Race Review: The Las Vegas Rock and Roll Marathon 2015

Cold, windy, rainy and fantastic.

Key Information

Race Name The Las Vegas Rock and Roll Marathon
Location Las Vegas and North Last Vegas, Nevada
Elevation Profile About 2000 ft. above sea level. Flat with some elevation gain approaching mile 15.
Organization Top Notch!
Terrain Streets.
Water Stations Sufficient water and Gatorade stations. Several GU stations as well.
Highlights Running down the Strip and through part of Downtown (Glitter Gulch).
Other Events 5K, 10K and a half marathon.
Good for Beginners? Yes.
Key Takeaways
This is a night race starting at 4:30pm. It is best for those who can run the 26.2 miles in under 4 hours.  The time limit is 5 hours from the release of the last corral, but services begin to close up after about 4 hours after the start of the race.

THE COURSE: The course begins at the south end of Las Vegas Boulevard (The Strip) by the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino and proceeds about a mile south and then loops back for a long straight run north up the Strip to Downtown Las Vegas.  Once downtown, a few miles are eaten up serpentining of the streets leading up to a left turn at 8th and Fremont Street.

With a short run towards (but not in) Glitter Gulch, the course makes a left turn back onto Las Vegas Boulevard and start to head south again towards the Strip.    A short while after this turn, the half-marathoners continue their way back to the Strip and the marathoners makes a right turn for a 13 mile extended adventure.   Marathoners run past the jail and through a festive little industrial complex on to Martin Luther King Boulevard.

At the turnaround. Note the Stratosphere Casino on the right side of the picture.
Through an industrial complex toward MLK Boulevard

Martin Luther King Boulevard brings a long 5 miles stretch slightly uphill.  That leg seemed harder than it was because in the dark, I couldn’t tell how far it was until the turnaround, so there was this constant “are we there yet?” thing going in my head.

The course doubles back on itself after the turn around at mile 15 then adds a mile or so up a side street, but after that it’s a pretty straight and easy shot back to and through Downtown Las Vegas and up to the Strip.   Mile 25 seemed to take forever, but all in all the this race goes very quickly (for a marathon).

ELEVATION PROFILE: Las Vegas is about 2,000 ft above sea level.  If you play tennis in Vegas you will notice that the ball flies a lot more than it does at sea level because the air is slightly thinner.  As an asthmatic, the Vegas air has never been a problem while running. 

The race starts at about 2,200 feet and is mostly flat. The elevation profile graph makes it seem that the race is dowhill at first, but that’s an artifact of the small scale of the Y-Axis on the graph.   After the first mile, the next 9 miles are downhill at an imperceptible -0.45% grade.  The climb that follows to mile 15 has an unremarkable +0.38% grade.   The last mile up to the summit of the race is a 1.3% grade; nothing too daunting, but the cold dark and 15 miles behind me did made it seem worse than it was.

Elevation Profile Through Mile 24

After Mile 15, there is a short hill to climb off a side street, but it all feels flat after that.

THE WEATHER: The Southern Nevada desert in November at night, is cold.  The sun set about a half hour into the race, but the course was generally well-lit.  It was not necessary to carry any additional lighting.  The weather was supposed to be clear and about 65°F at the start of the race, dropping down to the mid-forties through the fifth hour of the race.

Storm clouds at the start line. Wind and rain ensued

A  storm moved in early in the race. The average wind speeds were 19 mph with maximum gusts of 40 mph at times.   There was a barely perceptible rain at first, then it became a bit heavier and then stopped.  It was enough to wet the course for about an hour and my feet for the duration of the race.

RACE ORGANIZATION: The race was well done from beginning to end.   The Expo is held at the Las Vegas Convention Center and parking was free.  Bib pickup was easy, there was lots of merchandise available for purchase.

IMG_1037There were about 40 corrals, each one was relatively small.   They were the width of one side of the street and about 20 people deep.   The corrals seemed to be released about a 90 seconds to two minutes apart.   The early miles of the race were crowded and slow.

There were plenty of water stations and a few with gels.   Those stations started to tear down about 4+ hours after the start of the race.    By the time I was making my final miles, there were all shut down and the huge water containers were being drained in the street.

