Honk Honk. “Hey girl, want some cocaine?” Click, click, click, goes the cards from a man promoting a strip club. I spin around, confused, dazed, nervous. The bright lights have me blinded and disoriented. HONNNKKKKKK. People, so many people, pushing, shoving, drinking, and smoking. Thump Thump Thump goes the rave music flooding the street. It is official, I am in hell.
That’s What You Get For Waking Up In Vegas
I awoke with the sun rising, making my hotel room glow a soft yellow. From 27 floors below rave music was still bumping, THUMP THUMP THUMP. Apparently there are no noise ordinances in Vegas. Being from the east coast I can’t “go hard” partying into the night. Midnight in Vegas felt like 3 A.M. to me, and now in my thirties 3 A.M. is not even an obtainable goal. So by 11 P.M. Vegas time I wouldn’t be found on the strip, rather curled up in bed trying to sleep through the THUMP THUMP and traffic noise below.
I sit up in bed, checking my phone for the time. In order to maximize gambling and alcohol profits, clocks are absent in the hotels. This extends into the rooms. As someone who is obsessed with time management, I find this extremely frustrating. Thank God for cell phones. It was 6 A.M., 9 A.M. to my brain. I pulled open the curtain on my strip view room, taking in the multi-color skyline, along with the non-stop noise.
“What was I thinking?” I muse to myself. It wasn’t the round the clock drinking, gambling, smoking, or whoring that had tempted me to Vegas; it was a spinning, glow-in-the-dark medal. I wasn’t alone though, 27,000 other runners had also been lured in by this prize. The Rock ‘n’ Roll Vegas half marathon is the 3rd largest half marathon in the U.S., and a destination race found on most runner’s bucket list. Once I decided to try for the 50 in 50, RnR Vegas became my desired Nevada medal. The strip only closes to traffic twice a year, once for New Year’s Eve, and once for this race. What attracted me more than running through the twinkling lights though, was the fact it was a night race.
I did what any intelligent woman would do next, asked my boyfriend of 3 months, Mike, who had also never been to Vegas, to join me. He did what any intelligent man would do, agreed to go. To our benefit, we did acknowledge it was risky and stupid, since the race was in November and we started planning in June. We also live on the east coast, so this was a big, expensive trip. Flights were reasonable though, and between the runner hotel discount RnR offers and my reward points I was able to get a room at the Monte Carlo for free. The race itself was pricey, but I am sure it isn’t cheap getting the strip shut down, so I paid without complaint. To my surprise, Mike, who is not a runner, signed up to run the 10k. It was official. It was planned. We were going to Vegas.
Immediately upon arrival we went straight to packet pickup. RnR does offer race day pickup for an additional fee, something I wish other destination races would do. The race wasn’t until Sunday though, and we flew in Friday, so I could attend the expo. Despite the overwhelming size of the Vegas convention center, packet pickup was painless. We were in and out in thirty minutes, including a tour of all the vendors. However, the poor runners who wanted official RnR gear had a crazy 45 minute line to the cash registers. My free race shirt was enough of a souvenir for me though, so we headed to our hotel to check in.
In less than an hour exploring the strip, my initial thought that I would not like Vegas was confirmed. It is hell. Large crowds, loud noises, drugs, strippers, indoor smoking, tacky buildings, what’s to love? We knew we would not find an experience we enjoyed near the strip, so we started planning day trips outside Vegas. Red Rocks Canyon, Hoover Dam, Tater Tot Festival, Clark County Museum, all were better than the strip. The only Vegas event I enjoyed was the Penn and Teller Show, in which I was pulled on stage to participate in a trick. But this day was not for travel, today was race day.
With our legs fatigued from days of exploring, we decided to take race morning easy. We mostly lounged in bed, watching tv, only venturing out around 11 for lunch at New York New York’s Broadway Burger. As NYNY is next door to the Monte Carlo, this was not a long venture. Finally the time to prepare came. We got into our race gear and headed toward our start lines. The 10k and Half Marathon start in two completely different areas, so I said goodbye to Mike at the monorail station, which would take him to the 10k start, and walked solo to the Half Marathon starting party.
RnR races are known for their music both along the course plus a headliner. With Vegas being one of their biggest races, it attracts a big headliner. I was quite excited with that years headliner, Snoop Dogg! The previous year has Kidd Rock, which would have been torturous. Poor Mike, and the other 10k runners, had to endure a DJ and a light up car show as their “headliner” act.
