Who doesn't love an excuse to go to Vegas? That excuse fell right into my lap when I had signed up for the first Rock and Roll Series event to be held in Pittsburgh. The race was supposed to be held in August. But when it was cancelled in April I had already paid, so I had the opportunity to transfer to another race. I scrolled the list of possible cities until I found the last race of the year: Las Vegas. It was a no brainer. I quickly transferred my bib and signed up my hubby too. Running on the Strip at night was just too good to pass up.
On Friday, November 15 we had an afternoon flight to Las Vegas. We departed around 4:20 pm ET and landed in Vegas around 6:30 pm PT. After we landed, we located the taxi stand and made it quickly to our hotel, The Flamingo. Upon checking in, we upgraded to a room with a view of the Strip. At the time it didn't seem like a big deal but later I would be glad we did it. We would have awesome views, see beautiful sunsets, and also be able to see the finish line of the race. After dropping off our bags at the room we headed over to Caesars Palace to eat at Beijing Noodle #9. Not only do I love the food, but they have awesome fish tanks.
On Saturday morning, November 16, we headed to the race expo to pick up our packets. The expo was held at the Las Vegas Convention Center. The convention center is located along the monorail which also happened to be directly behind our hotel. The walk to the Flamingo monorail platform also gave us a great view of the Linq, which is the largest ferris wheel in the world. The wheel wasn't running yet, but it's supposed to be working by Christmas.
The expo was probably one of the best I've attended. Packet pick up was very easy and you got everything (bib, race bag and shirt) in one area, as opposed to having those items in separate corners of the expo. I'm also starting to enjoy the expos more because it's a great place to learn about vendors and try new products without commitment.
Sunday, November 17: It felt really strange to sleep in on race day. This was the first half marathon I've done at night. I think there are pros and cons to both. But for Vegas, a night race seemed to be the only way to go.
Planning your meals is also tricky for a night race. Usually for a morning race, I eat my breakfast of eggs and oatmeal and I'm good to go. However, since the race didn't start till 4:30 pm, the pre race meals required more planning. We decided on having a large breakfast and then a snack before the race. We had breakfast at the Flamingo buffet which gave us multiple options and multiple plates of food. Later in the day I had a protein bar as a snack. In hindsight I probably should have had a larger snack, maybe included some fruit, as I found myself a bit hungry before the race.
After breakfast we went back to our room and tried to stay off our feet. Fortunately we were able to watch the Steelers game in our room. (When I'm on the west coast, it always seems strange to watch NFL football at 10 AM.) We could also watch the set up of the finish line on the Strip.
At 2pm we decided to leave our hotel room and make our way to the race. Our hotel was approximately 2 miles from the start line. (When booking the hotel I decided I'd much rather walk to the start line than walk from the finish line to the hotel after the race.) We decided to take the monorail to the MGM Grand, which is the last stop, and then walk the rest of the way to the start line festival. The pre race festivities were located in a large parking lot south of the Tropicana. The set up was great. There was plenty of space to sit, stretch and also warm up There was also a pre race concert with All American Rejects. It was fun to sit and listen to music and also people watch. At most of the races I've done I would consider myself to be one of the less serious runners. Here it became obvious pretty quickly that we were more "serious runners" in this race. People were in full costumes, women wore tutus, men wore tutus and there were more Elvis costumes than I could count. I even saw a few people drinking beer before the race!
Around 4 pm we decided to locate our corral. We were in Corral 23 which was on pace for a 2 hour 20 minute half marathon. We decided to snap a few pictures before the race started.
Like most larger races, the Vegas race used staggered starts. This approach is great for the safety of runners, but unfortunately it also means a long waiting time for the middle of the pack runners. They spaced out the corrals by approximately 1 minute between each corral. So even though the race started at 4:35 pm, we wouldn't cross the start line until after 5 pm. By that time the sun had completely set.
Once the race started, I felt giddy, like a little kid. I was smiling and laughing as we started out. It was completely dark now and something about starting a race in the dark felt like so much fun. Whenever I start out a long distance race, I always pay attention to my pace for the first two miles. I like to make sure I don't make the mistake of starting out too fast. After 2 miles I'm usually into my race pace and can make adjustments easily. As we ran from the start line, it got really dark. I wanted to check my pace, but I couldn't check my watch because it was too dark. Sure, it has a button to light up the screen, but fear of hitting the wrong button during a race kept me from doing that. I would just have to go with how I felt. Looking ahead there was a DJ blasting music. Green strobe lights were shooting out of the stage. We were next to the airport and planes were taking off. I looked to my left and saw a full moon. This was awesome.
I really loved the beginning of the course. It takes you south away from the major casinos and then turns you around to see the famous "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign. I've taken several trips to Las Vegas and this time I finally got to see the sign. After seeing the sign it was onto the Strip. The view of the Strip was amazing. It looked like we were running into a neon tunnel. And I couldn't wait to get there. At mile 2, we started running past the casinos. Along with the casinos came the crowd. It was very exciting to hear the crowd and see the lights.