There were medical personnel running among the crowd and there was a good police presence, especially in North Las Vegas.

My finish time did not post initially.   With a visit to the race website and a click of a few links, I notified the organizers and my time was posted within 6 hours.

MY EXPERIENCE: Truth be told, 8 of the worst 10 things that have happened to me in my life occurred while growing up in Las Vegas.  Other than the mountains the deserts and a few friends from High School, Las Vegas is not a place I hold in great fondness.  Still, for the early bird registration fee of $99, I was willing to take a go at this race.

IMG_1028I started training for this race the morning of my 50th birthday back in July.   I knew I was going to have to pick up my pace some to complete the race under the 5 hour limit.  After looking through the race finish times for the year prior, it became clear that there were a number of runners who finished in longer than 5 hours, so I quit stressing about it, but continued to work on speed.

Laura and I drove into town on Saturday morning.  We hooked up with Natalie (from the Disneyland half and the Edinburgh half ) at the Las Vegas Convention Center for Bib pickup.  Laura and I then went to a celebration of the life of a high school classmate who recently passed away. I saw old friends I hadn’t seen since high school graduation, which ironically, was the last time I was at the Las Vegas Convention Center prior that day.  That service grounded me in where I came from and put me in touch with some of the struggles my fellow classmates went through. It was a little strange, a little awkward at times, but I was among good, caring people.

The Sunday (race day) was a bit of odd situation.  What does one do on a marathon day that begins at 4:30pm?  I loaded up the car with friends and family, we had breakfast at 9am. We then took a drive out to the beautiful Red Rock Canyon. We cruised through the park only stopping twice so as not to tire ourselves out before the race.

Friends, Family and the Puppy at Red Rock Canyon

We then made our way to New York Pizza and Pasta to pick up pre-race meals.  About 3pm, Laura dropped Natalie and I off near the start line and we made our way to our respective corrals. The half marathoners and the full marathoners are intermingled.  The corrals were cozy, but I have been more densely packed corrals  in other races.   About mile 3 the crowd thinned out enough to get a full stride safely.   Then it became a matter of getting by the half-marathon walkers and the crowds of married-at-the-start-line couples and their wedding parties.

Remarkable on this run down the Strip was the Paris Hotel.  The lights on the Eiffel Tower were dark in respect for the recent terror attack in France.

As I made my way south down the Strip, I remembered my mom and I walking down this same street back in 1974 on an early November Sunday morning.   I tried to remember where the hotels of my childhood and teenage years used to be, the Sands, the Dunes, the Thunderbird, the Stardust, and the latest to go, the Sahara.  The Sahara used to have a digit clock on top you could see for miles, that world is gone now.

8th Avenue near the Downtowner.

As the race proceeded across Sahara Avenue, near where I grew up,  I remembered learning to drive down these streets back in 1980.  Lots of memories came back.   Then as we made our way down into Downtown, I realized we were getting closer and closer to a dark place from my childhood, then all of a sudden there were on 8th Avenue near Ogden, in sight of what used to be called the Downtowner Motel, now the Downtowner Apartments. When mom and I came to Vegas in the early 70’s lived for several months in a 200 square foot room at the Downtowner.   My mom would work one shift at the Downtowner front desk after working all morning as a maid in the motel across the street.   I pretty much stayed in that hotel watching Richard Dawson, Bob Eubanks, Merv Griffin and Monty Hall all day.  I remembered at the age of 9, figuring out how to make Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup on a hot plate for lunch.  I stopped for a moment to look at old place and I flipped it off.   I have escaped that life.  A few selfies later, I was off and back down a world where I used to hang out at way too young an age.

IMG_1053 (1)A bit down the road was the El Cortez Hotel a place that holds nothing but good memories for me.   My mom and I used to go there for breakfast when we had money and I would eat silver dollar pancakes.   The first time I took my family there back in 2006, they had just taken the silver dollars off the menu, but they made them for us.  That was a good day.

