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October 9, 2015

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Las Vegas marathon participation down — but not because of problems last year, organizers say


Steve Marcus

Runner George Saunders of Redlands, Calif. strikes an Elvis Presley pose while waiting for the start of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Half-Marathon Sunday, December 4, 2011. The marathon and half-marathon attracted 44,000 official entrants from all 50 states and 54 countries, organizers said.

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon will feature 14,000 fewer participants this year after water contamination issues and concerns of overcrowding drew complaints from runners in 2011.

However, organizers contend the problems from last year aren't behind the dropoff in participation. Rather, they say, numbers are down because the 2011 race was the first to be held at night, and the novelty has worn off this year.

The race, which had traditionally been held during the day, saw explosive growth when it moved to an evening start last year. In 2010, around 28,000 people ran in the marathon before attendance ballooned to more than 44,000 last year, making the event the second largest in the country behind the New York City Marathon. This year, the number of participants has gone back down to around 32,000, still the second most in the history of the race.

“We couldn’t replicate the novelty again,” said Dan Cruz, a spokesman for Competitor Group, the San Diego-based company that operates the race. "This year, we focused more on the organization of the event instead of the marketing.”

The race is among 27 in the national Rock 'n' Roll Marathon Series, operated by Competitor Group. Last year, the Las Vegas marathon brought more than $100 million into the local economy.

Scott Voeller, a senior vice president with MGM Resorts International, said the event is one of the 10 most profitable of the year for Las Vegas businesses.

“This is truly a citywide event,” Voeller said. “The entire community participates, and it needs it to be successful.”

Held Sunday evening, the event allows the tourism and hospitality industries to extend the weekend an extra day, Voeller said, helping to pull revenue in a month that typically lags in profitability.

After complaints about water contamination and overcrowding in last year's marathon, course organizers developed a series of improvements including a strategy to bring safe water to runners and a route that includes the Fremont Street Experience.

Competitor Group, in its fourth year of operating the race, will bring in water from the Las Vegas Valley Water District and will have a distribution system using water monster — a portable water tower filtration system — at each aid station. Clark County commissioners approved the new plans.

Commissioner Steve Sisolak said Competitor Group had done its due diligence in ironing out the water issues from last year, and he expects runners will be able to focus on enjoying their time in town.

“Anytime somebody gets sick, it’s a big deal.” Sisolak said. “I certainly don’t expect there to be a recurrence. Any concern we had, they were Johnny on the spot in addressing. It’s very comforting."

The marathon, which benefits the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, will begin at 3 p.m., with the half marathon starting at 4:30 p.m. The runners will represent all 50 states and 52 countries on a day that is expected to be in the high 60s and partly cloudy with a light breeze.

Cruz said organizers made changes to the race based on participant feedback.

“As an organization, we have spent the last 12 months listening to the feedback of runners and analyzing all of the challenges from last year,” he said. “We want people to leave this event and enjoy Las Vegas.”

In previous years, runners started on Las Vegas Boulevard South near Mandalay Bay and the Luxor and finished in the same area. Cruz said having the start and finish so close together created congestion and made it difficult for people to get back to their hotels.

This year, the marathon and half marathon will start in the same place but will end in front of the Mirage after bringing runners through a variety of new areas, including downtown.

“We’re showcasing another part of Las Vegas that not everybody gets to visit,” Cruz said. “It’s just another way that this event has become more encompassing, highlighting everything Las Vegas has to offer.”

The road closures will include:

• Las Vegas Boulevard northbound and southbound between East Sunset Road and East Stewart Avenue

• Las Vegas Boulevard southbound from Spring Mountain Road to East Flamingo Road from 10 a.m. on Sunday to 2 a.m. Monday

• Martin Luther King Boulevard southbound from Brooks Street to Symphony Park Avenue

• Carey Avenue from Martin Luther King Boulevard to Rancho Drive

• East Hacienda Avenue from Las Vegas Boulevard to Giles Street

• East Flamingo Road from Koval Lane to Interstate 15

• Fremont Street from North Main Street to North Fourth Street

• Several downtown roads between North Main Street and 11th Street

Most of the road closures will be in effect from 2 p.m. to about 11 p.m. Sunday, and access will open as the final runners complete the course. Runners will have four hours to complete the half marathon and 4 1/2 hours to complete the full marathon before race officials start closing the course. During the race, pedestrians will be unable to cross Las Vegas Boulevard and will be pointed toward elevated walkways over the road.

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