If you were on Twitter or Facebook this morning, I bet you weren't expecting the write-up of my experience at the Las Vegas Rock & Roll Half Marathon! This took a long time to write, for many reasons, but oddly enough my mojo-restoring mini-sprint triathlon this morning got the "I'm going to finish this thing!" writing juices flowing!
The Las Vegas Rock & Roll Half Marathon wasn't just a race--it was an entire weekend experience. It wasn't just an entire weekend experience, though. It was the culmination of months of...well, I'd like to say hard and consistent training, but it wasn't that, either...more like scraping together enough training to feel okay about completing the course within the cutoff time.
This is a long one. Sit back, grab a cup of your stimulating beverage of choice...here we go!
The Tribal Invasion
It all started when MizFit and Bookieboo decided to run the Las Vegas Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon. Lots of bloggers got excited about the idea, and Foodie McBody offered a place to stay on the Strip. I gave my husband "pretty eyes" (wide eyes with batting eyelashes; my daughter does that quite effectively when she wants something) and mentioned something about it being the ideal Christmas gift. So when I got the go-ahead, I jumped on it: told Foodie I was in, registered for the race, and booked a flight.
Thus committed, I started training. But then, as regular readers know, my training went awry. Each time I ran, I had these shooting pains in my leg, starting around my ankle. I ended up resting the leg, getting a referral from my doctor for a podiatrist, and needing to get new shoes, orthotics, and an ankle brace. *sniff*...gone were the days of cheap running shoes! On the other hand, my new shoes (New Balance 1123s) are super comfy!
Oddly enough, a weekend that had seemed like it was going to be "Fit Bloggin' West" started dwindling: life circumstances and injuries saw lots of people cancel their plans to be there. I was a little worried about ending up as the lone blogger, but luckily Foodie McBody and her daughter, Jr. McBody, were still game, as were several other members of the healthy living tribe. I would still be in good, if fewer, company.
I Lost My Modesty in SFO
So I packed my bags, did my pre-trip freaking out (eeeek! I'm going to big, bad Las Vegas! Without my family! How am I going to get to the hotel? What am I going to eat? EEEEEEK!), and the next morning I drove over to the airport.
The trip was quite smooth. I guess my only weird moment was ending up in the security line that went through those new scanners. I wasn't crazy about the idea - you have to stand with your arms up inside the thing, which seems kind of demeaning. However, they don't project your image on a screen for everyone to see, thank goodness...although, heck, the TSA might be able to spin off a little side business, offering people a "souvenir photo" of their scanning. Commemorative t-shirts, maybe? I think a photo shirt with the slogans "The TSA Didn't Touch My Junk..." or "My Mom Went Through the SFO Security Checkpoint and All I Got Was this Stupid T-shirt" might work.
The plane flight went well (with the most funny pre-flight talk I've ever heard). I enjoyed the marvelous company of Charlotte Hilton Andersen...well, not in person (bummer!), but through her incredible new book, The Great Fitness Experiment: One Year of Trying Everything! I finished this book later in December. In Mythbusters fashion, Charlotte and the Gym Buddies put various fitness programs to the test. I loved reading about each of the experiments, and the pros & cons of the various fitness programs they did. I adore Charlotte's writing and sense of humor, and it was such a treat to have it in book form! As MizFit mentioned in her review, it's also a fitness memoir. It goes deeply into Charlotte's personal experiences and how they affected her fitness experience. I think my only word of caution would be about some of the personal essays (in particular, the December chapter's). I don't know everyone's experience with sexual assault, so just be forewarned if reading about it would trigger mental or emotional pain that you would prefer not being triggered. Who of us wouldn't feel pain to read of anyone going through that experience? I found it painful and uncomfortable to read about; not something I've had to go through myself, but it makes me so angry that "people" treat other people like that. No one deserves it. Anyhow. The personal essays give context and depth to Charlotte's fitness experiments. I especially found her treatment of body image issues to be powerful, and I think that it could be healing for many (women in particular) to read her insights.
I arrived in Las Vegas and met up with Jr. McBody to share a cab. There were tons of people, and it took awhile to get a cab to the Expo. Not only were the foot racers in town, but the National Finals Rodeo folks were there, too - that explained all the people sporting cowboy hats!
