Have you ever traveled to run a race? It’s (obviously) an entirely different experience from driving a few minutes from home to run. This race was also entirely different because it started in the evening, 4:30pm MST (7:30pm EST). I think that’s what made this race harder than others, but more on that in a minute…
First, the reason I chose to run this race was my dad. My dad is a runner. My dad also loves Vegas. More specifically, my dad loves smoking cigars at a craps table. He’s done the Vegas Rock N’ Roll several times and always invites me to come out. I’m really glad I finally said yes. My dad’s cousin, Pete, and three of his sons, Dan, Will and Mike also joined. It was the first half marathon for Will and Mike. Pretty sure my dad already registered for next year’s race. Maybe it will be an annual thing for me too.
I’ll start by telling you a little bit about my training. For about the last year, I’ve been working with Rachel Sinders of Rachel Michelle Running. I swear I’ll write a post about what it’s like working with a running coach. In short, I love it. Having run 40+ half marathons I felt really good about getting to the start line of races. But ever since working with Rachel I’ve been training a lot smarter and with more cross training than ever before. With Vegas it was a little tricky because right towards the end of training for Vegas my husband and I went to Mexico with 14 of our closest friends and no kids. I’m proud to report that I hit the treadmill every day in the resort gym (mainly to sweat out the tequila). When we got back from vacation, I did an easy 11 miler followed by a 12 miler the week after that included some speed. Overall, I felt pretty ready leading into the race.
About a week before my flight I laid out my suitcase on the floor of my closet and would start setting things aside for the trip. I also started incessantly checking the weather forecast. The forecast was cooler than I expected in the desert which led me to pack pretty much every running outfit imaginable. i.e. shorts, capris, pants, tank top, long sleeve, short sleeves, arm sleeves…you get the idea.
The rest of my packing list looked something like this:
- Running Shoes
- Garmin watch
- Garmin charger
- Momentum jewelry bracelet – includes the mantra “you get to do this”
- Aftershokz headphones
- Aftershokz charger
- Koala clip for my phone
- SPI belt for my fuel
- Goodr sunglasses
- Gu gels – Salted caramel and salted watermelon are my jam
- Vaseline – lots of vaseline
- CEP compression socks
- Balega running socks
- Travel foam roller – also used in my foam roller bouquets
- Running hat – love my Vimhue that has a bun hole on top
- JackRabbit neck gaiter – tye dye for Vegas
I did bring one “nice” outfit for dinner but ended up going to dinner in a t-shirt and jeans. 😂
The trip out to Vegas was a real treat. My dad flew in from Florida so I traveled SOLO for the first time in years. There’s something about being alone in an airport and on a plane that is therapeutic – even though I’m a nervous flier. I wore my “RUN” sweatshirt from Sarah Marie Design Studio and the TSA agent watching me “walk” through the metal detector told me to “please, walk”… which I was… and then I realized he was joking…you know, the sweatshirt, duh. I told him it was too early for me.
At the newsstand, I treated myself to a PEOPLE magazine, a book and a water. I also bought Jelly Bellys at the candy store, a flying staple for me. Even though it was almost time to board, I ordered a bloody mary and finished about 25% of it before the flight. It pained me to leave that drink behind…
On the 3.5 hour flight to PHX I finished the entire book, Love, Lists & Fancy Ships. I had a quick solo lunch and then it was time for the short flight from PHX > LAS. While waiting to board I looked around at people’s shoes to see if I could spot who was also heading to Vegas for the race – one of my favorite race travel pastimes.
Since I hadn’t been to Vegas in 5 years, I felt like a little kid in the cab ride to the hotel. Simply in awe of all of the casinos, lights, and people. So many people. When I got to the hotel, The Bellagio, I called my dad and (not surprisingly) he told me to meet him at the craps table. If he wouldn’t have answered his phone, that’s where I would have gone to look for him. The SMILE on his face when I approached the table was 25% because he was happy to see me and 75% a Vegas high. I could immediately tell it was a good table. My dad’s cousin, Pete, and his son, Dan, were there too – also smiling. My dad gave me a hotel key and I went and dropped my bags and came back down. You really know my dad’s doing well when he gives me some of his chips to start playing. We played for a while longer (they’d already been there maybe a few hours) and I convinced them to leave the table to head to packet pickup.
The expo was at Resorts World Las Vegas, a new hotel and casino. I made my poor dad take pictures of me throughout the expo. He was a pretty good “Instagram dad”. Keep in mind I’m with three dudes, so they really had very limited interest in the photo ops.
It wasn’t too crowded and really easy to navigate through. Somehow, I resisted the urge to buy anything… probably because I was with three dudes ready to get back to the craps table. With our packet bags on our backs, we bellied up to the craps table and played until it was time for our 5pm dinner reservation. The Resort World craps tables weren’t as good to us as the Bellagio ones, so we were ready to leave.
