2002 Las Vegas Marathon Where Dreams Come True

By Paul Spencer

I ran the half marathon of this event last year and bettered my PR by about 6 minutes, so I knew that the marathon course could produce some very fast times. My goal for this race was to break 3:00 for the first time, requiring an average pace of 6:52 or better. In my last marathon, Boston '01, I had attempted this but the course was more difficult than anticipated and I finished in 3:04. Vegas was to be a makeup race for the California International Marathon, on 12/2/01, which I did not run because of bad weather.

The race started at 7:30 am in Jean, Nevada, on state road 64, just east of the Gold Strike Hotel. The temperatures that day ranged from low 40s at the start to the upper 50s at the finish. The course follows the state road, which parallels highway 15, headed northeast on a straight line into Vegas, with the only turns in the final 6 miles. The first 8.5 miles of the course rises gradually about 175, miles 8.5 to 18 drop about 800, and the final 8.2 miles is essentially flat loosing another 50 before the finish.

After the start, in the first several miles, I was content to let everyone pass me by. I wanted to warm up gradually on the hill and then be at or below my marathon pace by the top of it. I knew I would make up a lot of time on the long downhill section, and tried my best not to panic when I realized how much time I was loosing (see pace table). Early on, I struck up a conversation with a runner named Vladan, from Winnipeg, who also wanted to break 3:00, and was following my same strategy for the race. He had taken the course tour on Saturday and was even more confident than me that a slow pace on the hill would really pay off in the later miles. So by sticking with him I definitely ran the first 8 miles slower than I would have on my own.

Once we crested the hill and started to descend, it did not require much extra effort to increase our pace to 6:52 by the next mile marker, and then on down to 6:40. I crossed the halfway in 1:31:32, so I figured I had to make up about 10 seconds per mile (6:42 pace), in order to break 3:00. After the half way we noticed a pack of 12 or so runners about 20 meters ahead of us that we wanted to draft behind. (There was a 5-10 mph headwind for most of the course.) So we picked it up some to catch them, knowing the extra effort would pay off once we got out of the wind. Once behind the pack we ran some fairly easy 6:40 miles. But by mile 17 the pack had slowed down to 6:50. Seeing this, with 9 miles to go, feeling good and confident, I decided to run around them and begin my final drive for the finish. In my training I had completed many 10+ mile hard paced runs that were uncomfortable even in the early miles, so from how I was feeling I was confident that I could gradually increase my tempo all the way to the finish. Unfortunately, I had not carried a pace chart with me (huge mistake!) so along the way I did my best to calculate the projected finish time in my head. The hardest part to this was figuring out how long it would take to run the final 0.2 miles! And my best estimate was that it would be very close!

At around mile 20 I caught up to a group of four guys running in a pace line. They were taking turns at the front, breaking the wind for 1 minute each, at sub-7:00 pace. They thought that if they ran this way for the final 6 miles they would break 3:00. I liked this idea and figured it would be a good way to get through the final, painful miles. But at about mile 23, and after doing more pace calculations in my head, I suspected that they were not running fast enough. So on my next turn at the front I ran on ahead for a 6:26 mile. In the next mile I pulled up to a woman on her fifth and final leg of the marathon team relay. She cheered me on and told me I was still on pace to break 3:00. (Maybe she knew this because her teams goal was to break 3:00?) So I ran with her until the final straightaway. With less than half a mile to go she sped up and pulled away, and I did my best to hold my current pace until the finish. It wasnt until I rounded the final corner with 0.1 mile to go that I could see the clock and knew I would finish under 3:00! 2:59:25!!!

It goes without saying that this was my best marathon performance so far, breaking the 3-hour barrier, and a PR by over 5 minutes. But it was also my best marathon from the aspect that I could race it like never before. For those last nine or ten miles I was able to run harder than I ever have, without cramps, stiffness, or tightness in my legs. Of course the final miles were agonizing, but I feel like I ran at a higher level of performance and mental toughness than I have ever before. Wanting to let up, but not letting myself because I knew that if I did I would not meet my goal. I thought about what my coach Chuck had told me "what it comes down to is whether or not you give up on your race in the final three miles of a marathon, and most runners do." In my agony I was trying convince myself it was okay to throw in the towel, but thankfully another part of me would not let it happen!

After catching my breath in the finish area I ran into Vladan who finished in 3:01:52, draped in a Canadian flag, a nice PR for him. He said he had let me run away at mile 17, thinking I would not be able to hold that pace to the finish. I also talked to one of the guys from the four-man pace line and some of them had finished in 3:00:30. A reminder of how important it is to run your own race!

This was my eleventh marathon. Having run NY, LA, Boston, CIM, Marine Corps, Chicago, Death Valley, and Rock n Roll, my favorite is now Vegas. Not only because it is the fastest course I have found, but also because of my love for the desert. It is a beautiful thing to run in the high desert on a crisp winter morning. The sun coming up, mountains to the north and south, the peace and silence, feeling my body, feeling fast, gliding through the miles it makes me so high!


Final results:

1st half: 1:31:32

2nd half: 1:27:53

Chip time: 2:59:25

Average pace: 6:50.6 /mi

Overall Place: 107

Male 30-34 division: 22







07:07.2 (2 mi avg.)


07:07.2 (2 mi avg.)






















06:40.8 (2 mi avg.)


06:40.8 (2 mi avg.)






06:41.9 (2 mi avg.)


06:41.9 (2 mi avg.)














06:31.5 (1.2 mi avg.)


01:25.6 (1.2 mi avg.)

Paul Spencer

Woodland Hills, CA


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