Plastic Is Burning
We arrived at the Expo and met up with Foodie. I was relieved to get my packet and t-shirt, and then we hit the expo.
Candy? Or sushi? So confusing....
The OTHER thing I was looking forward to on this trip was the opportunity to see the Cirque du Soleil show "O," which I'd heard was amazing and had hoped to see if I ever made it to Vegas again. (The last time I went was 13 years ago; our company sent us all out there to see the Cirque du Soleil show "Mystere." It was the day after we'd just hosted a party, and I was beat, so the frenetic atmosphere of Vegas was a bit much. Had someone told me that 13 years later I'd be going back to do a 1/2 marathon, I would never have believed the person. I think I would have fallen off my chair laughing, with maybe a floor roll or two. I know that's kind of a cliche image, but it would have truly been my response.)
By this time, I was pretty ravenous. We ended up eating at the Bellagio, in a restaurant called Yellowtail, which is a Japanese sushi bar-style place. The young waiter cracked us up ("Hi, I'm server_name, and I'm going to be hanging out with you tonight!" Uh huh.), he initially offered me black tea or Earl Grey when I asked for tea (but it worked out okay and I ended up with the desired green tea, in a handsome cast-iron teapot), and the menu had some interesting specials. One, which Jr. ordered, was a crab sushi roll with watermelon Pop Rocks candy. I suspect this is the one that the chefs laugh about people ordering, because candy in sushi? Yep, works about as well as you'd think. Everything else (tempura, spicy tuna roll, and roasted eggplant) was superb.
At one point, I noticed water shooting past the windows. We saw people going out the French doors, and sure enough, there was a small patio, from which we had a splendid view of the Bellagio dancing fountains!
So then, we took a cab (I've never ridden in so many cabs in my life!) back to the hotel...
...and everyone tried to get to sleep....
"ready as I'll ever be" - Foodie McBody, December 4, 2010, 11:15 pm
"Likewise. Go to sleep!!! ;-D " - my responses, 11:18 p.m.
"Why aren't YOU sleeping?!? LOL
OK, I'm shutting down now." - Foodie's response, 11:21 p.m.
I always get lousy sleep the night before a race, and this was no exception. But eventually I drifted off for awhile...
"Go, Johnny, Go"
Then all of a sudden, it was 5 a.m.
Our grand plan was to get ready, then to wander over to the Sahara and get a cab from their back entrance and arrive near the Mandalay Bay on a side street across the strip. And, other than a few very tense moments of wondering whether a cab would show up, we got one. And sure enough, we got dropped off pretty much across the strip from the starting line.
The atmosphere of intense, palpable excitement caught me by surprise. There were helicopters hovering over the starting area, tens of thousands of people excitedly milling about, and scenes from the event were broadcast onto the Mandalay Bay jumbotron sign...wow-o-wow!!!
What they don't tell you? Is how unbelievably far the starting line and corrals for the wave starts are from the bag check. We got our obligatory photo with tinsel boas, and then I packed 'em up and did the hike (at least a good 1/2 mile round-trip) to rid myself of the bag and hit the port-o-potties.
So back to the corral. Foodie told me that Mrs. Fatass was there, at the front of the corral, except she meant her corral. So I wandered around, checking out the chest of every brown-haired woman in Corral #31, looking for a "Mrs. Fatass" t-shirt, and shyly calling out "Sue?" Er, sorry if I creeped anyone out....
So after milling a bit, and watching Elvises and even an Elvis SpongeBob SquarePants pass under the starting arch, our group began to slowly move forward. I realized that yes, I felt like I had to pee again. Our group took at least 40 minutes to inch our way to the start, but I'm so glad they had a nice, gradual wave start and no one got trampled. And oh, look! There by the start! Port-o-potties, all in a row, with lines that didn't seem long. Amazing how long it seems for 5 people to go pee when your wave has already started.
(And what am I doing, stopping to take a picture?!? GO ALREADY!!!)
When I emerged, the Blues Brothers impersonators were belting out "Go! Go Johnny Go!" and I abandoned my idea of a slow start. I pelted through the starting arch and down the strip to catch the back of the pack.
