Disclaimer: This is a very long, very thorough account of my Las Vegas RnR experience. I promise I won’t stop being your friend if you don’t want to read all of it. Seriously. You can skip it. I’ll be ok.
If you like the crush and sweat of other runners, bottlenecks galore, and wearing yourself out by weaving around crowds of walkers, then the Las Vegas Rock N Roll marathon and half-marathon is the event for you.
First the positives (it’s a short list): Let me say first off that running on the Las Vegas Strip at night is amazeballs. I ran the race with a friend of mine from Texas and her trainer, and we were all very excited and pumped up. Definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience to have that whole Strip closed down and lit up so you could run it for a couple of hours.
AND we ran past the pawn shop where Pawn Stars is filmed! I was so pumped I forgot to take a picture (yes, I had my camera with me. Check out all the awesome blurry pics! You. Are. Welcome.) I looked to Chumley, but no dice.
Another bonus: I signed up for the runner tracker thingy which sent my half-marathon-cheerleader-extraordinaire XFE texts on how I was doing throughout the race. It worked like a charm and XFE was out there cheering me on at mile 12, which was a HUGE morale booster. I’m always loathe to ask people to come out to the race because I just never know how my pacing is going to go or where I’ll be when and it’s so boring just standing around, so having this sort of thing available was a big stress reliever for me, and probably for him as well. I highly recommend signing up for that service if it’s available.
Final positive point, the course is nice and flat and fast. Fast, that is, if there weren’t 44,000 other people on it.
But therein lies the rub. It’s just too crowded.
This became abundantly evident when we strolled to the starting area and tried to locate the gear check. I know from previous endeavors that it will be very, very cold while you are waiting for your start (it was a wave start, which means corrals or groups of people start every three minutes or so). Then, you will start running and become very, very hot and sweaty. But when you stop running, it will become very, very cold again very quickly, and it is miserable. So I wanted to bring another top and jacket to change into after the race and check it, especially since the temperatures at start time was in the low 40s and dropping.
The problem was, we could not for the life of us find the gear check. It was nowhere near the start line. It was actually inside the Mandalay Bay. There were no signs indicating where the gear check was until, basically, right in front of the door to the auditorium. Nothing outside or in the finishing area. We had to ask several different people to locate it.
And the only way to get to the finishing area and then into the hotel itself and then to the elusive gear check was to go through the teeny tiny chute between the corral barriers. That tiny opening was surging with people going different directions. It was a pretty scary 10 minutes while we tried to push through without losing each other.
We finally checked our gear and located a corral close to the one we had signed up for.
The marathon started at 4:00. Those poor suckers start their race by running out into a boring industrial neighborhood. Then, they have to merge with the half-marathoners, who began at 5:30 (my corral crossed the start line about 30 minutes later so around 6). This merge system is unfair to the poor marathoners on so, so many levels.
For one thing, nobody seems to respect the corral system. Corrals are organized by your expected finish time. For example, when I signed up three months ago (pre-foot injury), I predicted I would finish in 2 hours 15 minutes. I was assigned to corral 20. But when the day got here, I correctly predicted that my finish time might be a bit closer to 2 hours 30 minutes, so I moved back several corrals to corral 23. Why do this? Well, you do it so that faster people wouldn’t have to worry about running headlong into your slow ass. You’re back with the other heavy-footed plodders.
Now, most marathoners, are much, much faster than us lowly halfers. So when you have somebody going much faster running straight into a virtual human wall of much slower half marathoners, well, tempers tend to flare. There was a separate lane for marathoners, but it was separated by cones. Yes, you read that right: CONES. The race organizers did have people on bikes riding along the course and “encouraging” half marathoners to run on the right side of the road and keep a left lane open for the marathoners. Yeah, that didn’t really work out so great. Let’s just say, there were more of us than them (I think the halfers outnumbered the full marathoners by about 6 to 1. Ah, here’s the stat: 6000 vs. 38000)
And here’s when the other issue arises: there were WALKERS in this race. Yes, a race billed as the “World’s Largest Nighttime Running Event,” had walkers. People who are consciously choosing to walk 13.1 miles. And, since they are very nice people who raise a lot of money for a very good cause, they started in the first several corrals. Which means that they were in the way of about 38,000 runners that started after them. Also: unlike runners, who will fall back and run in a line behind each other (me and my cohorts did this many times), walkers like to walk in large chatty groups, arms linked straight across the race route, waving their blinky neon-lit gloves at the bands and the few straggling and probably lost gamblers who stumbled upon the race while on their way to a different and undoubtedly luckier casino. For us runners, it’s basically like the old playground game Red Rover. Except the school yard kids are old people in neon orange vests announcing that they are participating on behalf of Team Challenge.
The real challenge was getting around them. So basically, what us half-marathoners were to the marathoners, the walkers were to us (that should be an SAT question). I kept having to remind myself that they were good, charitable people who really care a lot about healthy colons (the race and fundraising are on the part of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation) and do not deserve to be throttled by my shoe strings (the only likely weapon I had on me at the time).