At the point where the course split I was happy to be away from the half-marathoners, but I also knew what part of town I was in.  As I ran by the Clark County Jail, I looked at the tall dark, foreboding building that at different times had housed both my step-father and my mother. You never forget the sight of your mother being taken away to jail in handcuffs, but as I had 16 of miles ahead of me, I decided it was better to leave those  weighty memories right there in that spot.  Interestingly, I didn’t even notice the jail on the run back towards the Strip.

Obligatory Marathon Freeway Sign
Obligatory Marathon Freeway Sign

Mile 11 brought me to Martin Luther King Boulevard and a  doozy of a headwind.  Laura had made me a windscarf for my face at the last-minute before we left for Vegas.  I was very grateful that she did.

One of the things that I have started doing during recent races is taking the time to thank the police officers along the route for their service to the community.   I started getting a little more specific in my thanks. In this race, I thanked them for their weekends away from their families and every holiday they have had to miss.   I thanked them for every drunk and every nasty person and every domestic situation they have to walk into.  The officers of Metro were appreciative of this thanks.

As I got further into North Las Vegas I wanted to dig further emotionally and thanked the Metro officers for those occasions when they walked into my domestic situations when mom and I were dealing with a PCP/Jack Daniels-enhanced stepfather and they very professionally took him away… for a few days.  Never underestimate the value of a few days respite in the middle of a nightmare.

IMG_1065When I finally made that turn around at mile 15, I was taken aback by how far the Stratosphere Casino seemed from where we were, given that the finish line was on the far side of that hotel.  The truth was we were only about 6 miles directly away, but with the night sky, the large structure seemed 20 or more miles away.

The run back after the turnaround was relatively easy as marathons go.  It was slightly downhill and the wind was at my back.  The water stations, however were being taken down. I wasn’t too worried about this as I was carrying a hydration pack.   Because of the high winds, the race organizers took down all but one of the mile markers. That made it slightly more difficult, especially  at mile 24 my brand new Garmin died.  I knew there were only a few miles left, so it was all good.  I made my way across up Las Vegas Boulevard, across Sahara Avenue, down past Circus Circus (another infamous place in my childhood psyche) and on towards Caeser’s.  About Mile 25, I heard Laura calling my name.    She was there with Natalie and they had purchased a margarita for me to consume during my last mile.   I did.

In the last quarter-mile of the race, right on cue, the song Home Means Nevada came on my iPod.   Being a child of Nevada (among other places) The State song was one of those things we learned as children, like the Pledge of Allegiance, or the Our Father (if you attended St. Christopher’s Middle School). I added this song to my playlist for this race just as a reminder of those good memories about this place.

Way out in the land of the setting sun,
Where the wind blows wild and free,
There’s a lovely spot, just the only one
That means home sweet home to me.
If you follow the old Kit Carson trail,
Until desert meets the hills,
Oh you certainly will agree with me,
It’s the place of a thousand thrills.

Home means Nevada
Home means the hills,
Home means the sage and the pine.
Out by the Truckee, silvery rills,
Out where the sun always shines,
Here is the land which I love the best,
Fairer than all I can see.
Deep in the heart of the golden west
Home means Nevada to me.

With perfect timing, the song finished as I danced over the finish line.   After I received my medal, I had one last thank you for a Metro officer at the finish line.  I thanked him for being there and I thanked Metro for being there at some dangerous times in my life.

#6 in the Books
#6 in the Books.  I won.

For the first time, after a race, I got down on my knees and thanked God for the blessing he has given me in this life.   I thanked him for the day and for the people who were in it.  I thanked him for giving me the opportunity to run this race and overcome the past.   I finished my margarita and made my way from the lights of the strip, towards my family and friends.


Race Review: The Las Vegas Rock and Roll Marathon 2015

Carpe Aestas

As of September 23, 4:21 A.M. EDT, Summer is officially over.

It has been a full and exhausting spring and summer and I look forward to telling you all few, about it.