As I trotted along, I kept an eye out for Mrs. Fatass, and I was in luck! I was so happy to finally meet her in person! We walked for awhile and chatted about our weekends so far, and other stuff. I wasn't sure how long she'd want company, so I was very happy and honored to read in her report that I was a welcome distraction! ;-) I decided to jog on ahead at the 5K marker, and so we snapped a photo and continued with our races.
The part of the race on the main strip was tons of fun. There's plenty to see, lots of music (and not just the race bands) playing, and just a great vibe. I was delighted at how well-stocked the aid stations were throughout the entire race, although I found myself having to watch my step a bit from all the dropped & crushed cups in the middle of the road. The volunteers were great, and my mind boggles at the logistics of planning and implementing something like this.
"What the **** Was I Thinking?!?"
So I "wogged" along merrily until about mile 6. That's when I had to start dealing with not only the mental part of the race, but also the distinct lack of inspiration along the course. It was the section between The Strip and Downtown. We passed pawn shops, liquor stores, apartment buildings, bleak wedding chapels, a Federal building. We did get a brief enjoyable glance at Fremont Street and some of the famous old neon signs of Las Vegas.
Foodie McBody likened this part of the race to the "Harry Potter maze of death." Here is the map of my thoughts during the taunting that was miles 6-9:
The scenery didn't have as much to offer, it was hard, but that's when the camaraderie seemed to kick up a notch. People on the course chatted with each other, I met a lovely fellow racer from Zappos, I stopped to get photos and take photos of other racers at the part where you could see the old "Las Vegas" neon signs.
I wasn't the only one who waved my hands in the air like I didn't care (au contraire - like several others, I did care about getting puffy hands). I liked offering to take photos of some of the couples, because I know it's tough to get both parties in the picture.
After passing mile 8, I entered the undiscovered country: this is as far as my training, such as it was, had taken me. It's funny, though. I never thought that I wouldn't make it. Not really. Oh, sure, I knew that if injury happened, I'd quit, or if I felt seriously ill, I would quit. These things happen to people during races sometimes. But barring those, I was going to keep going.
Any Port-o-Let in a Storm
So I was very glad about the amount of facilities on course. Because all that hydration is going to catch up with a body, and sometimes your digestive system has its own "What were you THINKing?!?" moments. While I thankfully didn't experience any moments needing this product, the 2 "bio breaks" probably sucked up at least 15 minutes of my race time. The one I was a little peeved about was the break where I saw one with a line of about 5 or 6 people near the medical table. I wasn't sure where I'd find another one, and I didn't want to run with that sort of pain. So I waited...and waited...and waited....FINALLY! As I dashed out and around the corner, there they were: the 20 or so general use ones with no lines. (Someone could have told us, perhaps? Oh well.)
"Ain't That a Kick in the Head"
So I emerged from the Maze: hip sockets and knees aching, muscles feeling fine, and my ankles had never been better. I'd been sticking to my food and hydration plan, but also did a bit of my usual trying new things on race day. I tried my first Gu...hmmm, goopy. I drank the electrolyte drink stuff. I kept moving.
Yeay, there was music again! I typically don't work out with any music other than the ambient stuff at the gym, so I was used to not having it, but it sure does put a spring in one's step. I saw the back of the pack and the follow-up vehicles once I got to the strip. I finally passed the Stratosphere...9 miles..."Christie O. does a whole one of these and swims over a mile and rides a bike 50 something miles - OMG, how???"....noticed the "Nascar Cafe" that would have impressed Thing 1...Hi, hotel! *sigh* "Miles to go before I sleep"...mile 10. Oh my gosh. Only a 5k race to go! I'm really going to DO this thing!!! I noticed some racers dashing back out from from one of the casinos...with beer. Boy, that looked good! And then I caught sight of the Mandalay Bay: the end was in sight! Still kind of far, but in sight. I got a little teary as I jogged along. I was hurting, man was I hurting, but not in an injured way, so I just kept shuffling along. At almost mile 13, our lane was next to the marathon (OMG, I cannot even imagine!) finish lane. Then right in front of the Mandalay Bay, there were the Rat Pack impersonators, singing, "Ain't That a Kick in the Head."
Deano, you don't know the half of it.
