Race: Competitor’s Las Vegas Rock and Roll Half Marathon
City: Las Vegas, NV (Las Vegas Blvd, or “the Strip”) Date: 12/04/2011
Distance: 13.1 mi
Weather: Upper 30s/Lower 40s, dry, dry, dry… and did I mention dark??
Course: mostly flat.
Summary: what a mess… and I have the slowest Half so far (had to happen, I guess) to show for it… oh… and I’m done with night races for a while.
5 down, 45 to go.
Most of the rumors you probably heard on running blogs and from friends were pretty similar to what I experienced. I tried to be charitable, but I was frustrated and disappointed about this race.
I’m not really the type of personality that LOVES Las Vegas. I’ve been there a couple of times before – once with my ex-husband while he worked, and once for my own work. Both times, I enjoyed the lights and the scenery, but Sin City has never really been the kind of place that, for me, would be a destination for a vacation in and of itself, especially now. I don’t drink adult beverages much – and there was a lot of focus on drinking there, especially those 3-foot tall containers I saw everyone carrying around and the myriad of bars and clubs there. I don’t gamble. Casinos are the life-blood of the town, I know, but I just don’t like throwing money away on games – I’d rather spend it on music, photography, clothing or races. I’ve never been “lucky” or good at any of those games, anyway. Maybe it is because I don’t care, or maybe it is because I’m impatient… probably a little of both. And… I’m not wealthy – it is inexpensive to GET to Las Vegas, but not that cheap to BE IN Las Vegas. I would have liked to see a show, but I couldn’t afford the exorbitant prices for the ones I actually wanted to see (Really, Blue Man Group? Almost $200 for a show?). The Buffet in the hotel was $32 for all day – not bad, but the food wasn’t really all that good – it was fuel when I needed it, but I can’t really say I enjoyed eating it. Even Starbucks was expensive – $3 for a Grande Pike Place. (sigh).
Still… the attraction of the novelty (I guess) of running ON the strip with everything lit up and all the glitz and glamor that went with it was enough to garner my interest in this race. I actually looked into doing it last year when it was a day race, but didn’t have the money for it and thought waiting one more year would allow me to save enough and make it my first long-distance flying trip. I started to follow the Las Vegas Rock and Roll page on Twitter to get announcements for registration so I could get in early (Competitor tends to raise the price of entry as time goes on). Then, they make the big announcement – they’re having a night race! I had, at that point, never done a night race and thought it would be pretty cool to do one – especially in a place like Vegas. This race, all of the sudden, seemed a lot more attractive. Competitor had a special one-day registration event in March before the real registration opened in May and I went for it. I booked my flight and hotel the next month and paid for all of it. Now, I just had to wait. And train.
As the year progressed, I began yapping about the trip incessantly because it was going to be my last for the year and it sounded like fun. A few folks I had met on running boards started registering for the race, too, which meant I was finally going to meet some folks I’ve been talking to for years. I also must have talked about it enough to my non-running circles because my co-worker swimming buddy offered to go with me so I wouldn’t have to travel alone. Grateful for the company, I took her up on her offer and we started making plans about the trip.
Finally the trip arrived and I could hardly wait to go. I usually get excited about trips, but I think I was probably more excited about this trip than I expected to be. Maybe I just needed the vacation or maybe I was excited about meeting the runners and doing another race with a couple of them… whatever the reason, I had a great sense of excitement as I boarded the plane headed to Las Vegas. We arrived around 2 PM and finally got to the Excalibur at around 3. We settled, unpacked and headed down to the buffet to get some food around 4:30. My travel buddy and I are both in our late 30s and already a little self conscious about getting older, and although we were technically on East Coast time, the irony of eating at the buffet at 4:30 with the Septuagenarians was not lost on us and was the fodder of a lot of humor and jokes for most of the trip.
