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.


  1. Great job running in the dark!!. I can't imagine a Strip with no are down it.

    Bummer about the VIP section at the beginning pretty much being non-existent for you. And to spend 90 minutes waiting to start? I'd probably have to pee twice in that time. :-)

  2. Congrats on your finish. Would you run this race again?