Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Las Vegas Hangover

Did I really do that???  I rolled over and looked at the clock....8:24 AM.  Where am I and was it all a bad dream?  Then I was fully awake.  It was not a bad dream.  It wasn't even a dream at all.  I did actually run the Las Vegas Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon last night. I dreaded it, I showed up for it, I did it, and now it's done.  And, other than the enormous crush of humanity at the start line, it wasn't as bad as I'd feared. Come to think of it, it was pretty damned cool!

I climbed out of bed, the old joints protesting a tiny bit until I'd taken a few steps and loosened things up a bit, and then contemplated what I'd done and what to do next.  One more day in Las Vegas before flying home on Tuesday morning, so the whole city was there for the "taking."

There's a great cafĂ© here at Signature and yet I've not even explored their menu, so once showered and dressed, I took the elevator down to the lobby, purchased a Starbucks vente cappuccino, then walked to the Signature tower 2 lobby and ordered myself a tasty brunch of smoked salmon on a bagel with cream cheese, capers, and fresh fruit cup.  The perfect treat after a night-time half marathon.

Salmon, cream cheese and capers on a bagel...yummm!!

My legs were begging me to get some walking in, so off I went, toward the MGM Grand lobby and casinos, easily a 1/2 mile walk through their covered pedestrian connector.  At first I thought I really ought to sit down at a slot machine just to say that I did it.  After all, I am in Las Vegas.  But after wandering through the maze of electronic machines, I just couldn't bring myself to choose one.  But I did see this great photo op, perfectly describing how I feel after running a race at night and not falling asleep until well past midnight.

Guess I'm just too logical and scientific to be lured into throwing my money away.  I could better "throw it away" on tangible items like post cards for the grandkids, a ridiculously cute 3-D refrigerator magnet for myself, and some decadent cupcakes at MGM Grande's Corner Cakes bake shop.

Really cool 3-D fridge magnet

Several months before leaving on this trip, I took advantage of special discounts offered to Rock 'n' Roll race participants and bought a ticket to see Million Dollar Quartet at Harrah's (click the link to see some outstanding video clips).  I chose the 5:30 PM show so that I could have a nice dinner afterward.  I dropped my cupcakes off in my room and then went back down to the MGM Grand lobby and took a cab to Harrah's.  I'd picked up my will-call ticket on Saturday and didn't even look to see my seat assignment.  I was pleasantly surprised to realize I was in the front row, near the center.  Wow!!

It's a small theater, with both theater-style and booth seating.  Since I was alone I'd chosen the theater-style seating.  There was a nice little bar inside the theater, so I bought myself a glass of wine to enjoy during the performance.

And what a performance it was!  It was so well-cast, it was startling, as each performer had significant resemblance to the character he was portraying.  And their singing voices!  Oh my!  Very entertaining and very well-done!!  The website synopsis:
  • Tony® Award-winning musical Million Dollar Quartet takes audiences back to December 4, 1956, when an extraordinary twist of fate brought Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins together in what became one of the most memorable nights in music. Based around that historical event, the musical recounts how the legends ended up in the same room at Sun Records in Memphis for one of the greatest impromptu rock ‘n’ roll jam sessions in history.

My toes were still tapping as I grabbed a taxi back to MGM Grand.  As I walked through this huge property, past the huge selection of restaurants, I tried to decide what I was in the mood for.  So many choices.  In the end, I chose to have dinner at Emeril's.  It wasn't crowded at all, in fact none of the restaurants were, this being a Monday.  The food was scrumptious and the service impeccable.  A very pleasant evening!

Time to pack, see if everything still fits into one suitcase (I did, after all, spend some money at the race expo), and then prepare to check out of the hotel in the morning, get a cab to the airport, and then fly home.  It was one of the very few times that I wished I were staying another day or two.  The Signature at MGM Grand was so perfect in every way, and the things to do, see, eat, visit at MGM Grand were so varied that I could easily stay there a week and never leave the property.  Until next time.....

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

I Ran the Las Vegas Strip at Night!!

Run a half marathon at night?  This was going to be a "first" for me.  While I've done plenty of training runs in the dark and have started a number of races in the predawn darkness, I've never run 13+ miles of a race completely in the dark before.

I also decided it best to run with my glasses on.  I've never done that before, either.  They are progressive lenses, correcting for reading in the lower part of the lens, and correcting major astigmatism in the upper part of the lens which helps my vision at night.  While I really don't need them to see while running, since I'm farsighted, I did feel I'd need them to see my Garmin watch in the dark and was also concerned about being able to negotiate the finishers chute and the streets in the dark afterward.