The next day, we made it down to the expo to get my race packet. This should have been my first clue about how things were going to be at this race… once I got my bib and my bag (which was surprisingly light), I picked up my shirt and we went through the expo. They had us funneled from the packet pick up through a shopping area – marked by cashiers at the end – and then on to the rest of the expo. As we went through the shopping area, it was a mess of people… we couldn’t walk – we had to shuffle, literally inching our way through a crowd of people. I didn’t even want look at any items anybody had for sale while pinned into a crowd like that – that’s tough for the perpetual shopper to say. Although, I typically don’t buy anything at expos, I always like to look. After finally seeing a sign for the exit of the shopping area, we made out way to the expo… ah, the expo. While it was a little more open than the shopping area, it is all relative – just masses of people traveling along a current. You’ll find this to be a common theme and observation of mine this post – Since I live in an ocean border state, it is really the best example to fully explain what I saw… Just like the ocean, if you got out of the current, it was hard to get back in. We managed to stop at a few places to look at things, but got annoyed and left. To our surprise (and delight), the National Finals Rodeo (NFR) was also in town… that meant Cowboys were everywhere, and, as it happened, there was a “Cowboy Christmas Show” next to the expo, so we stopped in to shoot photos of all the cowboy stuff and look through gifts and items we thought were cool, including getting a lesson on cowboy hats (which, as it turns out, are pretty expensive, too).
After the expo and cowboy Christmas, both of which were in the Venetian Sands Conference center, I wanted to show my travel buddy – who had never been to Las Vegas before – the rest of the Venetian with the canals and gondolas – and she wanted to gamble – so, we headed over to the Venetian. We snapped a few shots and then found a slot machine for her to try while I met a couple of my runner friends who were on their way back from expo and wanted to meet for dinner! Yay! We finally found my travel buddy (did you know that there are – easily – dozens of Wheel of Fortune slot machines in every casino in Las Vegas? Me either until this day…)
While there are a lot of choices inside hotels of places to eat, from the street, you can’t really tell what is out there, so we wondered around a bit looking for a place with the least wait. One of the race buddies got a call from his sister who suggested the Harley Davidson Cafe, primarily because there is rarely a wait. Rarely a wait was good enough, so we went and she was right – walked right in and got a table, and watched as the conveyor belt of Harleys hung over our heads. We each got burgers and a plate of fries, learned a little more about each other’s backgrounds, discussed race strategies and jitters, piled into his sister’s car and went back to the hotel. We caught up with one of the other runners in our group – stopped by Roulette to say hi (and for my buddy to try a different game) and then headed up to our rooms to call it a night. I was feeling ready for race day. I think…
Unfortunately, Las Vegas didn’t agree well with my travel buddy who was up all night feeling sick – and not from adult beverages or anything of that nature – probably a stomach bug or something. Bless her heart – she tried hard not to disturb me, but I am not really a deep sleeper so I woke up a few times. I did eventually fall back to sleep, and when I woke up saw that the rest of the group were downstairs finishing up their breakfast, so I joined them. After breakfast, I went back up to the room to start getting my things together for the race – I pulled out my bib, went through my gear bag, made sure all my stuff was charged, all while my travel buddy slept to catch up from the sickness the night before. I was meeting the rest of the folks at 2:30 in our hotel, so I just relaxed, stretched and drank water – tons of it – because I was worried about dehydration, especially in the desert where it is already dry. Although I seemed hydrated, I still felt thirsty. 2:30 arrived and I met my group and finally met the last of the bunch I hadn’t already shared a meal with. We chatted about running, other races, our nerves and preparations for this race and laughed. It was a great moment for me. Two of our 5 person group were running the full that started at 4, so we broke up around 3:00 or a little after so they could get ready for their race. The 3 of us doing the half got the rest of our things and started to head over to the Mandalay Bay convention center to check our gear.
This is where the story gets weird – and frustrating….
The first task we had was to find gear check. Although I was staying 2 hotels away, I thought it might be a nightmare (and I would have been right about that) to travel back to the hotel drenched and nasty and that I would be freezing, so I decided to check some clothes to change into after my race ended. We were staying at the Excalibur and there is a free tram going from Excalibur to both the Luxor and to Mandalay Bay – in fact, there is an express going from Excalibur straight to Mandalay Bay. Win-win. We took the express tram from Excalibur to Mandalay Bay so that we might be able to see the start of the full, check our stuff and get one more potty break before the start of our race. We left about 3:15, shortly after our two friends running the full started. However… we ended up missing the start of the full because (1) there were NO signs pointing us to where the start even was for them and (2) it was so damn crowded we couldn’t move around. Ok, then, we thought, we’ll just go to gear check, check our stuff and use the bathroom one more time.
