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“Fast Fish”

Race: Tarkanian Shark Attack
Where: UNLV, Las Vegas, NV
Date: February 23, 2013
Race: 5K


When you turn 21 a visit to Las Vegas allegedly consists of over the top drinking, gambling, and generally foolish debauchery.  When you turn 30, the debauchery should tend to subside and be replaced with eating at some great restaurants and perhaps taking in a show or two.

At 40, my birthday trip to Las Vegas had a 5K race thrown into the mix.

Oh it was my idea totally.  Two great friends wanted to take me away as part of my birthday celebrations, and as I am less than two short months away from my first Boston Marathon I was going to have to figure out a way to still get some mileage in during the various shenanigans.  On my last trip to Vegas I spent some quality time running around (read as: getting lost in) Red Rock Canyon.  I knew that a multi-hour excursion wasn’t going to be in the cards this time, so a quick internet search brought me to a short race just off the strip called the Tarkanian Shark Attack 5K, put on by The Bolt Series.

The site is slick.  Per their own description: “…a Bolt Series run has it all: USATF sanction, race packet full of extra amenities, high quality T shirt, pre-race dinner with presentation from a former world class and Hall Of Fame runner, exhibits, three runs to choose from, well planned courses, chip timing, unique awards, and after crossing the finish line you can help yourself to plenty of food and beverages and join a party with a live band!”  This description plus my enthusiasm for testing ourselves after late flights and later nights even convinced one my travel companions to sign up.

So after a night (or morning) that ended on Freemont Street (I think), alarms went off and we tossed ourselves into a cab to make our way to the UNLV campus for the 9 am start time.  Given the power behind the promotion, and looking over the results of the last few 5K races in the area, I had some idea as to what the expected size of the field should have been. I expected this to be a fairly large event.

What I found was a much smaller, extremely well organized event, that had the makings of being a fun race experience.

We grabbed our kits on-site with no problems whatsoever.  The first thing that struck me was that the title charity of the event, Team Focus (, had many people on hand volunteering, and took time to go out of their way to personally thank almost each and every runner for showing their support by participating in the run.  That was a nice touch you don’t see every day.  There was also a great mix of runners involved as well.  A large number of folks who were looking for a great finishing time, some folks in costume and matching outfits, one runner who was going to dribble a basketball the whole way, and a really friendly Great Dane (he had a bib and started at the back of the pack so who was I to question a canine participant?).

The Race Director Tim Kelly had warm welcomes for everyone, and gave clear pre-race instructions with respect to the course markers, the lack of an exclusive use permit so we could be on the lookout for civilians, and given the layout of the course to open it up if you feel like it.

Now leading up to this point my expectations for the race had steadily declined given my physical state of being (with respect to doubts about my training), my physical state of being (with respect to an unexpected ailment that had sideswiped me the day before), and even my physical state of being (viva Las Vegas).

I took some deep breaths on the start and just told myself “Get some good speed work in…test your fitness…be steady…don’t take off like a shot…”

So at the gun I take off like a shot, and quickly found myself alone with my thoughts and the lead bike.  I think the longest I had led a race outright in my life to that point had been about 4 seconds, and even then it was with a pack so my estimate could be considered highly debatable.  As the course had many turns it gave me an opportunity to look over my shoulder and see…well…no one…repeatedly.  This could best be described as undiscovered territory as I now had no idea what to do with respect to timing or pacing.  The time on my Garmin told me a PR was definitely not in the cards on this day, so I just decided to hold the course and see what the rest of the race would bring.

What it brought was a shadow out of the corner of my eye at the one mile marker where a racer with an Eastern Oregon t-shirt passed me (I remembered seeing him at kit pickup with a gear bag having some NAIA Cross Country thing on it…how the heck did I forget HE was in the mix somewhere?).  We hung together for about another nine seconds when he decided to go into what appeared to be only second gear and open up a gap that I knew I wasn’t overtaking.

