A story of going from being a non-runner to planning for a marathon in three years...

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Las Vegas Marathon Race Report

So, you all know by now that I ran the Las Vegas Marathon on Sunday. My third marathon ever and my second this year. But did you know I ran it as part of a wedding party?

Yes, two of my friends from my running club were married 10 years ago in Las Vegas after running the Las Vegas Marathon. So for their 10th anniversary they decided to go back and run the race just like the did last time. They invited us all to join them as they ran the race and renewed their vows at the on-course ceremony.

Well, I'm not quite fast enough to have made it to the ceremony, but I heard it was lovely.

I'm getting ahead of myself, though.

Jason and I arrived in Vegas on Friday night and took it easy on Friday and Saturday. I met up with my friend, W, who was also in Vegas as a race spectator. She's cheered for me at my first 5K, my first half marathon, and this year when I broke 2 hours in the half marathon for the first time. But this time she had a special treat for me:

How awesome is that??? Sadly, I didn't get to see her on the course so I'm thankful she took a picture and shared it with me.

On Sunday afternoon, after taking "wedding" pictures our group trooped through the Venetian in search of a shuttle bus to take us to the start line at Mandalay Bay. We finally found one even though I had to sit on Jason's lap the whole way.

The shuttle bus dropped us off on what felt like the opposite side of the world from where we needed to be so we navigated our way through the hotel and finally found gear check. I left my stuff with Jason, though, so I wouldn't have to deal with the lines.

Oh yeah, did I mention that this race had 44,000 people signed up if you add the full and the half marathon together? That's as many as Chicago in a much smaller space.

Maribeth and I were planning to run together and she'd made some last minute adjustments to our starting corral. Suddenly we were standing in Corral 2. As in, up with the super fast people within spitting distance of the start line. Kind of freaky but exciting! We almost got interviewed by a local news channel since were standing with our "bride and groom" but it didn't work out. Sad.

The race started a few minutes late with an underwhelming starting pistol. Come on! It's Vegas! You couldn't get a lion out there to roar or something?

Anyway, Maribeth and I turned a corner almost immediately and there was Jason!

I hadn't seen him at the start of either of my other two marathons and Maribeth said it was a good omen that I saw him at the start of this one.

The sun was slowly setting as we started on our first 13 miles. My left hip was kind of achy and I wasn't feeling too great but we were going at a pretty quick clip. I tried to slow down some but my legs just wanted to go. We twisted and turned through warehouses and business parks (and the Hustler store). Every so often we'd turn toward Mandalay Bay and you could see the setting sun turning it into a gold monolith. Pretty. It was probably a good thing, though, that this race was at night because this part of the course UGLY. The most memorably thing (other than the Hustler store) was the massive hill just after mile 7.

I only walked for about 30 seconds just after the 10K mark and I worried that not taking my walk breaks might be a mistake. But, I felt pretty good all things considered.

I was having some mild intestinal distress and I debated stopping to use a port-a-potty. When I only saw one at mile 12, though, I figured I'd wait until we got back to the Strip. My pace was good, my hip was hurting less, and I didn't have to use one that bad.

We turned onto the Strip and started merging with the half marathoners. We knew we weren't going to make it to the on-course ceremony at mile 15 since we only had 10 minutes to spare and 2 miles until we got there. Also, when I saw the lines at the next port-a-potty near mile 14 I realized I didn't have to use one anymore. Score!

By this time it was dark and I wasn't sure how Jason was going to see me. Sure, I had on a blinking LED ring but otherwise he was just going to have to rely on the lights of the Strip. I knew he'd be somewhere between mile 14 and 16 and then suddenly there he was!

I was still feeling super strong at this point. When Maribeth stopped to find some on-course fuel near mile 16 I kept going. The aid stations on the course were total chaos with marathoners and half marathoners all trying to get to them at once on one side of the street.

At this point the course was getting more and more crowded. I was dodging people all over the place as people on bikes rode down the center of the lanes yelling "Half marathoners to the right, marathoners to the left!" I had to cut a few corners because the crowd was so thick around the turns there was no option but to hop up on the sidewalk. I figured all the dodging I was doing would more than make up for the little bit of corner cutting.

I still hadn't walked other than at the 10K mark and once for a few seconds while Maribeth got water earlier on. I was drinking water from my fuel belt and occasionally trying to grab one at an aid station. I'd taken a few Shot Bloks (with caffeine) but I didn't really feel like I needed them. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that I had two meals in my system already. The benefit of an evening race, at least for me.