That was an even bigger mess. Gear check was in the back of the Mandalay Bay convention center (on the south side of the building), and the tram station is on the north side of the building. You have to go through the casino (which is winds around and has poor signage, too), through the food court, through the convention center and then off to the right. Ok, great – not a problem – except that there wasn’t a single sign anywhere telling us how to get there. If you have read any of the other posts you know that I consider myself directionally challenged (putting it nicely) and I have a bit of a complex about it, so I was pretty annoyed – and stressed out – that I didn’t have the first clue where to go. We ended up asking someone who looked like they were going toward gear check and followed them. We did eventually find it, but were caught against the current of people for a while (and I call it that because people were literally flowing in a singular direction and when you try to go across it, it becomes difficult to impossible to maneuver… if you’ve ever been caught against the current in an ocean, you better understand what I mean) making it tough to get there. We finally got into the stream and found the room with a big red sign outside the door… the first we’d seen for gear check… that would have been helpful in the hotel, casino and from the tram stations.
We got checked in, found a bathroom (again, having to fight the current of people) with a relatively shorter line, wished each other luck and headed toward our corrals. It was now around 5:00 or a little after, just in time to line up in the corral. On the way to my corral, I once again became annoyed about the number of spectators and people gathered on the streets – it was impossible to get by on the narrow sidewalk and people began pushing and shoving each other. Some, with less patience (and maybe steadier feet) than me climbed through the bushes to get above the sidewalk to get around the mess. Thankfully, Corral 7 was pretty close, so I put up with the crowds and all the pushing and shoving because I knew I’d be in the corral soon, away from this mess. I found the flag for Corral 7 and turned to go into the corral and to my surprise, there wasn’t much of a gate there, nor was there someone policing the corral entry point as had been the case for the other two Competitor events. Hm… There was a woman holding a string that suggested that corral 7 was in front of the string, so I took her advice and filed in front of the string.
Since I like to be at the start of the corral, I made my way up to the front right third of the corral. I ended up talking to a woman who was from North Carolina as well and noticed her bib had her in corral 23. I didn’t think a lot of it because there are corral changes all the time and they are probably more likely to change the corral without changing the bib. I’ve never done it, but that was my assumption. It was cold and blustery while waiting in the corral, and I decided not to run with music this time because I was going to enjoy the sights and sounds of the race (turned out to be a great decision on my part). So, to kill time until the gun start, I looked around at all the folks around me – and I began to notice there were a lot of higher number bibs in my corral. Hmmm…. and then I started to notice spectators walking around in the corral…. HHHHMMMMMMMM…. what on earth were THEY doing in there? And, why weren’t there people guarding the corral? The Pearl Jam guitarist (who was also running the race) did the national anthem (wearing his Garmin 305!) and corral 1 was off. It seemed like they corral starts were closer than I heard they were going to be… I thought I heard other runners say they were going to be 4 minute waves but it was definitely shorter than that. In fact, as I started to count the corrals, we were actually gunned at the count of 5, so it seemed that they let us go with Corral 6?? I was confused, but since my corral was up to start, we left the gate and I followed suit.
I know I mentioned that I was in Corral 7 a lot. Here’s why… Right away, there were walkers.
(SIGH) as I get on my soap box now about race etiquette…
I earned Corral 7.
I worked hard for Corral 7 and I felt like I deserved to be there. I toughed out 90+ degree training runs and froze my fingers off on 29 degree runs a few weeks later. I climbed – and went down – hills until my quads screamed. I sported giant black bruises from trail run falls. I sucked it up and did longs on a treadmill because I wasn’t getting a run in that day unless I did. I ran in the rain. I ran in thunderstorms. In ran in humidity that make most people melt. I ran when I was tired. I ran when I was sore. I ran when I really didn’t want to. I did tempo runs. I did farteleks. I did speed intervals. I did longs. I changed my diet, profoundly. I packed in runs when I literally only had 30 minutes, just so I “got one in”. I ran later in the evenings to make this start time easier. I picked up swimming and spinning to improve my overall conditioning so I would feel good at the end. I drank water until my eyeballs were floating.
I was prepared.
I was ready.
When it was time to line up, I even lined up in the front third, but off to the right because, while I know I’m not the fastest of corral 7, I tend to run faster with the faster folks. Inevitably there would be someone faster than me, though, and they had plenty of room to my left to pass me if I’m off to the right. It is courtesy.
