Boy is this race tough.
I arrived in Las Vegas late Friday night (well, late Chicago time), long after the expo had closed. I went to the expo Saturday morning as a result, which proved to be good decision. It was the least crowded I’ve ever seen that expo (I went in 2016 and 2017, even though I didn’t run the race in 2016 due to my booted foot) and it made the whole experience 100 times more enjoyable than usual. 10/10.
Having learned a lifetime’s worth of lessons the hard way during last year’s race, I made a point of trying to be more intentional about my nutrition and hydration leading up to Sunday night’s run. I carried a water bottle with me everywhere in Vegas and kept it light at breakfast (around 11 a.m.) with two small pancakes and two scrambled eggs. At 3 p.m., two hours before I thought I would start running, I had a bag of off-brand Pirate’s Booty (“Sailor’s Loot,” lolololol) and a bag of animal crackers I got at the expo that added up to somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 calories. That all worked out WAY better for me in the stomach department than last year’s pancake binge at breakfast and couple of handfuls of Munchies as I headed out the door to the race, so I’ll file that away for any future late afternoon/early evening half marathons 😛
It was much colder in Vegas than I expected based on the past two years (I don’t think it ever got out of the low 60s while I was there, and at night it was down in the 40s. There was actually a freeze warning on Monday!). I figured I’d be fine for the race in shorts and short sleeves, but when Rock ‘n’ Roll sent out an email a few hours before the race warning about high winds, I started to panic. I didn’t have any throwaways, anything that I could adjust while running (a jacket, arm sleeves), and I was in the second wave, while the other person from this year’s group who was running the race (four of us went to Vegas, but only two of us ran) was in the first wave, meaning we’d arrive well before I started running. I worried I’d be overly cold. I ended up begging a long sleeve shirt off my running buddy, but once again, lesson learned. I can’t forget to pack my arm sleeves in the future!
I’ve run enough Rock ‘n’ Roll races over the years (eight, counting Sunday) to feel comfortable saying that Rock ‘n’ Roll is, hands down, the worst race organizer when it comes to corral enforcement. Even after Ironman bought Rock ‘n’ Roll, your corral assignment seems to be a weak suggestion at best. While other Rock ‘n’ Rolls I’ve run have been laughable when it comes to corral enforcement, Vegas truly set the bar for unbelievably terrible corral management.
Vegas has a pre-race party, and my assumption, especially since I was never told otherwise, is that the pre-race party is optional. In my entire running career, no one has ever made attendance at any events surrounding the race (other than packet pickup, of course, but that was taken care of at the expo) mandatory, and when attendance at any event surrounding a race is mandatory, you’re informed well in advance, usually multiple times.
I had no interest in going to the pre-race party. I didn’t need to check any gear. There are abundant bathrooms in every hotel up and down the Strip with running water and flushing toilets, making a pre-race portapotty stop unnecessary. The last thing I want to do immediately before running a half marathon is attend a concert. Why on earth would I prioritize going to Rock ‘n’ Roll’s pre-race party when there is literally no reason for me to be there?
My running buddy didn’t have interest in the pre-race party either, so we left our hotel (Harrah’s) around 3:30 and started walking south to get to the start line, which was slightly north of MGM on the east side (the MGM side) of the Strip. When we got to Harmon, we saw a stream of runners heading towards the start line, so we, along with everyone else walking south on the Strip with us, joined the stream.
WHAT. A. MESS.
As we walked, it became quite clear that most of the people in the stream were in the blue (first) wave of the race. My running buddy had been assigned to the blue wave, so that was fine, but I was technically in the green wave. As always, Rock ‘n’ Roll was bold, italicized, red font serious about not allowing people into corrals that did not correspond with the color on their bib, but was there anyone checking our bibs where we got in the stream to make sure we all belonged there? No. So I was able to sneak into the blue wave 1) without meaning to and 2) without realizing I was getting into the wrong wave.
Eventually, it occurred to us that all of the bib checking/”security” to get into the corrals must have been located somewhere in the pre-race party, but if that was the case, that was never communicated. This is what my pre-race information sheet said:
Now, I will concede that it says to arrive at the Start Line Village by 3:30. Fine. But NOWHERE in this document does it say that you have to go to the Start Line Village prior to the race. It’s commonplace for races to suggest that you arrive by a certain time, but to my understanding, unless that time is when your corrals close, you don’t actually have to arrive then. I’ve read that whole document through several times, and I cannot find anywhere where it says that you must go to the Start Line Village (aka the pre-race party) in order to get into the corrals. It’s pretty obvious that Rock ‘n’ Roll has no problem highlighting text they don’t want you to miss, so if going to the Start Line Village was a requirement, why wouldn’t they put that in this document?
On top of that, the document does specifically say that “Entrance to the GREEN START CORRALS will be on Las Vegas Blvd north at Harmon Ave.” Now, call me crazy, but when I read a sentence like that, I assume that I enter the corrals on Las Vegas Blvd. (the Strip), not from the pre-race party.
