Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Personal Record, but.......

Rock 'n Roll Las Vegas.....where do I start? 

I guess I'll start with my expectations for this race.  I ran this race last year and had an absolute blast.  It wasn't my best race since I was dealing with some hip flexor issues, but it was still a ton of fun.  So without hesitation, my friend Monika and I signed up again on the very first registration day. 

When I started my running journey about 4 years ago, I couldn't even run two solid miles without a walk break and gasping for air.  My first 1/2 in January of 2009 was a 2:34, which was one of my proudest moments...I actually cried when I crossed that finish line.  Since then, I have been chipping away at my time, each race faster than the one before.  When I ran Rock 'n Roll San Diego in June, I managed a 2:09:23.  I decided then that my goal for Las Vegas would be the 2 hour mark.  I had 6 months to get there. 

I've mentioned before that my life went a quite a bit sideways over the past 6 months, so getting in the miles has been extremely tough.  I'm not running as much as I would like to or as much as I need to.  But you just make the best of it.  In November, I ran the Women's Half Marathon in Scottsdale, and even though I hadn't been running that much, I managed a 2:04:41.  Inching closer. 

I knew that 2 hours was definitely in my grasp.  Just 4 minutes and 41 seconds to whittle away. 

Enter the power of Twitter.

I happened to mention to Charlene from F.A.B. Running (Running with Charlene)  that I wanted a sub-2hr at RnRLV.  [If you don't follow her on should!  @CRagsdale]  So she gave me the strategy that she used for her two 1/2s (1:56 and 1:44):

Run a 10 mile race. Get to Mile 10 by 1:30, pick it up a bit to get to Mile 12 by 1:48, then give it all you've got without killing yourself until the finish. 

So now I had two strategies to pick from:  going with Charlene's 10 mile race plan or going with a pace group, which had worked for me in the past.  Hmmmm....

Looking back (hindsight is 20/20!), there were lots of 'red flags' going into this race. My friend Monika new there would be problems as soon as she saw the map for the course....the merge of the full and the 1/2 runners had "potential disaster" written all over it.   Then we were leery of the whole idea of a night race.  We do run in the evenings, but all our long runs are in the mornings.  This was our 6th 1/2 marathon, so we've figured out what works for us as far as eating and would we adjust this to a night race? 

And then there was the expo.  Definitely not as good as last year.  The layout was terrible.  Who thought to put the official merchandise checkout basically in the middle of the room? Last year all the official merchandise and the checkout ran across the back of the room, leaving the rest for all the vendor booths.  This year, the room was kind of cut in half, making the layout awkward and crowded. And with 44,000 runners, "cramped and crowded" wasn't what they should have been going for. 

Monika and I at the expo.....yes, we match.  Yes, we're dorks. 

We did get our race shirts, unlike some people who came later in the day, but the sizing was definitely weird with the Women's shirts.  Luckily, I had selected medium instead of my usual small, so mine fits. 

Oh, and this was a bonus in our bag:  real head lamps!  We are running Ragnar Del Sol in February, so these will definitely get used. 

Monika models the headlamps!

And we did have a lot of fun with this display....made for some interesting Facebook postings, that's for sure!

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At the expo, Monika and I decided that we would go ahead and sign up for the 2-hr pace group.  I still had Charlene's strategy floating around in my mind, but we opted to go for what worked in the past.  The other three girls in our group went for the 1:52 pace group.  Monika didn't want to pick up these signs, but I told her that wearing these would make us commit.  Little did I know......

Onward to race day.  First of all, it was really bizarre sleeping in on race day.  I felt like I needed to be somewhere.  We went to a breakfast buffet and filled up on a good breakfast at about 10 am.  Then we basically relaxed, snacked, and drank water the rest of the day.  Again, we had NO clue how to handle our eating for this evening race business. 

At about 3:30, we decided it was time to get ready and head on over to Mandalay Bay.  We were staying at the Luxor, so we didn't have to go far.  I have to say, I stressed over my clothes.  It was freezing in Las least to us who came up from the Phoenix area!  I had brought a couple of options for race wear just in case, but I was really conflicted as to what to wear.  In the end, I went with capris and my long sleeve, but kind of light-weight, Brooks shirt.  I threw some sweats and a fleece pull over in my gear check bag for afterwards.  Another thing I always do is carry my own stuff.  I fill one bottle with water and one with Cytomax and then I carry 2 or 3 Vanilla Gus (the only flavor I can stand), pinned on my race belt so I can just reach down and rip them off. 

I carry my own stuff for a variety of reasons.  I like to be able to eat and drink when I want to, aid stations are zoos, and I'm just used to having it on me. After hearing that they were short of supplies on the course and that the water came from fire hydrants and was stored in big trash cans, I'm especially glad that I always have my stuff on me.