If there is one thing that annoys me to no end it is people going to the wrong corrals. I have absolutely NO issue with people walking the half marathon distance – in fact, I encourage anything people can do to be active and healthy. I just ask this one thing: please do so behind me and the other folks who trained to run it as a courtesy. Walkers in a race – especially a big one like this – is analogous to the guy in the fast lane going 25 with his blinker perpetually on, especially when they walk in big groups side by side, hold hands or lock arms or do other silly, annoying things like that. You just want to shake your fist (maybe with a singular digit exposed) and yell “get the eff out of the way” but common decency precludes you from doing so.
Needless to say, I was very much ready to throw common decency out the proverbial window when I immediately had to dodge walkers inside of a 1/2 mile. Disgraceful.
I’m shaking my head as I step off the soap box now…
I spent the first couple of miles focusing on the dodging. I did a loooooooot of dodging. I actually giggle each time I go back and look at the RunKeeper map of the race because I am literally all over the place. No wonder I ended up with 13.3 miles. Once I got over the people I considered “in my way” (which took me a couple of miles, I must admit), I started to actually try to enjoy the run. I did this one without my own music for several reasons, not the least of which was the fact that I really just wanted to enjoy the run itself. As much as I could, I did. Although I dodged runners for a large portion of the race, I was able to distract myself in parts by just looking at the lights and the buildings and the other runners. I passed a guy wearing University of NC clothing and chatted with him for a bit (after giving the NCSU Wolfpack sign, which he didn’t really appreciate at first – haha) and I learned how not to run on the reflectors that were (a) much larger than they seem to be while riding in a car and (b) pretty slippery.
By the time I got to the Cosmopolitan, I remembered that my friends running the full said there would be a separate lane for them and began to look for it. I’m not sure I would have even seen it had I not known it was supposed to be there, but when I looked down I did notice a set of cones – about 2 feet high – with paper signs that looked like they were done on some guy’s printer that were duct taped to the top of these cones. On the paper, there was an arrow pointing left labeled “Full” and another pointing right labeled “Half”. It wasn’t even on a raised flag or something like that – down low on the cones is all we got.
Here is my issue with the lanes… I know this is a pretty hot topic with my friends that ran the full, and I fully (pun totally intended) empathize with them. It goes back to my little dissertation on the corrals – there is a matter of courtesy. I would hope that people would police themselves, but, unfortunately, it is my experience they cannot. While the failure of the lane divisions lie with the events staff and/or the City, the half marathoners should have had the courtesy to get out of the way of the full marathoners. Every now and then, we’d get a person on bike patrol yelling “Half Marathoners Keep Right!”, but usually it was one of the Full runners yelling it, which unfortunately was usually met with some snide or sarcastic comments from people around me. That made me mad. However, what made me even madder was the fact that these cones were placed at very inconsistent widths. In some cases, they divided the road almost in half; in other cases, they gave the full runners no more than 3 feet. There were also times when they were just not there and then suddenly reappeared and I found myself on the full side because I was passing someone. I quickly got to the right and tried harder to pay attention. I even tripped over a couple because at points I was thinking about other things and kind of forgot they were there – an easy mistake to make when they are shorter than your knee.
Then… we turn off of Las Vegas Blvd onto Main Street. I had always known that Las Vegas (and for that matter, most of the south west) was economically depressed, but I really saw it on this run. The lights were dimmer, if on at all, there were overgrowth of weeds, and the buildings, mostly vacant, were beginning to decay. Most of the businesses I saw were quickie wedding chapels adjacent to pawn shops and ready labor shops. The brightest spot seemed to be the area around Fremont street, or “Old Vegas”. We didn’t run through the Fremont Street Experience (we did that the next night), but we did run past part of it and past some of the older casinos that were interesting sights, especially for the contrast to the expense you saw just one block over.