And then there's that whole "how do I plan my nutrition and hydration" thing when the race day is turned upside down.  Well...I was about to find out.

My first thoughts when I woke up race day morning were, "This is feeling very weird."  I know it's race day, but how to plan the day, what to do, what and when to eat,  Just about the time I should be relaxing post-race and getting ready to enjoy a nice celebratory dinner, I will instead be walking the mile or so to the start line of the Rock 'n Roll Las Vegas Marathon/Half Marathon.

As I always do on these destination race trips, I brought a Ziploc bag of Cheerios with me and made sure I sourced some bananas once at my destination.  So early on race day morning, I had my usual breakfast - nothing new or different on race days - and then after spending a couple of hours getting caught up with my blog, email, Facebook and whatever else I could do to kill time, I got dressed and ventured out for a Starbucks and then had a very tasty late lunch at The Grand Wok at MGM Grand - two pieces of nigiri and some beef lo mein - and it was excellent, with plenty of left-over food to take back to the room for a late night dinner after the race.

Before I knew it, it was time to get changed into my running clothes, gather everything I'd need for the race, and then start moving toward the door.  I began to see a trickle of other runners leaving The Signature hotel and working their way through the walkway to the MGM Grand lobby.  That trickle turned into a parade, as we all trooped through the casino, past gamblers and drinkers, headed for the exit at the Tropicana Blvd pedestrian overpass bridge.

Plenty of Elvis impersonators in the house!!

Las Vegas Blvd - the strip - had already been closed to traffic, thankfully, as the sheer number of runners heading toward the start line area completely filled the road and sidewalks.  I spotted at least a dozen runners dressed as Elvis as we made our way.  Another popular theme was "bride" and there were many women wearing white tutus and wedding veils.  A few other goofy costumes were spotted, as well, and I marveled at these runners' ability to actually run well while wearing some of this stuff.  Come to think of it, maybe they can't.

Several months earlier, I'd paid big bucks for the VIP package, thinking it would ease the pre-race experience.  Boy, was I ever wrong.  $200 totally wasted!  Here's why.  I was assigned to corral #43, pretty far back in the pack.  Even though the race starts at 4:30 PM, the Race Event Guide estimated that the start wave that my corral was in would reach the start line at approximately 5:30 PM.  My corral was pretty far back in that particular wave, so I estimated about a 6;00 PM start time. This meant I really didn't need to get to the runners village until 4:30 PM or so, still giving me plenty of time to chillax at the VIP reception.  But when I headed that way, they were herding all of the runners out of the runner village area and toward the corrals.  No more light snack in the VIP reception area, no more private VIP portapotty for a last minute pee.  Nothing.  I stood in line with the masses to make one last portapotty stop before getting trapped in my corral for the next 90 minutes.

I took this photo after our corral had shuffled its way around the corner
and onto Las Vegas Blvd....still a loooooong way away from the start line
which isn't even visible from this far back.
We slowly shuffled our way up toward the start line as the sun sank behind the mountains.  It was already a bit chilly but as the sun began to go down, so did the temperature.  They had heaters set up along the sidewalk to provide a bit of heat to everyone standing in the corrals, but as we shuffled along, we could tell when we were in between those heaters.  Brrr!

Each corral was released, one at a time, every 90 seconds.  It was agonizingly slow.  As we got to within 4 or 5 corrals of reaching the start line, one of the gals who was within earshot of me told her friend she really had to pee....bad!  Well, of course, there's nothing like the power of suggestion.  Every female within earshot of her agreed, including me!  My greatest fear: being trapped in a corral for an hour and a half with no portapotty in sight!

Getting closer to the start line.  Now it's visible, but still 5 or 6
corrals away from toeing the line.
And then with a count-down, a burst of pyrotechnics from the start line arch, and we were on our way.   We started next to The Mandalay and then headed south on Las Vegas Blvd for a mile, then made a u-turn and headed back north.  Thankfully there were a large number of portapotties right there at that u-turn!  I didn't lose too much time there and then was back on the course, running among the huge masses of other runners up toward the bright lights of the Vegas Strip.

At some of the key photogenic spots along the way, the organizers made sure that the professional photographers had positioned themselves for runner photo ops.  The first of these was at the iconic "welcome to Las Vegas" sign on the south approach road, near the airport.  I took a moment to step in front of that sign and have my picture taken.