At this point keeping him in sight was my main focus because there was still no sign of a third place runner.  My kilometre splits were levelling off nicely, and my lungs had no urge to leave my body, so now it was just a matter of hanging on to my position, and throwing the ‘thank you’ wave or nod to the aid station volunteers and Las Vegas police who were preventing vehicular traffic from coming on course.  I saw the winner finish, then eased back to take a comfortable second place overall to knock off one of the four goals I set for 2013.

Now I don’t know how to properly assess the claims of the site itself without making it sound like it was a bad event…which it definitely was not. It’s just not the event that the company seemed to promote…a brief rundown against the sales pitch: 

USATF sanction: Unsure of this…I didn’t see a registration number and given some of the post race comments (some folks seemed to think the course was a bit long) I would guess it was not.
Race packet full of extra amenities: Not a bad race packet…also not the best race packet I’ve seen.
High quality T shirt: A cotton T but a good one with the race graphic in full effect and sponsor love across the back. I like it.
Pre-race dinner with presentation from a former world class and Hall Of Fame runner: Did I mention Freemont Street? Unless the dinner was domestic beer and the  presentation was made by a Hall of Fame runner named “Linda originally from Newark NJ” who held court in the middle of an overly smoky three-card poker table…yeah…I missed it.
Exhibits: I doubt three-card poker counts as an exhibit, so again, no comment.
Three runs to choose from: Only two for this event, but it could’ve been a generic bit of website copy so I can’t hold this against the series.
Well planned courses: It was a well planned course. Very flat and it took you all around the UNLV campus via roads, thoroughfares, cuts through parking lots, and paved pedestrian/bicycle paths. However I think the credit for this should go to the local Race Director.
Chip timing: No chip timing. I suspect someone was recording bib numbers as we crossed the finish, and the order of finish was confirmed by the submission of a tear tab at the bottom of the bib.
Unique awards: There were awards.  Nothing overly unique but they did award medals in the Overall and Masters Divisions, then in 10 year age groups (no duplications).  There were also a LOT of draw prizes that, given the relatively small number of runners who turned up, and the even smaller number who stuck around, sent many folks home with an extra something.
After crossing the finish line you can help yourself to plenty of food and beverages: Agreed.
Join a party with a live band! There was a DJ, pleasant conversation, and a big sunny field to stretch out in.  That’s all I need really.

After the race there were a handful of comments about the absence of Stephen Bolt on race day, and given the name “Tarkanian” that was associated with the race there was an underlying expectation that the Shark himself would make an appearance.  This was not a big deal to me personally, but again, given the glitz of the promotion this seemed to be an expectation amongst several participants.

Furthermore, in the days leading up to the event, The Bolt Series website itself had several discrepancies and conflicts with respect to time and location that would’ve been confusing to non-locals…so it had the makings of being a logistical nightmare.

Enter Tim Kelly.  As Race Director, Tim was not only very helpful and responsive to all of my questions leading up to the event, but he was very friendly and personable on race day, and where other Race Directors I have encountered have deflected and defended certain things that happened during a run, our post-race chat was peppered with his own assessment of what went right, what may have gone not so right in his eyes, and his action plan for ensuring things go even smoother for the next Tarkanian Shark event on May 11, 2013.  Given my pre and post event interactions with him, and my experience in the event itself, if I find myself in Nevada again in May I’ll definitely be attending.

As this is only the second event that I can find The Bolt Series has promoted, and as I’m not privy to what their plans or expectations are, maybe I can’t give an accurate impression as to what the entire series going forth may hold, but I can definitely say this:

Many of us will find ourselves in Las Vegas for work or vacations, and it’s good to know that if you want to stay active there are many viable options out there.  The Las Vegas Track Club ( is a great resource for all events in the general vicinity, and if the option is available to you, any event organized by Tim Kelly and the Las Vegas Running Company is the best bet you’ll find in town.

Much better than three-card poker.

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One comment

  • Great race report! It is both entertaining and informative.
    Congratulations on the finish and best of luck in Boston. I will be rooting for you.

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