The last thing I wrote about was a quiet peaceful day in Milan.   It sped up after that. Since then, I came home, put Tango down, my sister came for a 3 week visit, the Child graduated High School, we hosted a crawfish boil graduation party, traveled by car to Vegas, Sedona, Grand Canyon, San Francisco and down the coast back to LA. I had 3.5 weeks off work and made two work trips, one to Atlanta and another to Philly.  We got a new dog discovered mold and a foundation crack in the guest bedroom.   We moved the Child into her dorm in New York and began the experience of becoming empty nesters.   Oh yeah, and my dad had a pair aneurisms repaired.

Today, oddly, I find myself in of all places, waking up in Delaware.  Mi Vida Loco!

It’s not so much that I haven’t been writing, I’ve just been too busy this spring and summer to publish; I have many ideas, just no time or energy.

Catch you all up with the details later.

Happy Fall, Y’all.

Carpe Aestas

Milan Again, Naturally.

I find myself in Milan again. It’s about 8pm and the sun is starting to set.  The warmth betrays the start of  summer. It’s just warm enough that I notice it, and the soft breeze offsets any discomfort.

It was about 30F cooler Edinburgh where woke up this morning. Upon arrival at my Italian hotel, I put on a German feed of the French Open, that’s my life right there.  After a 2 hour nap (I slept through the 45 minute alarm)  I went out to buy a few things to nibble on in the room. Rather than rush back and put my head in a computer, I decided to sit a bit in this little square and write.


When I landed in Linate Airport this afternoon, I flashed back on 17 years ago, when my wife, baby daughter and I arrived at that same airport.  It was my first time in Italy.  We were the last ones off the bus to customs and the line was out the door.  I set my wife and child up in seats and took my place at the back of the line with all our bags. Within moments, a security official approached Laura and lead her to the front of the passport line. I grabbed the bags and scurried to catch up.  Seems that the idea of a mother and child waiting around in a cold crowded passport control station just wasn’t acceptable to the officials.  I liked Milan from then on.

I have been here a half-dozen times since. I am always rushing when I am here.  Today, however, is a national holiday, celebrating Italy becoming a republic.  For that reason, today was a day of celebration and not working.  That’s why I decided to sit for a bit and watch the world go by as represented by this little square.  Life is short.

Carpe Aestas people and Ciao!

Milan Again, Naturally.

Running Out

It’s 7am on Saturday and time is running out.

The plan says to run 20 miles and the temperature is climbing and the best time to go is immediately!!!

But the painters have vacated the premises and it’s time to put the house back together.  I can’t just run out on the girls (again #guilt).

Then there is packing for the trip and when can I print out the boarding passes?

And I need to go into work for a while to do a thing.

I still have to pack and prepare and program the thing.

And there is Easter.    When will we get to church?

Only 29 days until the big race, 70 days until the BIG trip, and 63 days until vacation.

Feeling a little manic right now.

Just need to slow down and prioritize and get done those things which are important and figure out what will be left undone.  Begin with the end in mind, figure out what the best world looks like on Monday night and work backwards.

I feel better now.

Running Out

Running 50 Miles in One Week. A Hundred Miles in February.

There is a precarious social line of perception between pride and bragging.   Texans, I’ve noticed, do pride really well.  Sometimes, people look at them and go “enough already with the flag and the lone star and the boots and the hats”, but mostly all that is just the expression of their pride and that is who Texans, generally are.

Runner pride is also mistaken for bragging (although, I will say, if you tell me how many seconds you knocked off your PR, my delighted look will be feigned).   That being said, during the month of February, I managed to run 100 miles and between February 21 and 27, I completed 50 miles.  I haven’t had a hundred mile month in a few years, due mostly to the fact that I just don’t like running that much (by much, I mean both “that many miles” and “that frequently“).  I’ve never run a 50 mile week before, and I never want to again.  For me, these achievements are relatively big deals, mostly because I am coming back from injury.  There are runners who routinely run these distances with ease, for example, this guy:

Must be running 50 miles per week.

IMG_7419I would like to tell you that in January, I had written out these specific, measurable, time-bound goals and developed a plan to achieve them.  The truth is that I ran the Mission Gorge trail 15K run on Sunday February 1 and I had a really good long run the following Saturday and was 26 miles in  before this 100 mile thing became an idea.

