Probably the biggest unknown of this half marathon is how to deal with a 5pm start time. Most long races are early in the morning and, after a bit of trial and error, most runners know how to successfully navigate a morning race routine – especially their food intake. But with a much later start, all bets are off. This is all further messed up by the fact that it is on a Sunday night … in VEGAS … which lends itself to really tired legs from walking all over the place and pretty messed up sleep schedules (and, quite possibly, a lingering hangover).
Nora and I were able to sleep in and then met a very large group of FFTFL members for breakfast downstairs in the Linq hotel. Since our party was
so big, we were seated outside – so we all quickly realized that it was really really cold outside. The wait staff was overwhelmed and our orders took forever, but it was nice to get to know a few people seated near me a bit better. Most of us had stacks of pancakes in the name of “carb loading”.
Although it seemed like we had all day to waste, we actually needed to get moving along pretty quickly because pre-race transportation on the monorails was sure to get really crowded. We made plans to meet at 2:30 in the lobby and head over in a small group to the starting line, which was near the MGM Grand Hotel and Excalibur. Kid Rock was playing a concert before the race, so quite a few people went down there even earlier.
A high wind advisory was in effect for race time so that made planning for what to wear even more difficult. The nighttime temperatures had been really cold for me but I know that I overheat into a hot mess within the first mile of any race. But most races start early when it’s cold but warm up over time – the opposite was going to happen on this race. So, I dressed in layers, with the top heavy layer being one I planned to toss off on the roadside when I couldn’t take it any more. As usual, this was one of our old sweatshirts that I had packed in my suitcase and a pair of cheap gloves. I did buy some arm sleeves at the race expo the day before, thinking this might be a good alternative to long sleeves, and I could push them down (or take them off entirely) if I got too warm. I wore capris on my legs, figuring that would be warm enough.
Our group made it’s way over to the concert area and listened to Kid Rock for the last part of his set. We sat around and got ourselves situated before the race – I was still shoving ShotBloks and SportBeans into my flipbelt and getting my music ready on my phone. We made a final trip over to the port-a-potties which was a way better set-up than they have had at the Rock n’ Roll race in Phoenix. They probably had well over 100 set up for the runners and so we didn’t have to wait in crazy lines like I’m used to.
I was in corral 30 which I think was for an estimated 2:20 finish – which was not going to happen. I’ve done enough of these races now to know that I don’t need to worry about being in the correct corral and that nobody seems to care themselves. It is a little annoying because when you want to run early in the race and you get stuck behind a line of friends that are walking (in a 2:20 pace corral) then it adds extra distance to your race to get around them. Anyway, I just parked myself in what I thought was Corral 30 but later realized that they pack had already shifted forward quite a bit. I was probably closer to where I should have been anyway.
And so we stood there … and stood there … and stood there. It was really really cold and the wind was picking up. There was also a slight drizzle of rain and that concerned me more than anything. If it started raining, with that wind, I may not warm up at all – even when I start running. The only comforting thought was that I knew, within 3 or 4 miles, I would be running in front of our hotel and could ditch the race if it was unbearable.
As I inched towards the starting line, I received a text from DeAnn, Brennan’s mom, asking me when the race was. I told her I was about to
get going and took a photo of the starting line to show Brennan. Good timing! That got me a bit more pumped up.
Finally, they counted down to start our corral. The music was blasting and the crowd was fun, but we were all cold and ready to get going. The first mile or so felt great and the rain held off, for the most part. We headed south down the Las Vegas strip and then doubled back on the other side of the road and started heading north. At that point I had finally warmed up enough to take off
my old sweatshirt at toss it on the side of the road, crossing my fingers that the weather stayed the way it was. I had arm sleeves on and a thin pair of gloves, and that was a good combination. This was my first night race so I didn’t wear a hat and my running sunglasses like I usually do – I wish I had thought to wear a headband (or something!) because the wind was wreaking havoc on my pony tail and stray hairs were blowing around and getting in my eyes. Fortunately, after I started sweating a bit, the hair stayed in place better.
