Race Name: Rock n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon
Date: December 4, 2011
Footwear: Inov-8 f-lite 195
After finishing the Chicago Marathon in October I hit the streets hard to prepare for the Las Vegas Marathon, my second full marathon. Unfortunately, a couple weeks before the race I went out on an interval run to test out a new pair of shoes (Inov-8 Bare-X 200) and made a terrible error. With “barefoot” shoes I usually remove the insole for a closer-to-the-ground, more flexible feel in the shoe. Well, turns out it’s best if you remove them both rather than just one. Six miles later and I had one inflamed achilles tendon, just in time for it to affect the marathon I’ve been training for.
Being a night race, I had to prepare for it differently than if it was a morning race, mostly by watching what I ate and making sure I wasn’t tired or sluggish by race time. Ended up having real oatmeal and blueberries for breakfast, and then a bean and chicken burrito for lunch, and lots of water. For dinner I stuck with a Clif Bar and banana, which is my normal breakfast before a morning race.
I got to the race plenty early to make sure I had time to put all my warm gear on. I wore a mock-turtleneck ColdGear shirt with my LoveLife shirt over it, my thin gloves and beanie, and shorts. I ended up having plenty of time to wander around before the race and take in some sights and relax a bit, a first for me; I’m usually running late and hustling all over the place to be at the right places on time.
Getting to the starting corrals made me thankful I attended punk rock concerts when I was in high school. The ability to shove my way through a crowd was really useful as the corrals were an overcrowded disaster area. There was one sidewalk that was maybe 3-feet wide, with about 5-feet of on-street space between the sidewalk and the barricades forming the actual corrals. That may have been okay, if that wasn’t also the main throughway for runners and spectators coming from the Mandalay Bay—and all areas of the Las Vegas Strip— to the start/finish area. And did I mention that almost all five feet of street space was crowded by spectators standing around the starting corral talking to their runner friends?
Once I got into my proper starting area, I found my friends Casey and Don and we chatted for about 15 minutes until the gun finally sounded and we were off. Casey is much faster than me, and Don is a little slower than I am, so we separated and we all settled into our respective paces. A couple miles in I picked up a conversation with a fellow runner (as is my norm during a race) around the time we were circling the Hustler strip club that neighbors a playground equipment store. No joke, that really exists. We kept up conversation for the entire first-half of the race, which wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected being that the entire first half marathon is through ugly industrial and residential areas southwest of the strip. Our first split was done in 2:08, perfectly on pace for our combined goal of a 4:15 marathon (and a full 1:20 minutes faster than Chicago two months prior).
Unfortunately that’s where the good part of the race report ends. Once we got onto Las Vegas Blvd. for the last 13 miles everything completely fell apart. All 30,000+ runners of the half marathon were already out on the course. The same course that we were now on. That may sound a big confusing, so let me back up a little bit and try to explain what Competitor Group was trying to accomplish with this first ‘Strip at Night’ race. In previous years the race was always held in the morning with all runners starting at the same time and the full marathoners splitting off towards the end of the half marathon, as many races do. With the new ‘Strip at Night’ focus, the organizers had to find a way to get everybody running down the Las Vegas Strip with the casino lights in full blow without the marathoners finishing the race at midnight. The solution they came up with was to have the full marathon start about 1 1/2 hours before the half marathoners, running the first 13.1 miles and entering the course for the last 13.1 with the half marathoners. Unfortunately, whoever did the math on when to start each corral did a miserable job, and thus we found ourselves running down Las Vegas Blvd. with 30,000 half marathoners in front of us. Competitor Group had good intentions of making it as easy as possible for the full marathoners to run the last half of the course, but unfortunately for them, their good intentions were a complete failure in execution. The entire length of the shared course there was supposed to be a lane that was only for full marathoners, leaving the other 50% to 90% of the road (depending on road width) to the half marathoners. The part that failed was their method of marking the lane, which was another mind-numbingly stupid idea. Instead of 3-foot high cones, or even better, an actual barricade, there was a solitary cone (about 18″ in height) every 20 to 30 feet, with a sign sticking out saying ‘Marathon Lane’ or something like that. Most of them were knocked over as half marathoners ran and walked around and over them, ignoring them completely for the most part.