I ran only about 25 miles in January, so a hundred miles was going to be a huge step up, one that I would never advise to anyone to make.   I knew injury was a risk.  I set out a plan to capture the 75 miles in the remaining 21 days, or 3.6 miles per day.  I set a ground rule of no running back-to-back days unless absolutely necessary, which meant I had to cover, on average 7.2 miles per two days.  That was bit more daunting. Being a busy human, I just made peace with the fact I would be waking up on some Saturdays with as much as 10 miles in arrears.

Despite some chest congestion, the second week went off according to plan and I reaching mile 50 with no problems.  Week 3 involved travel both personal and for work as well as a calf spasm on the morning when a long run was planned.  The 100 mile goal came into jeopardy as I didn’t run any of the first 6 days of that week.   On that seventh day, I was in Vegas for my daughter’s cheer competition.   It was a beautiful morning and I brought my marathon shoes with the full intention of running 15 miles.  I felt good and ended up running 21.

Screen Shot 2015-02-28 at 8.40.27 AMWith that run out-of-the-way, I had completed 71 miles at the end of the third week which still left me a good 29 miles to run in the final 7 days of the month.

The thought of running the last 29 in a week seemed too much on legs tired from the 21 miler.  I eventually had to shift my mental metrics to running in hours rather than miles as the smaller number seemed more manageable. I liken running day after day to pushing a leaky wheelbarrow with water.  The longer the run the more water that is put in.  The more days between runs, the more time the water has to leak out.  My preferred M.O. is to run lots of miles on the weekend and then let the water mostly drain out during the week.   This fourth week, 50 miles worth of water was going in and there wasn’t going to be much time for it to drain out and this wheelbarrow, like my legs was going to get heavy.

The Tuesdays after the 21, I ran the easiest and fasted 13.1 miles I run in years.  Thursday, I put what felt like 9+ slow miles in between two later afternoon conference calls and then on Friday (violating the no consecutive days rule), I ground out 7 slow brutal miles completed only by repeatedly running to the start of the next song.   By this last run, I had used up all my gels and had to break into some well expired gel-blocks that tasted like rubber bands.

Things You Don't See Driving
Things You Only See Running

At the end of it all, there was 50.96 miles for the last 7 running days and 100.96 miles for the month.  I do not feel the need to go out and run an additional 0.04 miles to round off the miles, I’m not THAT kind of OCD.    Until the last few days, I felt generally good the entire month.  I didn’t have the rungries (extreme hunger resulting from running long distances) that I used to.  I think that has to do with the eating plan I put myself on in January.   Also, I usually had a nutrition plan both pre and post run.

Not My Best Post Run Nutrition Plan
Cake and Beer: Not My Best Post Run Nutrition Plan in February

March is going to involve more work travel.   With 64 days until my next big race, I am going to have to resume things like speed training, bike riding, tennis, weight lifting and 5 mile walks with the dog.   All of those things were set down during this month. Jill Will Run, just did a blog post on running as a parent.   It speaks to running as our life responsibilities become more heavier.  Kristen Lamb also just posted on the Doctrine of Doers, describing the attributes of those who get things done.  Both posts resonate with me.  When making a committing to a difficult course of actions, be it athletic or artistic in nature, it’s easy to have life be thrown out of balance.  It is however, good to remember who and what are truly important.

The Bottom Line
A quick note of thanks to those who have been there and been supportive of this endeavor this month.  This includes all those who blog about running in snow and those who post their selfies running in the snow.  They make it really hard for me to complain about how cold it is in Southern California.

Running 50 Miles in One Week. A Hundred Miles in February.

The First Rule of Fast Club

Oddly, I find myself began my 2015 Lenten journey exactly as I did in 2014, waking up in hotel room on Ash Wednesday in a hotel room bed, the travel clothes for the day hanging in the closet, a boarding pass making my way to a flight home.  I really have to contemplate that coincidence.

The original plan for today was to get up about 5ish, go out for a run, shower, dress, have breakfast with my manager and then head out for an all day meeting.  Then after much denial, it hit me that today was Ash Wednesday, a day of meditation, fasting and abstaining from eating meat.  Things were going to have to shift subtly as they always do during Lent.  I think that’s the whole idea behind Lent, to invoke a shift in the way we perceive our relationship with ourselves, the world around us and with God.