It was on Main Street that I also suddenly made another observation that I was surprised I hadn’t made before that point: I didn’t see any port-a-potties. If you’ve read any of my prior posts, you know that I usually have to make a pit stop along the way – or, at least, I did for numbers 2, 3, and 4 (and with added commentary for this one that still makes my friends laugh heartily). As we get down Main toward Wyoming, there is a small office park with a couple of shorter buildings adjacent to each other and wide driveway between them. I begin to notice a number of people turning off down this drive way. My first thought was “cheaters!” I hate that was my first thought, but it was. As I passed that driveway, however, I actually noticed it was a bunch of men peeing on the side of the building… and I was a little jealous. I didn’t HAVE to go, necessarily, but I knew at that moment I really couldn’t if I did. That’s when I started looking for the port-a-potties. This was about mile 4.5. I never saw one the remainder of the race, though I was told there were some behind the spectator barriers… probably why I didn’t see them… didn’t think I would have to climb over a fence in the middle of a race to use one. So… all that to say: no humorous potty story for this one.
As we go through the Fremont Street turn off, my mind starts to wonder. It was a little late in the game for the wondering, and it was cut short and somewhat sporadic because of dodging people and trying to stay out of the way of the folks running the full. This might be too much insight into my brain, but here goes…
“I bet my training partner would have *loved* doing this race, especially for all the people watching (I have since amended my opinion – he probably would have hated the outcome of this race). He’s probably right – I bet I would run faster if I started lifting weights but, (sigh) I don’t want to look like scary 50-year old Madonna… Hmmm… I hadn’t really heard many bands – and… why Competitor, can’t you get better bands? I like Cheap Trick and all, but a headliner? Have they headlined anything since 1982? I don’t want to be mean, but… And, who that doesn’t have children under the age of 10 even knows who Bowling for Soup even is? Would I like their other songs? Do they do all the songs in Phineas and Ferb? Phineas and Ferb… hehe – one of the funnier shows on TV in my opinion. Ohh… look at that tattoo (26.2 and 13.1 on the back of a guy’s calves). Hmmm… if I got a tattoo, what would I get? A 4-leaf clover – haah-haaah – no. Murphy luck doesn’t really count as “Irish”. Yoda and Vader for the boys? Maybe… but where would I put it? Oh! I know – something for the 50-states thing – yeah… that’s it… the 50-states. I could get a map and then color in each state as I do it. But… where would I put it??? Is that a Ramones cover? (it was) I think I need to listen to the Ramones more. Oooh! The new Black Keys album is out on Tuesday – I can’t forget to get that one (I didn’t forget… and it is awesome, by the way) Hmmm… that is the Athleta shirt I wanted…. it looks cuter in person. Maybe that’ll be my ‘finishing the half’ gift to myself…”
After going through the depressed part of town, we found ourselves back at the Stratosphere and I knew we were, as one runner beside me called it “Way Backin’ It”. I was still feeling pretty good at this point. I hadn’t really checked my pace at all because I made a promise that I would just enjoy the race, so I did my best to fulfill that promise. I must admit, though, I was relieved that I was finally back at the Stratosphere. We turned back onto Las Vegas Blvd and I realized we were just over half way through. Felt longer than that and I started thinking that I could have used a port-a-potty, if there was one. I passed a Carl Jr’s and the thought crossed my mind, but then I thought “well… that would blow my sub-2 hour, soooo….” and I skipped it. Increasingly, the lights became brighter, the roads contained more and more spectators (that thought nothing of crossing in front of the runners – etiquette, people!) and I began to realize that was becoming tired. I could feel all of the energy just leaking out of every pore of my skin – I began to stop at all of the water stations (that still had volunteers – shockingly, some were abandoned) to get some water and cytomax – later proving to be a bad idea.
Then… I hit mile 10.5 (sigh). It is almost this exact same point that did me in both on Disney and Rock and Roll Mardi Gras. It was around this time I stopped sweating and started to feel the energy just drain out of me as though someone let the bathwater out of a tub. It went that quickly. I drank – a lot. I felt hydrated. I ate – a lot. I felt fueled. I even fueled during the run. I don’t understand… I got past this point in Virginia Beach and Raleigh Rocks, so I’m dumbfounded as to what the problem is, unless it is just that rice and potatoes is not the right kind of carbs for me. That’s the only thing I can think of that is truly different. Mardi Gras I didn’t eat pasta because I couldn’t stomach it due to the fever I had. Disney, I ate rice because of my new found Gluten Free-ness. This time, it was rice, potatoes and a healthy dose of red meat. Literally every ounce of energy I had just 2 miles ago seemed to have been zapped and I was on fumes. I would stop to drink at the aid stations and putter back to it – stop, walk, take drinks, putter back to it. This excruciating cycle continued for the last almost 3 miles of the race. I would run about .5 mile, stop, walk, drink, run .5 mile, stop, walk, drink, run .5 mile, stop, walk, drink… the whole way back. I just wanted to be done. I was no longer impressed with the lights and the goings on… I was sick of this run and I was feeling nausea. I just wanted to get into my dry clothes, drink some water, and take a shower.
