For anyone wanting to run a marathon or half marathon in Nevada, run the strip at night. It’s truly Las Vegas at its best.
Yes, I ran a marathon the previous weekend in Indianapolis. Yes, I was sick during the week. I drove over on race day (Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas starts at 4:30 p.m.), and I drove back after, which made for a long day. But I wouldn’t change any of it. Running the strip at night is a blast.
I’ve only been to Las Vegas once before yesterday. In that trip, I couldn’t help but think that it is the perfect American city. It’s full of unhealthy living — decadent restaurants, multitudes of homeless people, some mentally ill. Las Vegas is an oasis built in the middle of the desert, beckoning people to come to the glitz. There is also an underlying whisper of luck. You can win something, turn what little money you have into a stockpile of wealth.
Las Vegas, like much of our country, is also a copycat. We have borrowed culture from around the world. And nowhere is that more apparent than in Las Vegas — where a replica Eiffel Tower sits across the street from a model Roman palace, which isn’t far from fake New York City complete with a mini Statue of Liberty.
I also felt more alive during my first visit to Las Vegas. Something about running along the strip in the early morning (I got up and did a workout all four days I was there) makes you feel superhuman. You get to sprint past gamblers — some still drunk from the night before — and see everything illuminated by the sun. The stark contrast from day to night on the Vegas strip stuck out to me.
I’ve had the Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon circled on my state list for a few years. When I looked at the upcoming race calendar a few weeks ago, I decided to roll the dice and sign up last minute. It was the right call.
I drove over (almost five hours on the road) starting out at 7:30 a.m. yesterday. I arrived just in time to find free parking in the Caesar’s Palace garage, which was right near the finish line. Then I found some lunch/prerace fuel at a CVS (I opted for a big fruit bowl) as I slowly made my way south to the starting line which was about 2.5 miles south. I stopped several times to watch bits and pieces of the Dallas Cowboys first half against the Steelers. And no. I didn’t put any money on the game.
All of the extra walking, following five hours in the car, did take its toll. When I finally arrived at the athlete village, my legs were already feeling strained. So I sat down in the shade with a little more than two hours left until the start.
I’ve run Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans before, my only other R ‘n’ R race experience. I don’t remember a large opening band at that race, but I could have missed it. Yesterday, I didn’t miss the opening act at all. I would have known to expect Snoop Dogg on stage had I paid close attention to the event website, but it was a complete shock. And if you’re wondering if having 70+ speakers thumping bass in your face can help you with some prerace bathroom movement, the answer is yes. Thousands of people milled around the athlete village, as Snoop belted out his hits and talked to the crowd. Let’s just say he was extremely happy about certain legislation that passed in Nevada and California last Tuesday…
Then we (all of us wearing blue bibs for the full marathon and some of the faster halfers) walked from the village another half mile south of Mandalay Bay to the starting line. Without any area to get in a warmup, I just did a few leg swings and sat down for the final 40 minutes before starting.
I had some serious doubts as the race began. Last week was a heavy training week following a full in Indianapolis the previous Saturday. I walked way too much (walking seems to make me much tighter than running) in the four hours leading up to the race. “Why did I sign up to do this? I might not even crack four hours today…” That’s what was running through my head on a loop as we ran south past the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign. But as we turned around to head back north right before the one-mile mark, I started breathing deeply and focused on taking in the spectacle.
As I passed the iconic sign heading back north, the entire strip was laid out in front of me. I was far enough away that I couldn’t see all of the warts. No trash littering the sidewalk, no throwup that didn’t make it in a trash can. Everything sparkled, and the sun had just disappeared completely. Off to my right, hovering seemingly inches above the airport, I could see the super moon, which mirrored the orange glow from the strip. I never felt at home visiting Las Vegas the first time. The city and scene aren’t my style. But moving along a shut down Las Vegas Bvld. with thousands of other runners felt right.
The course rolls along the strip north all the way until you get to classic Vegas. It goes past the wedding chapels, pawn shops and bail bonds headquarters. The Rock ‘n’ Roll crew does a great job of making sure there is entertainment along the whole course. But still, there are many spots where we were running along darkened Las Vegas streets. It’s an interesting dynamic. You go from loud crowds and thumping rave music or classic rock to nothing but your own breathing.
We ran back past the famous Heart Attack grill — which serves 350+ pound people for free and has items like the double and triple bypass burgers — and headed back south. That was around mile 10. Then came the almost endless cycle of out-and-backs and loops. While I am glad I ran last night, I don’t think I’ll do the Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas full again in the future. Many times, the fencing that kept us in the right place reminded me of a security line at an airport, only this line was miles long and seemed like it would never end. We were simply weaving back and forth (just look at the screen shot of one section of the course).
Mile 11 was my second slowest (only to the mile where I made a bathroom stop). At that point, I thought I had made a terrible mistake. I was far off pace and felt like I was slowing down. But then a weird thing happened: I snapped out of my funk and picked up my leg turnover. I looked down at my watch each mile through 18 and was surprised to see times much lower than that mile 11 mark. Miles 14 through 17.5 were a weird blur. We were running back and forth around and then back around long white buildings that apparently make up the Las Vegas market. Strobe lights and loud music assaulted us the entire way. Note: don’t do this race if you are in any way epileptic.
Any time I felt like I had gained some rhythm, an out-and-back turnaround would steal it away. I have no clue how many out-and-backs we did, but by the end I was pleading for them to cease. The last one, which came after a lovely two mile loop through the Circus Circus grounds, was conveniently placed in mile 25.
Still, this race had an energy and flow to it. At several points, I could have easily walked (I never did) or slowed my pace to a crawl to give my aching legs some relief. But I never did. I finished in 3:18:46, which was almost five minutes faster than the previous week.
With all of the lights and thumping music, accompanied by trying to run fast, it felt surreal. The Las Vegas strip is only shut down twice a year: New Years Eve, and for Rock ‘n’ Roll.
I will never claim Las Vegas. It’s a city built for excess and false hope. But last night, I got to see the strip at its best. Full of runners (2,655 people ran the full and 22,052 ran the half) charging toward the after party. I, of course, drove straight home, happy to have state No. 28, sub 4, crossed off.