The Rock and Roll Las Vegas half/full marathon was actually dubbed "Strip at Night" in all of the marketing literature and website. I assume that was intended as a double entendre, complete with subtle reference to the sins which seem to be so commonplace in Las Vegas. However, perhaps in a bitter twist of irony, I spent my Sunday evening wishing I had more clothes to put on rather than take off.
The weekend started mellow enough, first a meeting, then a trip to the expo with excited athletes, followed by a spirit line during which I wondered what it must be like for Karen, our hearing impaired athlete, and a dinner that was actually tasteful in both food and presentation. Saturday was done right, all by the CCFA, and with a final meeting in our hotel room we sealed off a season to remember as a team.
Sunday dawned lazily, a day where living in the moment meant waiting for the sun to set. The 5:30 pm half marathon start, to follow the 4pm full marathon start, was one of the most unique elements of the race. The closest comparable event I have participated in would be Hood to Coast, where our team typically starts at roughly the same time, and where the stomach takes precedence over the legs as far as preparation and comfort are concerned. I enjoyed watching my fantasy football team pile up some decent numbers, cementing my position at the top of the league for the first time. Towards the end of the afternoon I suited up and made my way downstairs to meet with the handful of warm souls who were about to embark on this journey, with me in a tour-guide/support/figurehead/comfort blanket role.
The first signs of trouble emerged after a smooth warmup and stretch, as we fought our way back towards gear check to drop off bags of warm clothes that would be needed post race. Swimming upstream in a crowd of 40,000 people is a difficult task even without the intense apprehension of a footrace about to begin. I grabbed as many bags as I could and together with James we delivered them to their temporary resting homes, but it took a lot longer than I had hoped it would and I wound up with only 20 minutes to spare before the race started.
As I made my way back outside, now among a dwindling crowd of laggers, I realized the cost of the time spent. I tried to run up towards the initial corrals, but wound up stuck in a human pileup somewhere outside of corral 13, far behind the athletes I wanted to see get out of the gate. I bumped into Alan and we both shook our heads at each other in disbelief of how stuck we felt, a very winnie-the-pooh type of moment. At least all the proximity of bodies served as a protection from the cold.
Somehow I lost Alan and bumped into Rachel and Monique. Together we entered a corral somewhere after 13, perhaps at 8, after the race had started and that corral was now filled with runners from corral 10 or 11. I tried my best to get the girls off at 9 minute pace, but with people in front, to the left, and to the right, predominantly slower runners, and lots of people slowing or even stopping to adjust shoes, clothing, reach for their cigarettes, etc, it became a difficult endeavor.
The full marathon course approached soon after the start, from the left hand side, and was casually coned off approximately every 20 feet with a knee-high orange cone which was almost invisible in the dark in a sea of people. From our initial position, we had mixed with the 2:50 - 3:00 marathon crew, but as time went on, at 9 minute pace, the full marathon course started to fill up a bit more. There were plenty of cyclists trying to "encourage" the others to run on the right side of the road, to leave room for the full marathoners who had already completed their first half and were now literally fighting through the second half. I've been in that position before, multiple times at Carlsbad, and I find it very frustrating myself. At the same time, due to the bottlenecks and cluster of a massive race start with undersized corrals that were inaccessible for the most part, I felt the frustration of all of the half marathoners who just wanted to be able to run. It reminded me of Ironman swim starts, only this time it was many more bodies with slightly more control and courtesy.
I left Monique and Rachel and tried out the right side of the outbound lanes, effectively running in the median of Las Vegas blvd. The different contours helped to warm up my ankles a bit, but passing on the wrong side of the water stops proved to be unnecessarily troublesome for the volunteers serving water. I wanted to jump over to the inbound lanes where the course finished up, and with my coach bib this would have been permissible, but I felt it would have been in bad spirit and that it would be setting a bad example. So, I kept on, up until the outbound runners split slightly from the inbound at which point I continued on the sidewalk, upstream, as the elite runners came through.
I saw Clemmens run past with one of the elite women, but heading out at 7 min pace against his inbound 5-something pace we had only a few seconds to make the slightest of eye contact. I slowed down, as the stream of runners thickened and I saw the 1:35 pace group sign. Soon afterwards, out of the darkness, Vince popped out and I turned around and headed back with him.
Vince wasn't trained up for a PR attempt, having taken some time off after last year's race, but he was amped to race just because that's how he is, and that's one thing I love about him. So, off we went, with me trying to push him a bit, but realizing that he wasn't quite ready to lay it all on the line. We got a number of miles together, and with perhaps 2 miles to go, we saw David Volk who tagged on and took Vince the rest of the way in. I ran back and picked up Tavish, our local rock star fundraiser, who let me tag along for a bit before he graciously told me to go find the girls and make sure they were doing ok.
After leaving Tavish and returning to my upstream swim, I picked up Bash and Kimberly. Kimberly looked strong, and Jessica was right where I had hoped she would be, but I don't know if either was in extremely high spirits. Regardless, they ran valiantly, almost smiling, until I handed them off to Volk and went back to search for Rachel who I never saw. I found Caitlyn who had to walk a bit with a busted foot but was finishing with a smile regardless. She wasn't thrilled with the race, but it was nice to share a few steps with her. After Caitlyn, I turned around and picked up Monique. Running it in with Monique took away some of the tension from the earlier runners because Monique was right on track for her predicted time, despite the cold and wind and masses of people. I think I was feeling a bit defeated with how the race had shaped up for Vince, Kimberly, Bash and Caitlyn, because I knew all of them have the ability to run a bit faster than they did on the right day, so Monique's race felt like the first really strong success of the day, the first time I felt like my contributions as a coach had some sort of plausible value.