We had dinner at Yardbirds in the Venetian. Another thing you should know about my dad is that he LOVES fried chicken. This man would eat Popeyes every day if he could. Hell, maybe he does. Fried chicken is not my first choice for a pre-race meal, but since the race was 24 hours away I figured “when in Rome” and ordered the chicken and waffles. My friend from Indy, Kallie, and her Vegas friend, John, also joined us for dinner. John is from Vegas and come to find out his dad is a professional poker player.
Kallie and I were the only ones who ordered cocktails – something fancy with tequila and watermelon. The meal was OUT OF THIS WORLD. I really needed to be wheeled out of there. When we were done eating, Pete’s other sons, Will and Mike, arrived. I got a box for the chicken and cornbread I couldn’t finish and squeezed it in my packet. Time for more craps. I couldn’t tell you where we played – it all looks the same and blurs together. Although I’m sure my dad remembers. I’m fairly certain I ended the day a little behind. It was probably the fried chicken.
The morning of race day my dad and I headed down for breakfast at the Bellagio. Everything is so beautiful. Sadelle’s Cafe reminded me of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I had an omelette and bagel. My thoughts for race day fueling was to eat things that I knew weren’t likely to upset my stomach. After breakfast… you guessed it… more craps. We played at the Bellagio for a couple hours. The table we were at started at $25 and ended up at $100 (don’t worry, we got grandfathered in). There was an Indian man at the other end of the table playing with some serious money and chain smoking cigarettes (not great for race day but oh well). At one point when I was rolling, my dad leaned over and said, “If you roll an 11, that guy’s going to win $18,000.” As if I already didn’t feel the pressure. Sadly, I wasn’t able to do it for him. We left the table a bit ahead and ready to get off of our feet.
The next several hours we rested. I got a chicken sandwich for lunch (looking back, it was probably greasier than I would have liked). My dad ate the leftover fried chicken. He lives on the edge. We both napped, watched some Friends. I trimmed my toenails and cut my right big toe painfully short – STILL cursing myself for that. And anxiously awaited 4pm, when we’d be allowed in our corral.
Shortly before 4 we left the hotel and met Pete and his boys across the street. The weather was awesome. About 50 degrees or so and sunny. No wind to speak of. The strip was blocked off and you could barely make out the start line up ahead. Now started the long trek to the start. Looking at pictures I can see it took about 45 minutes or so for us to get from meeting to the start line. It wasn’t a straight shot to the start line, you had to weave around to the runner village and then walk some more. Even though it felt like it took forever, I absolutely love the energy at the start of a race. It’s palpable. I always get nervous. There’s nothing like it.
When we got close to the start line, there were little lanes separating individuals and then there were volunteers shouting, “GO!” every few seconds. So, no wave to speak of, but a rolling start. It’s the first time I’ve started a race this way. I wished everyone else good luck and started my music to get in the zone. And I swear my favorite song always plays first. “Work b*tch” by Britney Spears helped me kick off the race. I was feeling OK, but hadn’t eaten since lunch. It was a big ass sandwich and I was worried about eating more. I’d hydrated all day and had an Advocare Spark about an hour before we left.
My goal was to break two hours again. I did it at the Monumental Half in November, and felt like I’d kept up my training enough to make it happen. My coach, Rachel, noted the following for my race strategy:
- Miles 1-3 – 9:00-9:10
- Miles 4-12 – lock in just under 9:00 pace and hold! it will get hard!
- Last 1.1 – fast as you can to the finish!!!!
Here’s how it went:
- Mile 1 – 8:51 – a little fast but good
- Mile 2 – 9:00 – good
- Mile 3 – 9:04 – good
- Mile 4 – 9:02 – a touch over
- Mile 5 – 8:31 – what the f*ck? way too fast
- Mile 6 – 9:00 – good
- Mile 7 – 8:37 – another weirdly fast mile
- Mile 8 – 9:13 – a little slow
- Mile 9 – 9:09 – a little slow
- Mile 10 – 9:07 – a little slow
- Mile 11 – 9:43 – starting to really hurt
- Mile 12 – 11:19 – peed my pants, walked some
- Mile 13 – 10:24 – did everything I could to get it over with
So, I was doing OK until the last few miles. Here’s a look at the course.
One of the hardest parts about this race was seeing the finish line before being halfway done. I could hear them call out the women’s half winner as we passed. I looked at the lady next to me, she was dressed as a peacock, and said, “She’s just a little faster than us.” We laughed knowing we had a long way to go until we’d cross.
I don’t usually study course maps before a race. Part of me likes to be surprised. So, I didn’t know when we’d turn back around and head to the finish. Doing any kind of math while running is impossible for me, but as we passed mile markers I kept trying to figure out how much further we’d be going until we turned around. This was messing with me mentally. I’d had a couple of miles that were too fast, I’d taken a Gu early on and another around mile 6. I just couldn’t settle in. I never really got in a groove. My legs went from hurting to being completely numb at times. I tried to enjoy the times I couldn’t feel my legs.