I had to pass on the run as I knew this was going to be a vigorous enough day without fasting.  I sat and thought a while about the day, the meaning of Lent to me and my family and possible significance of traveling on two consecutive Ash Wednesdays.

On the topic of fasting, I believe that a Lenten fast should be kept to ones self, as described in Matthew:  “When you fast,  do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden“.   As such, I joke that the first rule of fast club is that one does not talk about fast club.  One can blog though as long as it’s not about self-aggrandizement.  I have written blog posts ever year about Lent and the meaning it has for me.   Most of the time, I never publish those posts because they always feel a bit showy.

My colleagues had beer, buffalo chicken winks, potato skins with bacon.  I had water.
My colleague had the beauty on the left.  I had the tall glass on the right

This breakfast meeting was a serving of eggs and two pieces of pineapple. Later at our lunch meeting, around the table, not wanting to draw attention to the fact that I wasn’t eating, I had a serving of vegetables and skipped the pasta, the chicken and the beautiful desserts.  That was my two meals for the day.

After our meetings my colleges and I headed for the airport. We sat in the bar and they drank beer and ate chicken wings and potato wedges with bacon. I had water.  Although I much prefer Guinness made in Ireland, no pint never looks quite as good as when it’s not was not on my one’s personal choice of nourishment for the day.  That’ a common lesson of every Lent, for me anyway.

The flight home was a short but beautiful one.  The 2014 flight home started in the predawn hours and I watched the sunrise over Northern England.   This flight had the sun setting over the Pacific.

Obligatory Ash Wednesday Sunset Picture.
Obligatory Ash Wednesday Sunset Picture.

I got home after dark and the girls were at cheer practice.   They would not be home for a while.  I broke my fast with some cereal and a bagel.  I was hungry and lonely.  I wasn’t happy with the fact that I didn’t maintain the fast.  I felt like one of those who couldn’t stay awake with Jesus in his final hours. Do I wish I had done better that evening?  Yes.  But that is also one of the lessons of Lent, that we are flesh and will return to dust.   We aren’t perfect, but we should every once in a while, try to raise the bar for ourselves to better understand that we cannot fly on our own.

If you are beginning a Lenten journey today, may this season be meaningful.

The First Rule of Fast Club

Leaving Dubai

I am standing in front of the Emirates Towers in Dubai finishing a cup of Starbucks before getting on the Metro. My work in this city is done and it’s about 11 hours until my flight takes off. Why my flight leaves at 2am, I do not know.

The Emirates Towers
The Emirates Towers

I counted the Rolls Royces passing down Sheikh Zayed Road, a street as ostentatious as the words, “I am standing in front of the Emirates Towers in Dubai finishing a cup of Starbucks“. I found myself visualizing my tiny spot on the Earth at this moment. I am in a time zone +4 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time, or crudely half-way between favorite hangouts, Shanghai and London. I am 9 times zones away from New York another favorite hangout. Finally, I am 12 time zones or half-way around the world, from my wife and daughter, who I am looking forward to seeing in 40+ hours.

At the age of 10, I started traveling unaccompanied to London to visit family. I remember following the crowd through Heathrow Airport to passport control and then on to see my grandmother on the other side of security. Over my life, I’ve lost track of the visits to Europe.  Heck, in the past 5 years I’ve lost track of my trips to Europe. I have become blasé about travel, both domestic and international.

But in this moment, I am humbled to be standing so far from away from home.The words Vive La Différence come to mind. I think I had to be so much further away than normal and so far out of my comfort zone to have the appreciation of the opportunities that I have been given me (or earned as the case could be).  I see places and things that this little boy from Long Beach, New York never would have dreamed he would. I also get to share them, to a certain extent with friends back home, through pictures and stories.

Blue Marks the Spot
Blue Marks the Spot

Maybe it’s because this morning I showered in water that probably came from the Persian Gulf?   Maybe it’s idea of being in the middle of the desert, so close to Iraq?   Who knows, but for today, I am feeling appreciative, blessed…. and jet lagged.

Leaving Dubai