Iconic Welcome to Las Vegas sign...
at mile 2 on the route

There was something just oh-so-cool about running up Las Vegas Blvd at night!  This whole, wide, multi-lane divided boulevard was completely closed down to traffic and we had it all to ourselves, which gave us unparalleled views of the Strip in all its brilliant glory.  As we got into the "thick of it" the spectators were several deep along the sidewalks and on the pedestrian overpasses cheering us on.

We continued north, out of the bright lights for a couple of miles, then ran through what I can only describe as "the wedding chapel" district.  There was a wedding party waiting in line outside of one of the chapels and all of the runners cheered them as we passed by.  Fun!

In the old fashioned motor court section
along the route, north of the strip, south of Fremont

Lots of old-school motels still glowed with neon as we continued on our route north and I could tell we were nearing the old downtown area.  But before we could get there, our route turned us east onto side streets for a couple of miles, running past churches and schools and tidy little houses before we were eventually brought up to the famed Fremont St.  Once we turned west onto Fremont St, the whole glitzy downtown lay ahead of us.  What a sight!!   We ran under the pretty Fremont East District arch near Container Park and continued toward the bright lights of the old, original downtown.  It was spectacular!

The race from my Garmin GPS watch

Now the home stretch....the last 3 miles to the finish.  Back on Las Vegas Blvd heading south, back past the old motor court style motels, past the wedding chapels, back toward the modern era of Vegas on the Strip.  The Mirage hotel and its tall tower came into view but still seemed so far away!  But gradually it grew nearer and then a slight bend in the road and I could see the finish line a few tenths of a mile ahead.

Finisher... medal around my neck, chocolate milk in hand!

And then there it was...the finisher timing mat, the volunteers handing us water, giving out space blankets, handing us our finisher medals, bottles of chocolate milk, bananas.  I confess to being in a bit of a daze as I shuffled through the very long finisher chute.  I realized I'd passed a table with bags of pretzels and backtracked to grab one and then spotted the volunteers giving out Power Bars, so grabbed one of those, too.  I never did find the free beer.  I'd even taken the time to get my ID-checked wristband at the Expo a couple of days earlier.  Oh well....

As I walked through the very long finisher's chute, I could see Serendipity III, a cafe at Caesar's Palace and location of the VIP finisher party.  But for the life of me, I couldn't figure out how to get there from where I was.  I was starting to get cold and starting to shiver a bit by this time, and just didn't have enough left in me to figure it out.  I still had more than a mile walk to get back to MGM Grand and that's where I headed.

As I passed through the lobby and casino area of MGM Grand on my way to The Signature, I stopped along the way and bought a champagne split to take to my room.  Jumped in the shower, put my jammies on, and then heated up my leftover beef lo mein and enjoyed a late dinner and glass of champagne.

The finisher medal:

Here's what my 50 States map looks like now. Lots of blue!

46 states done...just 4 more to go!

Monday I'll relax, have a nice late breakfast at one of the cafe's then see Million Dollar Quartet at Harrah's before flying home on Tuesday.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Getting Ready to Rock in Las Vegas!

Time to get that last Western state - the state of Nevada!

There's a huge Rock 'n Roll Marathon/Half Marathon held every year in Las Vegas NV. It's the largest of their races held nationwide.  I registered for the race as soon as they opened sign-up, taking advantage of a short discount window.  This is one of the most expensive races in the country, but registering early helped significantly with the cost.  Still pricey, though.  Then I booked a room at the Signature at MGM Grand Hotel and got a very good AARP rate, better than the special housing rate through Rock 'n Roll.  6 months later I booked airfare and got an excellent price on a first-class ticket.  I was ready; just needed to stay healthy and uninjured through the next several months and dozen or more half marathons.


Now it's mid-November and race time. My 1:00 CST PM flight went without a hitch and  I was at the Signature Hotel by 3:30 PM PST, checked into my hotel room and heading for the Monorail station for a short and easy ride north to the Las Vegas Convention Center and packet pickup.

Packet pick-up at the race expo

Las Vegas Convention Center 

I've only run one other Rock 'n Roll race and the expo for that race was big and glitzy.  Las Vegas expo was big and glitzy x 10!  It was huge but well-organized and not too crowded so I was able to take my time, not feel rushed or jostled as I shopped the official logo wear booth.  I spent more than just a few dollars but picked up three really nice tops, two of them RnR logo running tops - all Brooks Running brand - and an adorable long-sleeve non-logo top that I can wear anytime, not just for running.  Afterward I had dinner at the sushi restaurant at MGM Grand then headed for my room.