My only “goal” for the race was to finish under 2:45, which I knew meant that I had to maintain around a 12:30 pace. This is pretty easy when I am running but I knew that extended walking breaks were going to chip into that cushion pretty fast. During my training runs I had tried to maintain that overall pace. After a good mile or so I could tell that I was feeling pretty great – and that feeling continued for many more miles. I was keeping a pretty good sub-12:00 overall pace and the energy of the race was fun and kept me moving along. Running past the casinos and some small crowds that had gathered along the strip sidewalks was fun. I’ve noticed on my training runs that I tend to pick up some speed around mile 6 or so, and that happened again during the race. Historically, at mile 8.5 and further, my legs start to shut down and this was probably the most encouraging thing I discovered – I believe my strength and weight training over the past 6 months has really helped this issue. While I may not be putting in the same amount of running mileage during my training (at least leading up to this race), my legs had never felt better that far into a half marathon.
So we continued north past the Stratosphere and then took a weird loop east of the Strip through some streets in the area. It was dark, boring, and not very energetic. And then the wind caught up with us. As we turned back west and headed into downtown Las Vegas, the really strong winds hit us … hard. I ran up next to one of the FFTFL members, Dave, and I stopped to walk and chat with him for a minute or so. Not too long after that, a plastic grocery bag literally blew ONTO my shoe – like a sock – and I had to stop and peel the thing off … which was not easy at all because that required me to stand on one leg, bend down, and get this thing off in the wind. I had to hold onto Dave to keep from falling over.
Once we headed back down the Strip towards the finish line (which looked so far away!) the wind had sapped any energy and enjoyment out of me. It was really uncomfortable having so much dust and wind blowing at my face and eyes. It was really cold. It felt like it was pushing us sideways and backwards – if it could only have been blowing from behind!
My pace slowed down to a crawl and all the extra cushion I had for a goal finish was slipping, quickly. I made the mistake of keeping my eye on the overall pace of my race – but I neglected to take into account that my Garmin was putting me slightly ahead of the actual mileage markers. So while I might make my goal according to my own GPS, I wasn’t going to make it by the chip time. Anyway, I pushed on as hard as I could. I was so miserable and just wanted to get to my warm hotel – or any warm, non-windy building. I could see the finishers walking back up the street with the Mylar blankets and that motivated me to just get done. I finally crossed the finish line with a chip time of 2:44:33…so, Yay!
I collected my medal, banana, pretzel, chocolate milk … skipped the beer because I was too damn cold … wrapped up in my Mylar blanket, took a quick photo. I was so incredibly happy that our hotel/casino was literally
about 30 feet from the finishers’ chute exit. As much as I wanted to go watch the other FFTFL runners come in, I had to go get warm. I intended to run up to our room and get a jacket, etc. and get back down but by the time I got to the elevators I started receiving text notifications that they were finishing. I had really wanted to see my roommate, Nora, cross the finish line of her very first half marathon.
After warming up and showering, we all met up for a bite to eat and then a bunch of us went on the High Roller (Ferris wheel on steroids) at the Linq hotel. I think it was about midnight at this point! It was a really neat experience – each pod of the wheel holds up to 45 passengers, pretty easily too. You can hire a bar cart to go inside but we just bought our own drinks at the bar in the lobby and took those in. I think the whole ride was at least 30 minutes and you can see the Vegas strip and surrounding area. It was really beautiful at night and a good way to wrap up our time together, as many would be leaving in the morning.
Monday morning we slept in and grabbed some lunch at a sushi restaurant. After packing up and saying goodbye to my new friends, I took a taxi to the airport and headed back home. I got to hang with John at the airport – so that was fun. I was wearing my race shirt on the plane and dozens of people commented on the race … and especially on the wind. It really was a game changer I think.
So, all in all, it was a fun race. I would probably do it again, although I’ve heard that there is almost always a wind issue…which would suck to repeat. The best part was the weekend and experiences surrounding meeting everyone. I did love running at night though and hope to find another long race like that again some day.