canyon in Boulder City, NV. They cover distances from 5K up to a full Marathon, with the unique aspect of being able to run the race once during the daytime, and then once again at night after dark. This appealed to my wife and I so we signed up for the “Dirty Double” (as they call it), and were looking forward to a fun day of running.
My first comment about this race comes from the day before, when we went to the packet pickup. We immediately encountered issues at the packet pickup with slow lines, volunteers who weren’t sure what was going on, and missing bibs. It was taking a long time for each person to get their bib, and specially marked drop bag. Things seemed like they were arranged in a very confusing way. The volunteers only had lists of people ordered by bib number, but no one had been sent their bib number, so it was taking forever to look up each participant in an unordered list, by last name. Then, to top off the experience, they couldn’t even find my wife’s bib and we were told we needed to get it the day of the race. The packet pickup did not instill a lot of confidence in me about the quality of this race.
However, Saturday morning came, and we found the start village easily enough. There was, again, some general confusion about finding my wife’s bib (that included a lot of walking), but soon enough we had all of our stuff and all we had to do was wait for the starting gun. The start village was actually really well put together, and all of the vendors that showed up were really great. It was fun to have some food trucks around for the spectators, and I think this is something that other races should certainly emulate.
However, despite a great start village, one of my first complaints about this set of races was the launch schedule. There was a full hour between the launch of the 30K runners and the half-marathon runners. I have a hard time thinking that compressing that time to 30 minutes would have made a big dent in the amount of the racers on the course. Needless to say, this meant that the half-marathon race didn’t kick off until pretty late in the morning (9:30), and with Nevada being warmer than normal right now, this was a recipe for disaster.
Once the gun fried things improved quite a bit. The course was EXCELLENTLY marked, and I never once questioned which direction I was supposed to be heading. There were periodic flags along the trails, as well as printed signs with directions for each distance, complete with notations about what point in the race they applied to (there was some looping). Additionally, the trails through Bootleg Canyon were well maintained, and quite easy to follow. The worst that could have happened was to take a wrong turn onto a trail that wasn’t being used for the race, but you’d still end up somewhere close to the rest of the runners eventually. On this particular aspect I give them an A+.
Overall, the course is quite rocky, and semi-technical. You need to watch your feet as you run, due to the large numbers of rocks sticking out of the dirt. It’s not quite the same level as the roots on the Superior Hiking Trail, but it’s not a simple gravel trail either. The half-marathon was made up of 4 main climbs, each one between 200-400 feet high. Most of the climbs were over very long distances, and so they were much more manageable than something like Moose Mountain on the SHT. The long climbs did tend to wear you down over the long haul. By the third aid station break, you’re more than ready for something different.
In regards to the aid stations, they were adequate, but not phenomenal. They had water, tailwind, and a few ‘real food’ items like peanut M&Ms and Oreo cookies. I also didn’t see any electrolyte tablets until the final aid station. I really missed the real food that you get at many of the races in the Midwest. Partway through the race I really could have gone for a banana, or a salted potato, or even a PB&J sandwich. Considering that many of the distances reused a single aid station, I felt like it could have been much better stocked. However, the volunteers were all VERY friendly and helpful at every station, so that was much appreciated.
My biggest complaint about the course route was the final aid station and final climb. Once you leave the 3rd aid station (which was the same aid station for 1 and 2), you head back towards the entrance of the canyon. At this point you begin a long, 2 mile descent all the way back down to the main highway into Boulder City. You hit the aid station, get refueled, and then turn right back around and head back the same way you came. This is a very narrow path, and somewhat dug into the earth, meaning that two-way traffic was often very difficult to manage. You had people barreling downhill right at you, while you’re trying to hike uphill, and can only put your foot partway up an embankment to let them pass. The Superior Hiking Trail is also somewhat cramped, but the groove on this trail seemed even narrower than SHT.
Once you get past the two-way portion of the course, it should be a straight shot back to the finish line, but the trail spends far too much time winding and going up and down to let you off easy at this point. The final mile and a half up the hill seemed like it took forever, and the whole time you can see the finish line, and the staging area off in the distance, but you keep turning back and forth and never head straight at it. To add a final insult to your struggle, my watch beeped 14.5 miles when I crossed the finish line, meaning this was a long half marathon.
All of this was complicated by what I think was the biggest issue of the race, the late start time. By the time many of us were reaching the finish line of the half marathon, it was after noon, and the air temperature had reached close to 80. There was no shelter from the sun to be had, leaving you exposed in open desert in high temps. Even some of the local area runners commented that they felt that it was way too hot to be running. Vegas has been having a warm spell right now, but even looking at seasonal averages, I simply don’t know why this race doesn’t start much earlier in the day. Granted many of the local runners might be a bit more acclimated to this type of heat, but I would think that you’d want to get your volunteers off the course much earlier than mid-afternoon.
As I mentioned earlier, this all led to a case of heat exhaustion for me, leaving me passed out on the bathroom floor of a restaurant. The frustration is that there was nothing I could have done about it, except drop from the race if I had realized what was going on (which I didn’t). Perhaps my experience after the race is tainting my overall view of the race in general, but I still feel like an earlier start time, or a more compressed launch schedule, would have helped tremendously with getting people off the course before the oppressive heat of the day.
My wife and I chose not to run the evening races, and not just because I was recovering after passing out. Even before any of that, I started to feel concerned with the idea of running such rugged terrain after dark, with just a headlamp. Especially when I have so many more races this year that I want to accomplish. That type of terrain could very easily result in some ankle injuries if you’re not used to navigating it in the dark. I really didn’t want to jeopardize my race season, just so I could run an additional 10K race up a mountain and back down for a pint glass. If I didn’t have some bigger goals this year, I probably would have been more open to doing both races.
Despite some complaints about the race organization, the actual course was mostly fun, and I can see why people enjoy running these trails. The area is tremendously beautiful, and some of the views were amazing. I feel like there are a lot of improvements that this race could implement that would make things a lot more fun and less stressful for participants. I love the laid back atmosphere of trail racing, but I still expect that people run a decent packet pickup. After all, if the first experience with a company is a bad one (as it was at this packet pickup) it taints the entire experience.
I doubt I’ll run this race again, at least not at the half-marathon distance, as I simply don’t have time to acclimatize myself adequately to the temps out there. Especially when I’m only out there for a few days, and escaping cold Minnesota winters. I might do an early morning casual run on Bootleg Canyon trails sometime again in the future, as I really enjoyed the location.
I don’t regret signing up for this race, and I think people have a really good time here. The organization seems passionate about promoting trail running in the area, and that’s a GREAT thing. Yet, I feel that this race still has some growth to do before it’s worth timing another trip specifically for this event.