So there was mile 13. The sign I never thought I'd see. The last .1 was pretty cruel, up the only "hill" on the course, and across the neverending parking lot. And there was...the finish? For reals?!?!
For reals!!! I wanted to get photos of this, because heaven only knows when--if ever--I'd feel like doing something like this again. So there I was, walking and futzing with my phone, and getting a crummy picture.
"Um, Pubsgal? Isn't this when we should be racing toward our triumphant finish!?!"
Yeah, I know. Something for your amusement: Official race photos and finish line video. With me walking, then doing a last-few-yards' dash. I had no idea that I would be able to view video of not only my approach to this monumental finish line, but my having crossed it, too! Otherwise, I would not have bothered futzing with my phone. That video cracked me up, though. It captures the tension in one of these races for a blogger: how much should I be "in the moment" and how much should I stop to capture the moment in photos.
Mr. Handsome-and-Handy bought the crossing-the-finish-line photo for me. And there I am, arms raised in thanksgiving and relief, lips pursed in the hearty "Woo hoo!" of victory, bracelet glistening on one wrist (bracelet which has talismans from my girlfriends, both those I've known a long time and those whom I have met and have yet to meet through the wonderful world of blogging), cell phone in the other.
So there I was. Done with a half-marathon, and lapsing into what triathlete Jayne Williams dubbed "Post-Race Stupidity Syndrome." It doesn't just happens to triathletes...or maybe it only happens to us, whether we are doing a triathlon or a foot race or whatever. The post race was already kicking my posterior. I wandered in a daze, and someone handed me a medal. Huh? Oh, yeah, medal! Sweet bling! I went through the photo-with-my-medal chute. I walked in circles a few times in front of the medical tent, because I was feeling kind of iffy and I wanted to make sure I was near someone who could help if I collapsed into a heap. I ate a banana and felt a little better, and I walked some more. I decided I was going to be okay, and I wandered out of the finish area to gather my checked-in items. I tried to call and text my husband, to let him know I'd survived the race, but cell phones were reduced to shiny river rocks in the post-race area.
Thank goodness I found Foodie McBody, because I needed to see a familiar face of someone who had also survived this race. I burst into tears. And then wiped my eyes, and mugged for a photo.
So here's the part not everyone mentions much in their race reports: the getting-back-to-somewhere-in-which-one-can-collapse part. As Foodie mentioned, it took us an hour and a half to return. Thankfully, there were two monorails that conveyed us most of the way. But there was also the painful journey through the bowels of the MGM Grand to the monorail station...it felt like MILES. I just trailed, dazed, in the wake of the McBody women, stopping with them to eat the most welcome ever tuna sandwich of my life, finally getting to the monorail - hey, a monorail! Thing 1 would love this! - hiking through the Sahara (which was familiar from that morning), then up the driveway of the Hilton, up to the room, and aaaahhhh....Oh wait, I need ice.
Ice, Ice, Bay-beh!
So I figured out how to do an ice bath. It was heavenly. I followed instructions I'd read, and I ran a lukewarm tub. I got in, put a little ice in, and then put some of the ice in a plastic bag and iced the owie parts. Which was just about all of my joints. My muscles felt fine (thank you, Zensah tights!!!), and I can't believe it: NO blisters. Unbelievable.
I soaked, I was finally able to talk to Mr. Handsome-and-Handy and my merry crew. I emerged, still munching on nuts and things, and then I felt really cold, so I bundled up and hung out in the bed for awhile. And then we went were off for dinner at Serendipity III. But not before the ride in the "Caustic Cab."
"It's all these people from California"
Unlike "Cash Cab," in which you have the opportunity to win fabulous wealth (or at least get reimbursed for your cab fare in a major city), "Caustic Cab" was the delightful domain of the Angry Taxi Driver. We had taken a veritable legion of taxis over the weekend, and I was amazed that we hadn't encountered an Angry Taxi Driver until then. He started grousing the minute we got in about how awful a weekend he was having, how people were stiffing him on his tips (astonish me!), and the like. "It's all these people from California," he muttered as he rounded a curve. Gulp. We all nervously eyed each other in the back seat. We are about as crunchy-granola California as a group could get. On he drove, and just about every word from his lips could not have been more accurately targeted to offend us had they been calculated to do so.