A couple of other issues: they ran out of water at some stations especially in the last half, which is unfathomable in a race of this size. There also didn’t seem to be too many medics. I saw people puking all over the place, including inside the Mandalay Bay, which was a freaking war zone after the race.
About the end of the race, after crossing the finish line, I was quickly handed my medal (glow in the dark, VERY cool) and started moving with the crowd towards what I thought would be water, food, mylar heating blankets. I did get a mylar blanket (the table appeared unstaffed and another runner was just throwing them in the air behind him so I managed to catch one out of the air). I also saw an unmanned table with flats of water bottles, so I grabbed one of those as well and continued with my crowd surge strategy.
Then, about 100 feet in, the surging crowd just came to a halt. I assumed we were picking up goodie bags with food. I was just stopped. In a crush of sweaty, disgusting, shivering people, myself included. Finally, out of the corner of my eye, I sensed some movement on the perimeters of the crowd, so I decided to forget the food and just get out of this crowd. I pushed my way over to the edge and shuffled along. When I looked back to try to figure out what had caused the ridiculous jam I had just been stuck in for about 15 minutes, I saw that there were about 5 or 6 lines for getting your picture taken with your medal. WTF?? Right inside the finish line?? How about some damn signage so people who don’t want a stupid picture can get on with their lives??
Again, all I wanted to do at this point was find some room so I could stretch after my run. But no. There was no room to be had. I made my way back into the gear check area so I could pick up my phone and try to text my fellow racers (I got separated from them around mile 10 because my metatarsal problems had flared up in a MAJOR way. Several walking breaks, which was mildly disappointing, but not surprising, since I knew this might be an issue).
And Holy Running Hell, the whole place looked like a triage area. There was trash and spilled drinks and food everywhere, runners laying on the floor stretching as far as the eye could see. People zombied out, or puking into their mylars. It was crazy! So naturally, I wanted to get my stuff and get the hell out of there as quickly as possible.
Except ‘quick’ was not the order of the day by any means. Again, a HUGE bottleneck developed as thousands of people jammed into the halls of the Mandalay and tried to make their way to the shuttles, the taxi stand out front, or the tram to the Luxor or Excalibur. To add to the fun, the new Cirque de Soleil Michael Jackson tribute show “Immortal” (opening weekend, naturally) was letting out at the exact same time that me and my crew and about a bazillion of our closest, sweatiest friends were crammed into the exit hallway. I felt so bad for those poor people.
While all this crushing and pushing was going on, people were dropping like flies (understandably since it stunk so badly). Passing out and puking against columns. INDOORS! It was insane, chaotic, disgusting and overall horribly disorganized. We took the tram to the Excalibur to try to catch a cab, but the line was just way, way too long, so we ended up just walking back to the Cosmopolitan where my friend was staying.
I have no idea how long it took us to get out of that hell-zone from start to finish, but we were all so traumatized we just sat around the room stretching and looking at each other. We didn’t take any after pictures. They ordered some pizza from a restaurant downstairs, but at that point, I was just too exhausted and smelled too gross, so I met XFE downstairs and made our way back to the Venetian (we walked). It was hours after the race and I saw other runners just making their way back as well.
Apparently there have been quite a few complaints along the lines of what I just described.
“It was tough. We didn’t know where to go and there wasn’t anybody guiding us,” says racer Mary Murphy.
“There was a lot of chaos on the way back to the hotel,” adds Murphy’s daughter Kelli.
The photos, snapped with cell phones, show thousands of people pouring into Mandalay Bay hallways unable to move. People report being stuck for nearly an hour with numerous people vomiting and passing out.
“We had heard that lots of people collapsed,” says racer Christie McMorris. “Inside the hotel was horrible.”
Yeah, that’s about right.
Last year, when the race was run in the morning, the race was capped at 28,000 runners. The switch to a nighttime race almost doubled the participation. And next year, the organizers are aiming for 60,000. Good luck to them. I will definitely not be amongst them.
But for anyone else doing it in the future, a few tips:
- Avoid gear check. Just catch pneumonia in your sweaty, wet clothes instead.
- Avoid going inside the hotel at all. I know you’re cold and it’s nice and warm in there, but I’m telling you, you don’t want to do it.
- Bring your own water and bring enough for the entire race and after. And don’t share with anybody, otherwise you might be getting water from a fire hydrant and a trash can. (Yep, that happened, according to some reports.)
- Get the hell away from the finishing area as fast as you can. I recommend walking fast and never looking back.
- Have food ready for after the race. Because there’s a good chance you won’t find any at the finishing area.
- Be really, really fast so you can be in one of the early corrals and done before the chaos begins.
I promise to be more positive tomorrow. I had a fantastic post-race day, including awesome food, some shoe shopping, and a massage. All’s well that ends well.
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