Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas weekend starts with a 5K for the first time.
Strobe skylights criss-crossed the Las Vegas skyline. Airplanes ascending from nearby McCarran International Airport soared above the nearly 5,000 runners walking into their corrals.
The sleek SLS Las Vegas Hotel and Casino stood in the background, as did the other bright-light marquees on the nearby Strip.
How do you make the Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon and Half Marathon weekend even better?
Toss in a little 5K appetizer, and judging from Saturday night’s debut event, this baby’s a keeper. Many of the 5K participants were already committed to Sunday’s marathon or half marathon, so they doubled down on a 3.1-miler.
Lee Gardiner, 46, and his wife, Sarah, 41, flew in all the way across the pond from England. Lee had vacationed in Vegas before. Sarah had not.
Of Vegas, Lee said, “I warned her. When you step out of the airplane, you step out of reality.”
“Yeah,” Sarah said of Sin City. “It’s surreal. It’s bizarre.”
Sarah somehow found a way to pass the time in Vegas without gambling.
“Shopping,” she said. “Lots of shopping.”
It being Vegas, there were costumes. There were male and female Supermen. In case Superman was felled by kryptonite, Wonder Woman dressed for the occasion. There were enough tutus for a ballet recital. Half a dozen Elvis impersonators showed up all in black, accented by gold capes.
“The whole atmosphere, it’s just fun,” said a woman from New Jersey.
Sean Gordon, a major in the Army, traveled from Washington, D.C. The 5K was a warmup for the half marathon. He’s a Rock ‘n’ Roll brand veteran. This year, he’s already crossed off Philadelphia, D.C. and Raleigh, N.C.
“Some races are so serious,” said Gordon. “It’s just relaxing here.”
But it’s still running. Casual or not, costumes or typical running attire, many participants stepped to the line and as the seconds counted down, their right index finger moved to the left wrist, preparing to start the stop watch.
As for the winners, it turned out to be a family affair. Sesar Figueroa and his wife, Raquel Figueroa, crossed the finish line first. Figueroa stopped the clock in 15 minutes, 39 seconds.
Sesar – “I’m the only person I know who spells my name that way,” he said – was politely sharing his background when he told a reporter, “I’m sorry, I’ve got to go. I think my wife’s going to win the women’s race.”
A man with priorities. They make a handsome couple. Sesar’s 30. He’s an assistant track coach at Houston Baptist College. Get this: he coaches the long and triple jumpers. Raquel is a fourth grade teacher. They each earned the distinct roulette wheel trophies.
“It’s awesome,” Sesar said of the bling. “It’s a great way to remember Vegas.”
Reigning Boston Marathon champion Meb Keflezighi jumped into the 5K, and after the race Paul Strandlund of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, raved about running alongside the Olympic silver medalist.
“It was awesome,” said Strandlund. “He’s such a good guy. For me, a recreational runner, to run with a professional, you don’t get to do that every day. I can’t play golf with Tiger Woods. But to run with Meb? That’s inspiring.”