Mercifully, the race ended for me at 2:03 and some change. I will say that this was honestly the first race I have ever been in when I truly didn’t care about the time. I didn’t check my pace most of the race and I knew by the clock time (and the fact I know I started in under 14 minutes from the first corral) that I was over 2 hours and I was miffed about it. I soon enough forgot about all that because the finish line was the biggest mess I’ve ever seen for a finish. Ever. Here is a video that can explain it better than I can with hundreds of words. What you can’t see off to the left of that video is that the area we are shuttled to actually becomes more narrow and we are all stuffed into this smaller space – hot, stinking, tired, hungry and thirsty. I got my mylar blanket, but had a hard time putting it on in such a crowd – I know I was being pushed and elbowed and I was trying not to do the same to those around me because I was smack in the middle of all of it. I was also feeling pretty queasy at this point – I just wanted to get the Hell out of there and get something to drink – pronto. I ended up finding a way around the mess and, as a result, ended up not having my commemorative photos taken (fine by me – I didn’t think I needed a photo to remember this event anyway).
Once I found open space, I realized I didn’t know where to go. I had a touch of endorphin lobotomy, I admit, and the place wasn’t well lit, but I managed to find a trash can full of water bottles and somehow got a Cytomax (though I really don’t remember how I got it). I was having a hard time opening the cytomax – that’s really what I wanted – and then I realized I just had too many things in my hands and I was going to put it in my swag…. wait a minute… no swag bag. hmm. HMMM??? I started to look around for them and, there were none. There was a table of bananas. There was a table of yogurt (I think that’s what that was). There was a table of pretzels. No bags. I wondered a little farther and finally found a volunteer with the bags – the only one with bags I ever saw – handing out empty bags. That just seemed weird to me – I’ve never been in a race where they didn’t give you pre-packed bags after the finish. I took the bag, thanked the volunteer and went off to find gear check. Again.
So, now that I had been to gear check once before, it should be easy to find. right? right? righ…..ahhhh not so fast. Had I been inside the building, it might have been easier to find it, but finding the entrance to the building proved to be difficult for me. I’m no MENSA member, but I’m not a moron. However…. post a sign to guide me. That’s all I ask. It is a small thing that means a lot. Once I finally did find the entry into the building, I some how managed to find an entry point into the people current and let it take my tired body to the gear check. The young, enthusiastic boy working at my letter ran back, found my bag quickly, handed it to me and called me “ma’am” (I’m from the south, so that sort of thing is actually considered respectful and sweet, so I took it as a compliment). I made my way over to the bathroom and changed into my dry clothes, which seemed to take forever. Most notably, I was pretty sore – I don’t remember ever being this sore at any half I’ve ever done – and it was a pretty flat course. I ended up being sore most of the week, in fact.
I met up with one of my runner friends who finished a little behind me, waited as she went through gear check and changed and then we made our way back to our hotel, exchanging stories of things we saw and frustrations we had along the route. We waited in line for the tram, again packed like sardines, and, unfortunately, someone fainted and was hurt. That’s the kind of thing that should never happen in a fun event like this was supposed to be. Safety, it seemed to me, was not a priority. I also felt that queasy feeling most of that night and all the next day. I did get sick one time in the morning, and whatever it was (fire hose water or whatever) seems to be out of my system now, thank goodness. That race was not worth the sickness – that just piled on to an already poor experience for me.
Apparently, I still (STILL) have not figured out the hydration thing. In spite of a few great training runs when I felt appropriately hydrated, I still can’t seem to find the magic formula and really need to figure this out if I’m going to do 45 more of these. I also worry that the Gluten Free diet is messin’ with my system. My training partner sent me a great article on digestion for athletes and I’m going to try some of the things recommended. I’ll keep you all posted on my progress with that.
It was a terrible race for me. I’m shaking it off, now that I’ve spoken my mind about it. I swear.