Next morning I took advantage of the Starbucks in the lobby and ventured back out onto the Strip to explore.  But before leaving the MGM Grand, I bought a ticket to see KA for the evening performance and then took the monorail to Harrah's to pick up my will-call ticket for The Million Dollar Quartet for Monday evening.

I exited Harrah's and headed for Bellagio but got totally turned around as I tried to navigate the cross-over bridges and found myself diagonally across from where I need to be.  Comfortable walking shoes are a must when negotiating this city!!  Finally, I made my way to Bellagio where I enjoyed The Conservatory with it's Fall-related displays and then had lunch at Cafe at Bellagio.

Beautiful displays at the Conservatory at Bellagio

Bellagio is a gorgeous hotel, but huge!  All of the hotels/casinos here are like rat mazes, difficult to find your way and lots and lots of walking!  Once again, I got totally turned around and ended up exiting through an adjacent hotel/casino and had no idea where I was relative to where I needed to be. I found myself on a side street and my smartphone GPS was unable to pinpoint my location, the little blue dot bouncing from point to point in the general vicinity but never landing anywhere specific.  So what's a girl - whose feet are tired - to do?  Grab a cab!  $5 and two blocks and I was back at The MGM Grand hotel.   What a day!

The Cirque Du Soleil KA performance was unique, not typical for Cirque du Soleil, but a very entertaining and enjoyable way to spend the evening.  Afterward I made my way to the Buffet restaurant and had a late dinner then called it a night.

Tomorrow:  Race day and a long few hours before it will be time to walk to the start line for a late afternoon sunset start to the Rock 'N Roll Marathon/Half Marathon.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Boardinghouse...A Stage Production

One of the many benefits of living in my nice community is having so many activities, groups, and clubs to choose from. One of those clubs is the CountryPlace Players.  I quickly became involved with them after we moved here, mostly because many of my neighbors were involved, but also because I did quite a bit of stage acting while in College.  I was a member of the student Entr'actors and performed in a number of musicals and dramas.  It's fun...I love being on stage!

Over these last several years I've done everything from acting to prompting, lighting to sound.  As our Players group have gotten more and more ambitious, so have the demands on sound and sound effects.  When the club took on the very ambitious South Pacific a few years ago, it became apparent that the sound booth needed to move into the 21st century.  So I donated a laptop computer to the club and quickly became the sound effects 'expert' since no one else seemed to have the computer skills needed to manage, "rip," edit, splice, and otherwise manipulate sound files.

We've staged some fantastic productions, none of which would have been possible without the use of computer sound effects.  Our most complex and brilliant production was a play entitled 'Black and White TV' written by one of our residents.   It included scenes from a number of familiar 50's and 60's TV sitcoms - I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners, to name a few - and had many TV commercials from that same era:  Alka Seltzer, Timex, Texaco, and many more.  It was so much fun producing this clever and brilliant ensemble!  I sourced, edited, spliced more than 35 sound effects including all of the commercial jingles, sitcom theme music, noise effects, using some unusual and unconventional and "suspect" methods to obtain some of them.

There are usually 3 productions a year:  a musical or broad comedy, a mystery, and a melodrama.  This fall we produced a hilariously funny comedy called The Boardinghouse, filled with eccentric and funny characters and ripe with puns, double entendres as well as subtle humor and many layers and "threads" of continuity.  We were commenting among ourselves how, every time we watched a rehearsal, another tiny thread became obvious.

Rehearsals - view of the stage from the sound/light booth.
Sound effects files queued up on the computer

The sound effects were relatively simple but timing was critical.  In addition, we had a cast of 10 actors and at times, they were dashing on and off the stage in rapid succession, making the microphone sound board a real challenge.  At times it took two of us to manage it.  But it was fun, the play was one of our better efforts, and the audience really enjoyed it.  We marveled at the times that the audience consistently laughed at lines that we didn't realize were truly funny.

Play program and my annotated script for sound, lights,
and microphones.  A busy time in the sound/light booth!

The best part?  We had 3 new actors on stage, two of them men.  We really need those additional men added to our troupe.

My covered dish....a vegetable platter with blanched
asparagus and blanched green beans, hummus, and greek
cucumber yogurt dips.  

Our club has its traditional cast party after the last dress rehearsal and everyone usually brings a covered dish and BYOB, and it's a fun and relaxing time for everyone before the actual performances begin.  It's at these rehearsal dinners that the new actors are recognized.  They're given little statuettes with the name of the play and the date inscripted on the base, gag gifts really, but all in good fun.