“But Bethany,” you argue, “you were getting into the blue corrals. Maybe they had different instructions!”
They did, but those instructions still didn’t say anything about mandatory attendance at the pre-race party to enter the corrals:
Once again, the instructions here are to enter the corrals “on Las Vegas Blvd.” That’s not the Start Line Festival. That’s not Harmon, where we found the stream of people. That’s the Strip.
So, fine. Let’s give Rock ‘n’ Roll the enormous benefit of the doubt and say that their pre-race documentation was accurate and clear, and I’m just an idiot who makes too many assumptions and can’t read for comprehension. Putting all of that aside, the corral situation was STILL a disaster, even if you followed the directions about entering them, because they filled in from the back, with no delineation between any of them. There were no gates, no ropes, no volunteers, nothing. The entire thing was completely self-policed, and you know how THAT always ends up going. My running buddy was supposed to be in Corral 10, but by the time we reached what appeared to be Corral 12, it was so crowded that we couldn’t have moved up any farther even if we wanted to.
I’m not aiming to break any world records at any of these Rock ‘n’ Roll races, least of all at Vegas. But it bothers me to no end how Rock ‘n’ Roll talks such HUGE game about being strict about their corrals and then not only doesn’t enforce them, but at this race in particular, doesn’t even make an effort to show where one corral ends and the other begins. Inflatable corral markers only show you the general area associated with your corral, not its actual boundaries. It’s abundantly clear to me that Rock ‘n’ Roll does not care one little bit where anyone actually lines up at any of their races, and I just hate how they talk about corrals like it’s The Biggest Deal, and then do nothing to follow through on that claim.
Now that I’ve gotten those 900 words out of the way…
I knew this race would be a challenge from the get-go, so I had extremely low expectations for myself. I kind of wanted to do better than I did in 2017, but I also kind of didn’t care. I was quite surprised to hit the first mile in 10:46, since I assumed I’d be running mostly in the 11:xx range. I came through the second mile in an 11:29, however, which was much closer to what I expected.
I thought about really getting into the spirit of just enjoying myself and taking pictures along the course whenever I felt so inclined, but I ultimately decided I didn’t feel like stopping at any of the big photo ops (the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign, anywhere along the Strip, etc.) and just kept chugging along. Even though I started well before I was supposed to, based on my corral assignment, I passed a decent number of people and never felt like I was in anyone’s way (though having the entire Strip just for us did help in that department).
You run past the finish line (on the other side of the road) around mile five-ish of the half and full marathons at this race, and I was THRILLED to see the 10K finishers wrapped in heat sheets in the finish area. Knowing I’d get one of those after the race and not have to shiver the whole way back to Harrah’s was a huge relief. I also noticed that the finish line had a smoke machine, the “smoke” from which was blowing all over the road. I had a bad reaction to that at a race once (like, hard-time-breathing bad reaction) and was worried that would happen again, but I made it through all right.
We made it up to Fremont Street and then turned south onto Las Vegas Blvd. again a bit past mile nine, which, in my opinion, is when the race really gets tough. I said this last year, too, but the most deceptive thing about Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas is that the entire course is on a barely-perceptible incline. You can’t see it, but you can certainly feel it, especially when you start going up again on the southbound trip to the finish line.
When I hit mile 10, it occurred to me that I could play my 5K game from the marathon again. I had checked my watch at the 5K mark, which I came through in 35:xx. When I hit the 10 mile mark, I added 35 minutes to my time and got to 2:28:xx. I decided I’d try to run the last 5K faster than the first 5K: a bigger challenge than I think I realized when I set it, due to the incline situation.
My mile times weren’t dropping quite like I wanted them to, especially for how hard I felt like I was working. When I got to mile 13, I realized it was going to be awful close to cross the finish line before 2:28:xx, so I did what I could do find another gear and managed to get in at 2:27:52. That counts! (And is around seven minutes faster than I did this race last year, so yay.)
The smoke machine situation was not ideal at the finish line. Due to the wind (which wasn’t even half as bad as Rock ‘n’ Roll’s email made it sound–my Garmin logged an 8 mph wind, compared to the 18 mph wind it logged during Hot Chocolate the week before), the smoke blew into the finish chute rather than up harmlessly into the air. I felt it irritating my throat (not too badly, thankfully), and a bunch of people around me were coughing. You’d think, if they sent out an email threatening to not even put up start/finish line signage (which they did use) or course clocks (which they did not use) due to the wind that it would occur to them that perhaps smoke machines would be a bad idea, but apparently that didn’t cross anyone’s mind.
I hobbled through the finish area on achy legs, gathered my food, hydration, and heat sheet, met up with my running buddy, and returned to Harrah’s to thaw out.
(For all my criticisms of Rock ‘n’ Roll, I do have to hand it to them in the medal department. I love this one. The “cards” fold in, which I think is cool. You can’t really see the black detail at the bottom in this picture, but it’s a bunch of buildings from the Strip.)