The crowd at my starting area was huge, and growing larger by the minute. The concert is actually open and free to the public, not just the runners. Therefore it wasn’t just the 27,000 of us running in attendance, which already would have been a lot for me. I found a little hollow spot in the crowd where I could see the stage, and tried to relax to the smooth rap. “Got my mind on my money and my money on my mind”. In reality my mind was trying to ward off anxiety both from the crowd and from pre-race jitters, so I headed to the “porta party”, as RnR christened the porta-potties, then waiting to be called to my corral.
The race had three different waves, depending on anticipated finish time. I was in the green wave, the middle wave. Each wave started thirty minutes apart, so realistically you should never see anyone from another wave. The blue wave had been sent off at 4:30, and at 5 our fireworks shot up from the starting gate and we were off. Even with the full width of the strip and only 9,000 runners in my wave, I still had a hard time finding my pace. I was sprinting around people, weaving in and out trying to find an area I could run comfortably and unhindered. Try as I may, it was impossible.
To make matters worse, the road condition was awful. Potholes, road reflectors instead of painted lines, random pipes implanted into the asphalt wide enough to fit a foot and break an ankle. The first mile was also dark, as we ran away from the strip before doing a u-turn and heading back up. Then the magical part of the race happened, and at least some of my frustrations melted away. For all my negativity leading up to the race, I must admit running down the strip at night was almost breathtaking. All the neon and flashing lights helped masked the tackiness of the resorts easily spotted in the daylight. The strip appears to have been designed for night viewing, it is truly when it looks the best. I still had to watch my footing and fight for my pace, but at least I felt more positive at that moment.
Then you head into old Vegas, which I would not feel comfortable in at night if not surrounded by thousands of other runners. It was fun viewing the classic hotels, like Circus Circus, and I finally learned you could find cheap beer in Vegas if you’re brave enough to go to the old casinos. Elvis was singing outside The Little White Chapel, an amusing addition. After old Vegas, darkness envelops you. Literally. I found myself running through random neighborhood streets with little lighting. A neighborhood resident had dragged his large screen tv into his front lawn to cheer runners on while not missing his football game. It was a surprising mood enhancer.
Back onto the strip I could feel my energy starting to fade. It was hot and humid, and I had expended too much energy sprinting in the beginning. I still had about 5 miles to go but my pace was fading, as was my fun. I was ready to be done. I started to hear a wail in the distance, then some shouting. A runner had fallen and was crying in the fetal position. A halo of blood surrounded her head. Bike paramedics had gotten to her and were trying to figure the logistics to get her out. If anything jars your head back into focus, its a sight like that. Despite my tired legs I reminded myself to focus on the potholed roads and keep my feet lifted.
Finally the finish line was in sight! I crossed it feeling lackluster, grabbed my medal and didn’t even think to take a selfie. The finisher chute was a ¼ mile long. I took all the goodies handed to me in an exhausted daze, only stopping to drink the chocolate milk, which tasted like the elixir of life. I really, really had to pee. I did not want to stop during the run, although the course often had porta-potties available. Oddly though, the finished chute offered none. By the time I exited, I was basically walking cross-legged to hold it in.
Mike was waiting for me in front of Bellagio, the fountains no longer dancing as they did non-stop during the start of the race. He had been live tracking me and had seen my pace fall off at the end and knew I was going to be disappointed. I used the first hotel bathroom I found, gave my runner’s beer to Mike as I felt awful, then rejoiced when we got to our room. I checked my race stats, 2:10:52. I had to almost crawled into the shower, cleaned up, then threw up. This race was NOT sitting well with me. Mike was already laying in bed watching tv. I snuggled in beside him and we promptly fell asleep, all former plans to have a big post-race dinner vanishing.
We awoke early as usual, packed and left. When I originally booked the flights we were flying out at 2 P.M., giving us time for lunch before going to the airport. But the airline decided to change our flight to 10 A.M., so straight to the airport we headed. Although originally annoyed by the flight change, when the day came I no longer cared. I just wanted out of the sin city, and the sooner the better. Before long I was strapped into my seat, book in hand, trying to ignore the happy chatter of follow runners comparing happy stories so I wouldn’t ruin their fun with my negative view of the whole experience. I keep my attention on the window instead, never so happy to see the familiar landscape of North Carolina gliding beneath me. I made it, I survived, I got my Nevada medal, and with any luck, I’ll never have to return to Las Vegas again.
*Author’s Note: I know my opinion is not the popular one of Vegas. But it is real, and I’m wasn’t going to sugar coat it. I will say Rock and Roll did put on a good race, and the blame of my horrible experience does not lie with them. If you like Vegas, or are curious to experience the city yourself, I would recommend the race. If you hate Vegas, or think you will, I would definitely seek out a race that showcases the natural beauty of Nevada.
Race: Rock n’ Roll Vegas
Location: Las Vegas, Nevada
State #: 2
Chip Time: 2:10:52
Age group: 345/2120