Off to gear check.  Luckily the Luxor and Mandalay Bay are connected by corridors, so we didn't have to walk outside to get to the gear check.  But honestly, getting there was a pain. Where was the signage?  There were thousands of runners wandering everywhere, and very little direction about where to go.  We just followed the herd of runners that still had their gear bags, assuming that we'd get there eventually.  After all, we had an hour to check our stuff and get to our corrals.  Plenty of time, right? 

Our group:  Michelle, Monika, Deb, Me, April

We finally made it to gear check (uneventful) and had 45 minutes to get to our corral.  Monika and I were in Corral 9 and the others were in Corral 5.  Getting out of the MB Exhibit Hall was an adventure.  There was NO crowd control.  People were trying to file in and out of the same set of doors. Just another red flag....

We wandered out and toward the corrals.  Again, no signage or volunteers directing people.  With 44,000 runners, crowd control is a MUST!  When we finally found the corrals, we were at corral 20....and need to get up to corrals 5 and 9.  No easy feat.  Thousands of people were just crammed in the walkway along the corrals.  No one was directing people at all.  Spectators were just standing there, not letting runners get through.  We pushed our way along, and finally just jumped into corral 13 and worked our way up through the actual corrals. 

In every other race I've been in, there is a volunteer making sure that people are entering the correct corral.  Not at this race.  There was no one checking bibs.  People were just jumping into whatever corral that they could get to since the crowds were keeping them from getting to their actual corral.  And I know for a FACT that there were runners in the corrals with no bib at all...they were bootlegging the race. 

Monika and I finally made it to corral 9, with about 10 minutes to spare until start time.  We immediately looked around for the 2 hr pacer....couldn't find them.  In fact, lots of runners were looking for that pace group and couldn't find it.  And since Monika and I had our "2:00" signs pinned on our backs, people were assuming that WE were the pace group!  HA!  The first corrals were starting, and still no sign of the 2:00 pace group (we found out later that it was in a corral further back, not in corral 9 like we were all told at the expo).  So I made a game time decision:  I was going with Charlene's 10-mile race strategy. 

Monika and I formed an unofficial group with a few other runners.  I had my Garmin, so I told them my strategy and said I'd get us to Mile 10 by 1:30.  By the time our corral hit the start, I'm pretty sure they had already given up on the wave starts.  It was chaos.  People walking right from the get go.  There shouldn't be walkers in corral 9.  People were actually shoving other runners.  I mean, at the start there is usually some bumping and jockeying for position.  And typically if you bump into someone, a quick wave (the universal "sorry!")  is in order.  But I was actually pushed by other runners, with no apology or acknowledgment.  No excuse for that. 

And the clothing.  When you're in a race, and you start to strip off your sweatshirts, gloves, etc., it's just proper race etiquette to make sure to toss things off to the side, out of the way of runners.  Didn't happen here.  People just dropped things right in the middle of the road.  The road was dark (even on the strip) and congested, so these clothing items became serious hazards.  You often didn't see them until you were right up on them.  Lots of dodging and jumping going on. 

And the merge.  Who the HELL thought it would be a good idea to essentially dump a bunch of marathoners right in the middle of the later corrals (which we all know means slower runners and walkers) of 1/2 marathoners?  Ridiculous!  Sure, there were cones that were supposed to designate a marathon lane.  But the cones were really spaced out, poorly marked, and often knocked over.  I admit, there were times that I ran just inside the marathon lane in order not to run into other runners.  But I never got in the lane without making sure that I wasn't cutting someone off, and I always jumped back into the half lane as soon as I could.  And all the aid stations were on the side of the road that required the half marathoners to cross the marathon lane to get water!  Dumb! 

Monika was running just off my left shoulder, and every mile I'd turn around and give her a time check.  At mile 6, I turned to tell her the time...and she wasn't there.  I did a quick look around and couldn't find her.  She knew that I was hell-bent on dominating this race, so I just kept on going. 

I was in some kind of weird zone.  Other than the defensive running tactics that I was having to take not to trip over discarded clothing or run smack into the back of someone who didn't move over before they decided to come to a complete stop, I was aware of very little going on around me.  The lights of the strip?  Eh.  I was too focused to pay much attention. 