I wonder what our next production will be??

Sunday, November 2, 2014

A Dash and Run

I don't know what I was thinking when I signed up for the Jazz Half Marathon in New Orleans.  I registered for it early last summer, while my son's family were still living in Mandeville.  I knew they were soon to be transferred, yet it just didn't click at the time that I wouldn't be combining this race with a family visit.  It wasn't until several months later that it dawned on me.  Duh!

So now the trip across I-10 to New Orleans would be a "dash and run" kind of trip.  I left the house Friday morning after rush hour was over, arrived in New Orleans around 3:30 PM, and got checked in to the very nice Marriott Courtyard Hotel on Julia Street.  Excellent location for the race...just a block away from packet pickup at the Marriott Convention Center Hotel, an easy walk to any number of good restaurants, and just a few short blocks away from Lafayette Square where the race will start and finish.

My car valet-parked and my bag stowed in my hotel room, I walked over to the Marriott, picked up my race packet, stopped at a convenient little corner market and bought some bananas, then had an early dinner of seafood gumbo and crusty French bread at Mulate's before settling into my room for the evening.

A 5:00 AM wake-up and I was out of my room at 6:30 AM to walk over to Lafayette Square.  It had turned cold and windy overnight, as a Blue Norther swept down from Canada, poking its cold fingers deep into Louisiana.  I was thankful that I'd grabbed that old fleece pullover at the last minute as I was leaving the house.  The temperature was 46 degrees, with 25-35 mph winds, giving it a "feels like" temperature in the mid-thirties.  Capris, a long sleeve shirt with my Half Fanatic singlet over it, a kerchief around my neck, gloves, cap, and the old fleece barely kept me warm as we waited for the race to start.  Any thoughts of discarding the fleece at the start line were abandoned.  I kept it on as we got underway.
Somewhere along the route...bone chilling cold wind!

The route sent us south on Camp Street for a few blocks and then east toward Convention Center Blvd.  We ran south for a bit, then did a U-turn and headed north to Poydras, then ran north on Poydras all the way to I-10, u-turned, and then ran south to St. Charles St.  We stayed on St. Charles through the warehouse district, through the Garden district, all the way to Audubon park.  A nice but long loop around the park and then back onto St. Charles street all the way to the finish line.

Jazz Half Marathon route.  Data from my Garmin GPS watch

There were only 4 bands - I should say kinda-bands - along the way which, for a half marathon calling itself the Jazz Half Marathon, was a bit of a disappointment.

By around mile 8 the temperatures began to relent as the sun got higher in the sky and the wind was noticeably less ferocious.  I shed my fleece pullover and left it alongside the road as we ran back down St. Charles St.

Crossing the finish line

Finally, I made the last of the turns onto Camp Street and had only a few tenths of a mile left to go. All of the church bells in the vicinity of the finish line were pealing, which was pretty cool.  I crossed the finish line, collected my finisher medal, and then entered Lafayette Park in search of the abundant local food specialties that we were promised.  I circled the park and all I found were empty spots where tables used to be.  I could tell because of the overflowing trash cans sitting next to these empty spots.  All the promised local cuisine being offered up by local restaurateurs was long gone as were their food trucks.  There was not one single bit of food left, not even a banana.  I knew there were still quite a few runners out on the course, as there was still an hour left in the race window.  So running out of food really is inexcusable.

Fortunately for me, I'd tucked a $20 bill into my pocket and had done a little Google research, so I knew there was a fantastic little bakery on Magazine Street - The Bittersweet Confections - right on my way back to the hotel.  I stopped in and bought a cappuccino and two cupcakes to bring back to the hotel and enjoy as I recovered, and then showered and dressed before checking out and heading home.

I'd considered blowing this race off since I already have the state of Louisiana for my 50 States quest, but then realized the 72 hour cancellation policy on the hotel room had expired.  I was feeling somewhat burned out after doing 4 half marathons in 2 weeks.  I wasn't sure I was up to another one so soon, and I really felt like I needed to take a break before the RnR Las Vegas race in mid-November.   I'm glad I didn't cancel out though, as the medal is fantastic as was the race route and despite there being no food at the finish, it was an otherwise well-done race with great race support at the water stations and start/finish line.  It's just that it took some mental fortitude to withstand the weather conditions and to overcome my strong desire to drop out, to quit before finishing.

A nice finisher medal to add to my collection:

Next:  A two week break, then it's Las Vegas, baby!!