Rachel’s words echoed in my head “it will get hard!” It had gotten hard. Really hard. The people and sights were distracting but not enough to make me stop focusing on my watch. Looking back part of me wishes I would have done the whole thing easy, but that’s too hard for me during a race. I’m too damn competitive. Between miles 8 and 9 there was Gatorade gel. Not sure I’ve ever had it. I had no idea how “liquidy” it was. Barely had the energy to open it and ended up squirting it all over my front and my bib. Cool.
When we turned around, even that part took forever. I imagined turning right around but it was a whole loop. I just wanted to head back. Once we finally were pointed back towards the finish, I was having a hard time believing I could keep going. My feet hurt like hell.
At some point I spotted my dad across the way and screamed, “HEY, PAPA!” I don’t call my dad that, it’s what our daughter, Sydney, calls him, but it’s what I yelled. He sees me and we smile at each other and wave. Usually, that would give me extra energy – it didn’t. When I was 10 miles in I had no idea how I was going to do it. Two hours was slipping away. There were a few moments I wondered if I’d pass out and not even finish the race. Thankfully, something that hasn’t happened. It was in these moments I thought more about Ukraine. Telling myself to shut the f*ck up because I’m in Vegas and I PAID to do this and it’s supposed to be for FUN.
Not even my tough love could keep me going. I slowed to a walk. Something that I’ve only done maybe 1-2 times in the 40+ half marathons I’ve done. Like I said earlier, I don’t like to stop for anything. Again, feeling like I might fall over, I ended up peeing my pants. I’ve only done this one other time at the Geist Half Marathon in Indy. I was grateful I was wearing black shorts and hoped no one would notice what was happening. Not that I really cared. I had nothing left. When I told my husband, Zach, about this he asked, “Why did you pee your pants, because you didn’t want to waste any time?” A good question. I couldn’t help it. My body wanted to. I didn’t care. I just let go and walked for a few minutes.
Now, I knew now that 2 hours was gone, I needed to focus on getting my ass across the finish line. I let myself walk a little longer. I hated walking. I could hear people cheering. It was humiliating. Not to mention I was soaked (ugh). Finally, I mustered up strength to jog. I told myself it didn’t matter how slow as long as I wasn’t walking. Just jog for a little longer. Less than 30 minutes to go. Less than 20. Less than 10. I tried picking up my pace a little. Just. Keep. Moving. “Eye of the Tiger” started to play as the finish line was in sight. The same song that played at the start of the New York Marathon.
Good Lord, it felt like that race took forever. In reality, my time was fine, 2:03:36 – “not my best, not my worst” – as I’d say to people who would ask. As I crossed the finish line, I put two peace signs as high in the air as I could and forced a smile. In the race pictures, I’m saying something but I can’t remember what. Zach said “you don’t look like you feel that bad” and I said “That’s because I’m faking it.”
I crossed the finish line around 7pm and didn’t end up back in the hotel room until a little after 8. I sat for a while after finishing. I ate potato chips and chugged a white Gatorade (my favorite flavor). They handed out Welch’s fruit snacks – the kind I buy for Syd – and that made me smile. I ate those too. I hobbled to the hotel lobby. As crappy as I felt – and as bad as I smelled – I couldn’t go back to the room without some good finisher photos. *insert eye roll* I headed out front to the fountains where there’s also a nice view of the strip. I asked a stranger to take my photo. When I posed, my entire right quad cramped. Something I’ve never experienced. HOLY HELL IT HURT SO BAD. I couldn’t move. The stranger didn’t speak English. I tried to explain what was happening and leaned to get my phone back without being able to walk. Another stranger asked if I was ok. He told me to massage my leg and eat the banana I had. I did. I had to wait a while for the pain to subside. And when it did, the fountains went off. They took my breath away. If I’d seen them before I didn’t remember. It was a nice reward.
Once I felt confident enough I could walk back to the room, I made my way there. I stopped at the newstand for a GIANT beer, a chocolate milk, and some Icy Hot (I forgot my Biofreeze). When I got to the room my dad’s voice scared me. I guess I didn’t expect him to be back yet. He let me shower first and after I sat in bed and rotated sips of my various beverages. “I’m ready when you are, ” he said. You guessed it… time for craps. I know what you’re thinking… and I don’t know how I mustered up the energy, but even with an early flight the next day I knew I could rest when I got home.
I wore my medal to the craps table (I am sad I didn’t get a photo of this). People asked me what I’d won. There was a lovely old couple from New York next to us. I only brought down the ~$300 I was up to play with. If anything, I wanted to leave even. I was already pissed enough about the race (terrible pun). Well, I ended up winning almost $800. It was a great way to end a disappointing race. And it made it easy for me to go to bed. My dad stayed up playing for a few more hours. And for the 30 years he’s been going to Vegas, he said this is probably 1 of a handful of times he’s left with money. Maybe I was good luck. Maybe I’ll do it again next year.
In true runner fashion, when I got home I signed up for 3 more half marathons. You see, it doesn’t matter if you have a bad race. Because you can always sign up for another one.
P.S. Thank you, Zach, for watching the girls!