Another issue I had with running at night?  My vision.  When I run during the day, I wear my sunglasses, which are prescription.  I don't have to wear my glasses all the time...if I don't need to see detail or read something far away I just skip them.  But my night vision sucks.  And I don't wear my glasses when I run.  When I would try to look too far ahead, everything was a little blurry. Couple this with running, and everyone's heads bopping up and down, and it's a little dizzying.  So I just focused on a spot on the ground about 8-10 feet ahead. goal was to get to Mile 10 by 1:30.  I was booking it on the strip.  I was running a 8:45-8:50 pace, which is crazy fast for me, but I felt really good.  However, those who ran this race know that the part off the strip sucked.  It was narrower, congested, and had a lot of turns.  Not to mention it was dark, the road conditions sucked, there were no bands, and very few spectators.  So I was forced to slow down a little at several points during this section.  As I approached Mile 10, I knew it would be close.  My time at Mile 10:  1:31.  Then I did like Charlene suggested, and dug a little deeper.  But by this time, many people were slowing down and walking.  Since the crowds never thinned out the entire race, I was fighting to keep a steady pace.  I knew that it was going to be really close.  I kept an eye on my Garmin, and just pushed myself like I've never pushed before. 

But it wasn't going to be enough.  As my time ticked over the 2 hr mark, and I could see the finish, but wasn't quite there, my heart sunk.  I knew I was going to PR, but I couldn't help but be a little sad to see my 2-hr race slip away. 

I crossed the line at 2:02:26.  Then I hit a wall....literally.  Everyone was at a complete stop. The finish area was complete and utter chaos.  No organization for handing out medals or mylar blankets.  I also know for a fact that they gave medals to people that didn't even have race bibs....hope they feel guilty now that they know they didn't have enough for people who actually paid for the race (one of my friends did not get one).  I immediately became cold, light-headed, and a little out of it. Some man was trying to talk to me and I felt like I was in a fog...couldn't make out a word he was saying.

I grabbed a blanket and tried my best to keep moving.  The picture stops were a nightmare.  I fought my way through that mess to tried to get to the food.  Where I was quickly disappointed.  I think they picked those bananas right off the tree before the race. I have never seen such green bananas!  And the rest of the food was slim pickings. I just grabbed a Cytomax and skipped it.  I needed to find a place to sit before I passed out. 

We had agreed on a meeting point before the race, so I headed there, where the other three ladies in our little group were already waiting.  Now I was worried about Monika.  After I waited a little while, I sent her a text.  No response.  Typically Monika is a much faster runner than me, so I didn't expect her to be too far behind. 

Finally she showed.  And was not in good shape.  She said she started not feeling well about 1/2 way through the race, and at Mile 10 she stopped and threw up.  Then she had to fight her way to the end.  (But even sick she managed a 2:17, so kudos to her!)  We needed to get her inside, so we took her into the gear check area and sat her with some of the medical volunteers.  I went and got our stuff (which took forever), then went back to get her warmed up and get some fluids in her. 

After sitting there for a good 30-40 minutes, we started heading back to our hotel.  And the corridors were INSANE!  No crowd control, no system for getting people in and out.  And we were some of the earlier finishers.  A friend of mine that finished later on and got stuck in the mob was texting me and telling me about all the people puking, passing out, etc.  Apparently it was a real nightmare.

We finally made it back to Luxor, showered, and then went downstairs to find something to eat.  Yeah right.  It was 10:45pm on a Sunday night.  All the buffets closed at 10pm, many of the restaurants closed at 11:00 and weren't seating anyone else, and the ones that were still open were insanely crowded.  Driving off the strip wasn't an option (traffic nightmare) and neither of us were in any shape to walk very far.  There were thousands of hungry, grouchy runners that just wanted something to eat.  Fail, Vegas!  If the casinos would have kept their buffets open a few extra hours that night, they would have made a killing. 

All in all, this race is going down as my least enjoyable.  It was too crowded and way too unorganized.  And the marathoners were completely and utterly screwed over.  I don't know about next year.  If it's at night, definitely not...I don't think evening races are for me.  If there are 60,000 people like rumored, probably not.  They couldn't accommodate 44,000...what makes them think they can accommodate more? 

So what's next for me?  I am already registered for Rock 'n Roll Arizona.  It will be my first full.  I'm totally undertrained, and don't know how I'm going to get all the miles in over the next 6 weeks.  But my only goal is to finish, and I think I can manage that. 

After that I have Ragnar Del Sol in February. 

But that 2-hr half still haunts me.  So I think I'm throwing another race on the calendar.  The IMS Arizona race is February 19th.  Sure, it's only 6 days before Ragnar, but I think it will be my best chance at a sub 2-hr race.  It's downhill, flat as a pancake, and a relatively small race.  And it's only $60.  I've got to go for it. 

Besides, I need to get the bad taste of the Rock 'n Roll Las Vegas 1/2 marathon out of my mouth.