I can't give a mile by mile recap of this race, because I lost track of the miles! This has never happened to me during a race. Even when I don't know exactly where I am, I usually make mental notes when I see mile markers, so I know what mile I'm on. But here I was; somewhere between mile 4 and mile 7. I had become so distracted, I didn't know where I was. I guess Vegas will do that to you.
I have to be honest; I really thought this race was going to be easy. Considering the terrain we run in Pittsburgh, I thought running in Las Vegas would be a piece of cake. I was wrong. For some reason, I struggled during parts of this race. I'm not sure if it had to do with the race being at night, the walking we did the day before the race or the high heeled wedges I decided to wear to dinner the night before (bad idea). For whatever reason, this race was more difficult than I expected. But that really wasn't a major concern considering this race was all about having fun.
After mile 9 we made a left turn onto Freemont Street in downtown Las Vegas and then another left onto Las Vegas Boulevard. Running back towards the glow of neon lights was a great feeling. It meant we were getting closer to the finish line. Once we got to mile 10, I started counting down the miles. Seeing the major casinos also meant we were getting closer. FIrst, it was the Stratosphere. Next, I remember seeing Circus Circus. The pain was setting in. I wanted the race to be over. I kept looking at my watch to see how much further we had to go. Things were getting pretty crowded towards the end of the race. Usually we like to pick up our pace and finish strong, but a lot of people were walking so that made it difficult. Eventually, we reached the Fashion Show Mall. There was a good sized crowd there which was great to help make the final push. Once we passed the mall I could see the sign for the Mirage. I got excited because I knew the finish line was there. We crossed the finish line with music blaring and lights flashing. A few seconds after we crossed the finish line, the volcano at the Mirage erupted. Now that's what I call a finish!
We crossed the finish line at 2 hours and 20 minutes. Exactly the time I had predicted on our entry forms. It felt really special to finish this race. When we crossed the finish we looked over at Cassars Palace, where we got married. (Yes, I was Vegas bride!) It was a fun race to do together in the city we got married. Once we crossed the finish we were quickly handed our medals and stopped to get our photo taken.
The finish line had a nice setup. There was plenty of room and plenty of post race goodies which included: bagels, bananas, Gatorade, Powerade bars, pretzels and my favorite, chocolate milk. Once we consumed our bagels and chocolate milk, we crossed to street to our hotel. Walking into a casino right after a half marathon was a pretty cool experience. You're still experiencing the thrill of completing a half marathon and then you walk into the world of a casino and all the sights and sounds that go along with it. Other runners were walking around with medals proudly displayed. Some of the gamblers at the slot machines gave us strange looks. I had stashed some cash in my running belt for the post race festivities. We headed to Sin City Brewery which had a happy hour that basically lasted all day: 9AM-9PM. Since we finished right before 8 PM, we were in luck for happy hour.
After Happy Hour, we decided to get showers then find something to eat. Pre race, my plans were to shower, do my hair and makeup, wear a cute dress and squeeze my swollen feet into high heels. Post race, I saw this wasn't realistic and managed to shower, dry my hair, wear jeans and a t-shirt and flip flops. Once showered, we went back downstairs and ordered a pizza. Seeing how it was after 10 PM at this point we decided to eat pizza in our room and go to bed early. We were exhausted. I figured I would sleep really well that night, since I was exhausted from the race. However, I found it hard to come down from the race and sleep soundly.
Monday, November 18, was our last full day in Vegas. We didn't care to be on our feet much so we decided to rent a car and drive to the Valley of Fire State Park. If you are ever looking for a day trip from Vegas, I would highly recommend visiting the Valley of Fire. It's a little over an hour to drive to the park from Vegas, but you'll feel like you are in the middle of nowhere. Also, if you've been an East Coaster your entire life like me, you will find the terrain absolutely amazing.
We spent close to two hours at the park looking at the formations. After our time in the desert we drove back to Vegas to eat at In and Out Burger. This was our first trip to In and Out Burger and it was excellent. The burgers are great and super cheap! While we had the rental car we also visited Freeds Bakery. Even though we got our wedding cake from this bakery we had never visited, so we decided to stop by on this trip. Fortunately you could buy slices of wedding cake. The cake from Freeds is the best I've ever had and I don't even like cake! After visiting the bakery we returned to the Flamingo where I got to see an awesome sunset.
Some finals thoughts on the Las Vegas Rock and Roll Marathon: If you are looking for a race to run your personal best, this probably isn't the race for you. The race is extremely crowded, even with the wave starts, you will spend a lot of time running around people. Don't take yourself too seriously with this race. The idea is to have fun! If you ever wanted to dress up as a running Elvis, this is your chance and you will have plenty of company. Las Vegas is a unique place. In most cities, the marathon is the major event of the weekend and the host city stops to watch and support the runners. Las Vegas is a city of hundreds of events. So in this town, even though you are in a major event you are still the side show to everything else that goes on in the city. In other words, don't expect the gamblers at the blackjack table to run out of the casino to watch a few thousand people run. Overall, running the Strip at Night provides a unique experience that I can't imagine happening anywhere else. I hope that this race sticks around for a while and I can do it again in the future. For now, farewell Las Vegas, until we meet again.
Author: Sarah Warman
I like to run, take pictures and write. I've combined all three in this blog.