I guess our silence finally soaked in. We a little over halfway there, and he asked where we were from.
"From California!" I chirped.
"What part?" he inquired.
Oh, this was rich. "San Francisco Bay Area!"
At that, bless him, he had the grace to laugh. That "oh I just shot myself in the foot but good" laugh. And we then talked about non-flammable subjects like places with beautiful scenery.
"I Just Finished a Half-Marathon, Heck Yeah I'm Going to Eat That!"
So we then enjoyed a tasty dinner at Serendipity III, where we all shared some of their frozen hot chocolate, some Kobe beef sliders (yum!!!), and I had a great crab cake salad. We were a little worried when they only brought 2 baskets of sweet potato fries, but there ended up being more than we could finish. We walked over to the Caesar's Palace taxi stand, and the sitting had made me stiff and sore. I was hobbling so noticably that Jr. asked if I was okay. I wasn't so sure...I felt kind of queasy. But the feeling passed. We bid a fond farewell to Jr., took a cab back to the hotel, and then, as Foodie so eloquently put it, we respectively "CRASHED HARD."
"Well, I'm Back"
The trip home went smoothly. Hopefully I wasn't too much of a pain in the patootie about getting to the airport sufficiently early, which made us both way early for our flights. I made it home in time to hang out with my dad (who was visiting that weekend) and Mr. H&H until it was time to pick up the Things from school. Oh, it was so good to see everyone!
Of course, the kids were curious if I'd "won." It's hard to explain how I feel great about a race, even with having 17,895 people kick my hiney. ;-) My pace would not impress any of the runners out there, in fact, any snooty ones out there would scoff. But in having a great experience with friends, and by overcoming my fear of the distance, the frustration of injury mid-training, and the minor worries about travel and logistics, I feel like I won big time.
I also feel pretty darn lucky to have only about 24 hours of feeling gross after the race. My ankles felt a little fatigued and sore after the race, but it was a different sore than my injury, and rest + gentle activity did the trick. In fact, I had a follow-up appointment with the podiatrist the Wednesday after I got back, and it was such a kick to tell him that I'd finished a half-marathon on foot only a few days before.
What Happens In Vegas, Stays in Vegas...
...unless you're among bloggers, in which case, it gets texted, Tweeted, Facebooked, photographed, videoed, and blogged about. Here are some other reports I've run across from those of "the Tribe," as MizFit calls those in our little corner of the blogosphere. (If I've missed yours and you want me to link to it, please comment with the URL of your write-up!)
@FoodieMcBody - "I Finished a Half Marathon!"
@MrsFatass - "gadzooks" (Part 1) "@mrsfatass: 13.1" (Part 2 - the race!)
@EatingJourney (Mish) - "Marathon Recap, Part 1" (Part 1)
@FitMacDaddy - "Las Vegas Marathon Race Report - No Luck on Race Day"
@AHealthyDad - "Las Vegas Rock & Roll Marathon Recap"
@OperationJack - "Race Report: Las Vegas Rock N Roll Marathon"
I have to admit, while I'd toyed with the idea of doing 13.1 before (in fact, it was a "maybe" on my 2010 goals list), it was the fact that I'd get the chance to do this with blogger buddies that made me commit. I really think this article by Emily B Malone of the blog The Front Burner, "You Don't Have to Run a Marathon", speaks nicely to not letting the "I'm not a real runner/athlete/healthy person if I don't go long" bug bite you. As my mother-in-law wrote when I emailed everyone about the race, "You gotta wanna." And this distance or longer? You reeeeeeally gotta wanna.
I'm not sure if I ever want to go 13.1 on foot again. I have a profound respect for the distance now. I know I would not do so without better training. I would definitely choose a local event, because that "not quite feeling ready but I dropped a chunk of change on this" feeling? Sucks big time, even with modest goal of finishing before the cutoff in a walker-friendly race. And I didn't get that same surge of excitement about the idea of trying 13.1 again as I did when I finished my first triathlon, which I know is kind of screwy, because the foot race is a part of triathlon. This race, this distance, taught me that I can dream big, but it can only be real if I can commit to training big. "Now" is not the right time, but you know what they say: never say never!