Race Review: The Las Vegas Rock and Roll Marathon 2015

SUMMARY:
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.

IMG_1024
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.

IMG_1048
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.

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Race Review: The Las Vegas Rock and Roll Marathon 2015

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