Around mile 19, though, I started to get a killer headache. My irritation at all the people surrounding me began to rise and I just wanted to scream "GET THE EFF OUT OF MY WAY!" I promised myself that if I made it to mile 20 I could run-walk my way to the finish. Which is what I did. When I reached the mile 20 sign I pulled over to the side and walked for a few seconds. I looked over at another guy who did the same thing and said, "I promised myself I could walk if I made it to 20." He laughed and said, "So did I".

The course at this point wasn't particularly nice. We'd left the fun lights of the Strip but weren't quite in the historic downtown area of Vegas. Row after row of sketchy furniture stores, houses with bars on the windows and barking dogs in the front yards, and bail bond shops lined the route. Even the darkness couldn't hide the ugliness.

But I only had 6 more miles. I decided I'd run until I saw the next mile marker and then walk for a few seconds. I still couldn't find my groove because of all the people and at one point I almost got clotheslined by a woman reaching across the course to high five a spectator. Gah!!!

Somewhere near mile 21 I heard someone behind me. "Pace group coming through! Make a hole!" I turned on a guy running next to me. "What pace group is that?"

"4:15," he said.

Are you serious? Did I really stay ahead of the 4:15 pace group until mile 21? I had a fleeting image of sticking with them for the last 5 miles but knew it wasn't going to happen as they pulled away from me.

Around mile 23 I looked up and realized that my some of my "bridal party" was right in front of me taking a walk break. I never in a million trillion years thought I would catch up to them. They're sub-4:00 marathoners! But they were taking this one easy. "Go on!" they shouted. "You look great!!"

I still felt pretty great and that adrenaline boost was awesome. In fact, the adrenaline of the whole race was probably the only thing that kept my mind off the fact that my under arms and under my fuel belt were chafing all to hell even with the Vaseline I tried to slather on somewhere around mile 20 or 21. My speed burst lasted until mile 24 when I took a fairly extended walk break to drink two cups of water. I wanted to give those last few miles my all. Plus, most of the water stations looked abandoned and bombed out so I had to walk almost the full length of one to find someone who actually had water.

The Mandalay Bay loomed in the night sky and it felt like it was never going to get closer. Finally, we turned a corner and followed a driveway to the convention center area behind the hotel. I saw the finish line lit up and I pushed up a small hill. I could see the clock said 4:26:something and I threw my arms in the air.

I'd done it. I'd broken 4:30 in a marathon. I was ecstatic. My legs, however, were pretty much done. I started to stumble and a lovely medical tent volunteer grabbed me right up. She gave me water and a salt packet and I started to feel a little better. I got my medal and found my friends who'd finished a few minutes behind me.

Then the real "fun" began. We got our Mylar blankets and tried to find our way to the indoor gear check. The crowd was ridiculous. Hoards of people mobbing the food and water tables. The wind picked up and chilled us to the bone. There was a bottleneck at the post-race photo station that we managed to skirt around and then it was like a herd of cattle trying to move our way to the exit gate. Finally we made it inside where we found the rest of our party and tried to recover.

I felt pretty "off". A little nauseous, very headachy, stiff, and cold. Jason played his spectator role flawlessly and made sure I got whatever I needed. After about an hour of recovering we ventured back outside with our Eagle Scout "groom" leading the way to the shuttle buses.

Apparently if you read a lot of other race reports you'll see that the inside of the Mandalay Bay became standing room only with people passing out, puking, and a general scene of chaos. We missed all of that. We walked right outside, crossed the half marathon route, and got on a shuttle bus that took us back to the Venetian all in less than 30 minutes.

This race definitely had some logistical problems that put a big black mark on a lot of people's experiences. I'm one of the few who managed to PR in that sea of runners and one of the few who apparently missed the chaos of exiting Mandalay Bay and finding a shuttle. The course, other than the Strip, isn't particularly scenic and even on the Strip you sometimes feel like you're running through a drunken frat party.

All in all, though, it was a great weekend for me. Sure, I didn't have a typical Vegas experience as our post-race party involved sitting around with my friends in our comfy clothes drinking leftover champagne in a hotel suite but, to be honest, that was the perfect ending to the day. I ran this race to be with my friends and that's what I got.

Well, that and a medal. And that medal? Yeah, it glows in the dark.

Las Vegas Marathon by snmnstrz21 at Garmin Connect - Details