Saturday, December 17, 2011

Rock and Roll Half-Marathon - Las Vegas edition

I keep meaning to post a race report, but I keep putting it off. Mostly because my computer is in its death throws, and isn't being very co-operative. Looks like I know what I'm buying myself for Christmas! 
Anyway background info - I won a trip to Vegas and race entry (initial post here).

At the expo I picked up some things, mostly because they were way cheaper than they are in Canada. We were lucky that we went early on Saturday (though I'd recommend going on Friday, since apparently a lot less people went through then)m because apparently they ran out of shirts later in the day!  It was crowded but mostly manageable. my skirt from Running Skirts didn't arrive in time, but I still visited their booth to see what they had. I did miss seeing SUAR though, which kind of sucked.
So on Sunday, to start, we made our way through to Mandalay Bay - we were staying  at The Excalibur, which was nothing to write home about, but really convenient after the race. We took the tram to Mandalay  Bay and got to the bag check, which went rather smoothly, then off to the first bathroom break. Line-ups abound, but everything was pretty smooth. That being said, we asked a volunteer how to get to the start and…he didn’t know where it was, so that was a little disconcerting. So, Plan B it was, which was follow the crowd! I did see people coming in to check their bag while we were going out...and with the crowds heading out, I'm not entirely convinced they got their bag checked in time. I guess they would have gone out with a later corral.