After leaving Monique at the chute and jogging back, I bumped into Alan. I regret that I only had a short section with Alan before we hit the chute again and I had to turn back to avoid being stuck. Alan's last mile was as ferocious as any I've ever run, he put maximum effort into every step and every breath, leaving nothing in the tank. If I was somehow validated by Monique's effort, I was even more awed by Alan's as the true art of racing is about giving your best at every moment, regardless of the conditions, and especially regardless of the outcome.
I remember looking for Lindsey and Dianne but I don't think I ever saw them. I do remember seeing Greg and Matt and running with them for a bit. Greg offered me a gu and I thought, hell no, I'm not about to eat a gu, that sounds horrible :)
After Alan, I had a short break and then I picked up Karen. Karen is hearing impaired, so she reads lips. And as it turns out, 30 degrees and thousands of people all running in a straight line make it fairly difficult to communicate with someone who is hearing impaired. But she ran great, surging through the crowd on many occasions and picking it up as we neared the chute. Truely fearless, completely at home on the race course, Karen seemed the most at ease of anyone I had encountered so far. It was a real treat to share that moment with her. After Karen I picked up June and one of the others from the central team who's name I'm blanking on at the moment. June had taken some great photos next to the larger-than-life cardboard poster of her mug in the Team Challenge booth at the expo and I enjoyed her healthy vitality and appreciated the chance to share the final portion of their journey. I was starting to get cold and crabby and June actually cheered me up rather than the other way around. Sometimes we take, sometimes we give, such is the cycle of life.
At this point, I have to admit, I started to fade pretty bad. It was getting colder and colder, and then it started raining a bit. I had been out for 3 hours and the exposure was getting to me. I took some time for myself and ducked into the heated valet waiting room at the Flamingo for a minute. While I felt better inside, protected, and heated, I knew I couldn't stay. As soon as I opened the doors to leave, I was instantly re-frozen. I walked back out on the the course, hating life for a bit. I had to hop the barricade to get back on the course. Without knowing what else to do, I ventured on, upstream.
Dave Bory's picked me out of the crowd and cheered me up, letting me join him for his ride home. He picked up the pace and jogged it in strong, his first ever half marathon and the beginnings of a level of fitness that he has yet to fully comprehend. I look forward to even more changes in Dave as the once difficult becomes the everyday. Dave mentioned that Monika and the other central walkers were behind him, perhaps somewhere near 8 minutes or so.
As I made my way upstream for what wound up being the final trip, I ran more in the center of the road than before. The crowd was thinning and the pace slowing, permitting more aggressive upstream travel. I did wind up bumping into a woman who was looking behind her as I attempted to dodge, my only impact of the day, and she seemed annoyed but not physically affected by it. I did not see Monika nor any of the central walkers, which really bummed me out because I knew what an important moment this was for Monika and I knew that she was the biggest reason I was still out there, suffering in the cold. If she can do it, I can too was my mantra for that final stretch, and to not have the opportunity to see her and tell her how proud I am of her accomplishment was perhaps the most sour moment of the evening. I definitely never saw Mike, Rachel, Jessica, Dianne, Monika or Melissa. I would have liked to have spotted Sean, Sally, Brooke and Joey. I probably saw some of the others from the central team but in the darkness and without a strong memory of facial expressions and stride subtleties, I wound up not making contact.
I got to jog in with the back of the pack as the sag picked off the stragglers and the course closed down. I saw quite a few people in varying levels of pain, some fairly substantial, but also a lot of determination and joy at the approaching finish line. I have to be honest, though, I was beyond my limits by that point, having covered 25 miles, the majority of which was on an exposed, windy, and slightly rainy last 2 mile section of the race. I snuck into the TC tent, said my pleasantries, grabbed a few bagel bites, and survived the short walk across the parking lot to the door of the heated hotel entrance.
The day was not over, though, as I first had to confirm that the one bag I had dropped without a name got picked up (it did) and then we had to navigate back out into the cold parking garage to get around a bottleneck of people attempting to get into the casino. I stumbled into my room, tried to heat up with a shower, and shivered my way through the next few hours of fitful semi-sleep. I should have been at the party. I should have been at the post party. I ran less than the marathoners, in a time that would have been my slowest marathon ever. But I was trashed. Completely empty. I had nothing left to give to anyone else, I didn't even have enough for myself.
Today, I'm a bit sore, very chapped from all the cold and wind, and a little sad about the few peeps I didn't see. I really wanted to celebrate with Mike, to hug Monika, and Jessica, to see Melissa, and feel the warmth of Dianne's smile and Rachel's goofiness. In the mix of 40,000+ people all running in the dark, I just didn't get to see them and that does bum me out. And when it would have been possible to reconnect with everyone, my body wasn't strong enough to rally, although it feels good enough right now. Overall, it was a true endurance event, one which tested me in all sorts of ways. I'm such a wimp when it comes to cold weather, and I have this ridiculous tendency to forget to pack or prepare for situations even when I know what to expect. I highly underestimated the magnitude of the miles and exposure and what it would do to me, even though I knew that would be my biggest challenge. Watching coaches Dave and Sean perform flawlessly only made me feel like more of a chump for showing such signs of struggle, for letting my head take over for a bit. But I was proud of myself for sticking it out till the very last finisher, something I've never done in a race other than Ironman and then only on a couple of occasions. I had to dig pretty deep for this one and there was no lack of challenge involved in staying up for the duration. It's actually a different kind of endurance event, to give continuously over 4-5 hours as the night presses on. It reminds me of some of the thrill of ultra, and some of the dementia of relay racing, all rolled into one. I hope I get to experience it all again sometime, and perhaps I will be able to meet the next coaching challenge with all the benefits of this initial experience along with even greater effort.