So back to the train wreck in process. We quickly found ourselves behind large groups of half marathoners with every intention of walking the entire course, and doing so five- and six-wide, managing to block two to three lanes at a time. By somewhere around mile 14 we abandoned our goal of a 4:15 marathon and just focused on finishing the race without becoming so frustrated we wanted to punch somebody. Somewhere around mile 16 my running buddy and I lost track of each other at a water station. How do you do so at a water station? Well, these particular water stations were nearly out of any kind of liquid and were currently operating with about 3 volunteers on a single table, with the other three to five tables being completely empty, no volunteers to be seen, and knocked over. If you’ve ever seen carp fight over a piece of bread you can picture what it was like. If not, just picture a mosh pit at a concert where a $100 dollar bill has just been found at the bottom.
At mile 17 I came across Ryan and Taylor, who were there to cheer me on. At that point I was so frustrated that I had lost any kind of mental edge I had for the race and I was already allowing the pain in my legs to get to me as my legs were one fire. We said our hellos, I told them how much the race sucked, and I kept running. Running around the Downtown area was even more of a nightmare than other parts of the race with the course being downsized to a measly two lanes each direction and everybody fighting for position trying to keep their wildly different paces. By this time I was trying to keep a pace in the neighborhood of 10:00 min/mile but was running in a pack of half marathoners moving at around a 14:00 min/mile pace.
With about a 10K left to go I linked up with another runner, Bryan, as we were both on the side of the road trying to stretch out our legs (and probably our minds as well). We briefly talked about how big of a mess the race was and how our goals had shifted to just being able to finish the race. We stayed together the rest of the race, taking breaks to walk when the traffic got to be too much or stretching when our legs needed it. We had another runner with us for a while, but he dropped off without a couple miles left to go.
By the time we finished in 4:40, a full 25 minutes behind our intended pace (and a 2:32 split for the last half, or a +24 minute split) we were both exhausted, fully frustrated, and just ready to be done. We took a few pictures together, exchanged contact information, and went on our way. I met up with Ryan and Taylor again and promptly realized the worst part of the race wasn’t yet over. The temperatures at this point were in he high 40s/low 50s as it was now about 9:30 at night in December, and there wasn’t a source of heat to be seen anywhere. Not only that, but in the finisher’s corral we had to get our own mylar blankets off of the roll of blankets, and all the bananas were green and crunchy. As my body starting realizing I wasn’t running anymore, the sweat and cold shivers started. Oh, and it started to rain. Of course it did.
We wandered over to the Mandalay Bay convention center to gather my bag from the Bag Check area and find some warmth and we were greeted by tens of thousands of people already crammed in the area. We shoved our way through, with myself now wearing Ryan’s jacket (thanks brother!) to try and stay warm, got my bag, and found an empty piece of floor to change into warmer clothes and relax on.
At this point I started checking on friends that I knew were at the race and I discovered my friend Charlene was having some serious trouble, so we picked up our stuff and headed her way. We found her barely conscious and looking extremely ill. I stayed with her while Ryan and Taylor went to get her some warm tea from Starbucks and find her husband. They finally found her and we took off to try and get to the parking garage and head home ourselves. We left Charlene under the care of her husband and they ended up going to the emergency room that night.
Unfortunately, as bad as my experience with the race was, mine wasn’t nearly as bad as a lot of people’s. Charlene was sick for weeks after the race, others didn’t receive a medal for completing their race (the organizers ran out of medals), and a lot of people ended up sick from the cold and lack of water. For those that did receive a medal, we were rewarded with a Las Vegas skyline featuring the Seattle Space Needle rather than the Stratosphere tower that actually exists in Las Vegas.
From one disaster to another, the 2011 Rock n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon was a complete and utter catastrophe at all levels. I may very well never run another race organized by Competitor Group ever again.