We got outside and saw lots of Port-a-pottys, and kept following the crowd until we reached the corrals, and ended up walking a bit to find ours, and we hopped in. The corrals weren’t really separated by anything, other than a guy with a sign that said “Corral X”, so the idea of corrals was a bit of a joke, since you could pretty much move wherever you wanted once you got in. Then it was a bit of waiting game. There weren’t any port-a-pottys near the corrals, really, which was a bit of an oversight, since it could potentially take a while to hit the course. I definitely wondered if running into the McDonalds near by would be faster than trying to get out of the corral and getting in line for a port-a-potty.
And…we are off! If, by off you mean a 15 minute wait to get to the start. In my inexperience of running larger races (read: I haven't done any), I thought that, eventually, at some point, we’d be around people running around our pace, and the crowd would clear out a little. Yeah, not so much in that respect, as we the entire race was spent dodging people. I ended up running with my mom the entire time, which ended up being a Good Idea, since at the end it was a little bit of a nightmare (more on that later). It was kind of neat to see all the people dressed up, and to run The Strip at night.
A little way in, the half and the full marathon meet up. For the marathon - there is this out and back into "the boonies" that is done, and I think I heard last year it was in the second half of the marathon - this year it was at the beginning. Where the marathoners were supposed to be was in about half a lane, that they had marked with traffic basically it was ignored, except when a race marshal came through on the bike telling people where they should be. Still, I felt for the marathoners, since the ones coming through were a bit faster than what the half-marathoners would be at that point (I think I was seeing 3:40-3:45 signs, and mom and I were around 2:15 for the half), so that must have been aggravating. As well, along the course where there were port-a-potties, they were only along the side where the marathoners were (which, makes sense since otherwise they'd be on the median). Still, hard to keep people out of that lane when they are looking for a place to do their business. We were going too fast, so we didn't see Kate Gosselin running (she was behind us somewhere, I think), so that was good, I think.
First water stop we reached, the first table was basically empty, but there were some volunteers handing out drink…though it was kind of surprise what you would get, since they didn’t really tell you. I left it a bit late because of the crowds, and ended up missing the sport drink and getting water. And back to dodging people! The ground was a little wet around the water stops, and the combination of water/sport drink and cups was a bit slippery, so we usually walked through them, which seemed to work well. It appeared that the next water stop only had water...which would have been nice to know when I got my cup at one of the first tables...
Running the strip was actually really neat - there were a number of people out, and it was neat to see all the casinos lit up. Once you got to the far end though, it got a little creepy - no more casinos, and a lot less spectators. There were some large flood lights which helped for lighting, but it was still a little creepy. We run past the light show on Fremont street, and start heading back to Mandalay Bay. Sadly that was the only time I saw Fremont street during my time in Vegas, but it looked neat from where I was running past it. I think due to us running the race as a 'fun' race, and the face that a lot of concentration had to be put onto not running into anyone, we ended up eating our Gu's a little late. I don't think it really hurt us (again, since we weren't going for time), but it was sort of a surprise when I saw the mile marker and realized I hadn't eaten anything yet.
Coming back was sort of interesting, since we could still see people heading the other way - I think we were between mile 8 and 9, when we saw people hitting mile 4 heading out! I wonder how long it took for them to hit the start line...we also picked up a bunch of Gu's at the feed station, at least they hadn't run out. Somewhere on the way back there were people handing out free beer, which was tempting.
The bands were ok - I think they took breaks, because otherwise they'd be playing for 6 -7 hours straight from the start of the marathon to the cut off time (or there abouts). There weren't any that I loved, but it was nice to have music in stretches on the course, even if it is just a little while.
Now the end...that was a bit of a nightmare (as mentioned previously). First, you pick up your medal, but I don't think they had many spots for you to do this...and I heard they ran out at the end (that's just a rumour though)! So it was a 'little' crowded there, no draping it over you, or at least not for me - I was handed it...then they had photo spots available (sadly without the showgirls/Elvis who were available last year) so that slowed things down a bit too. Then the food tables...they didn't divide and conquer (read: put people into different 'check-out' rows where you could get your mylar blanket and food), they everyone trying to get stuff from two rows (one on either side of the walk they had us going down). Suffice it to say, it was really crowded, and difficult to pick things up and move in any sort of timely fashion. Also, the bananas were green. I got a little pinned against one of the food tables, which was annoying, but again, when you don't have that many places to pick stuff up, it was bound to happen. I got a bit chilled despite all the people around. At this point I was like "This is crazy!", but since I've never done a large race before I didn't really know if it was kind of normal (though my mom was also saying "this is crazy!" and she's done Chicago, Boston, Marine Corps). I mean, I was expecting crowds, but nothing near that sort of disorganization.
Anyway, finally we made it into Mandalay Bay and to Bag check. When we got there, it wasn't too busy, so we got our bags and went pee. The line was a bit slow now, since people were using stalls to change. I went pee in the bathroom and then changed my shirt in the hall, so I wouldn't be one of Those People. It was a little deceiving at this point, since it didn't look too crazy. Mom and I had some cytomax (the race drink. A little sweet for my taste), and a powerbar type thing and sat for a little while. Then we tried to make it out of Mandalay Bay...I should have taken it as a sign when I saw someone leaning over a garbage can that things were not going to get any better...
Talk about crowded! There was no real signage, and everyone was trying to make it to the shuttles/taxis...I think you have to get those at the front of the casino. It was a nightmare. Thousands of people in this giant hoard barely moving. I'm thankful neither my mom or I was hurt, or needed medical attention. We basically just held hands so not to lose each other and kept slowly walking forward. And we were lucky that there were no fires, as we'd be doomed. There was a brief internal debate whether or not I really wanted to walk to the hotel, or take the tram between Mandalay Bay, Luxor and the Excalibur, but walking won out. Despite being exhausted I'm glad we walked back. The crowd thinned out, and was moving decently - I guess everyone really was waiting for the shuttles/cabs/tram. Apparently things got even worse after we left - back check was crazy and the crowds were worse...which I didn't think was even possible.

If you are thinking of doing this race, I would strongly suggest doing it for 'fun' and not for a time goal - I found it too congested to have a decent time. If you are going for time, I would suggest perhaps giving a time (so you get put into a corral) that would be your "perfect day" goal...or maybe faster. If they expand as they want to, to 50,000 to 60,000 runners, and if the conditions I ran in were any indication (and we were dodging and having to slow down, and speed up all the time to get around people), it would be a hard race to PB in, unless you are much closer to the front.

I've read a couple of articles on line recently about people getting sick at the race, possibly from the water. For what it's worth, I drank the water and was fine. And without knowing the average percentage of people that have GI issues during/after a race I can't really say if the number of people affected by something during the race is more or less in this one (for example the Corning half marathon is capped at 1500. If 1% of the runners are sick after, that's like 15 people, as opposed to Vegas which would be more than 400. Just food for thought)  Anyway, as much as I don't want to suggest it, if you are worried, or have a more sensitive stomach, you may want to consider carrying your own. And honestly, given the craziness at the water stops, it may be a good idea anyway, regardless if you have an iron stomach or not.

I don't want to say don't run this race ever, but for me, unless I won entry, airfare, and accommodations again, I wouldn't run it unless it had at least a couple of consecutive years of things running really, really smoothly, and very few complaints.

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