Las Vegas Half Marathon

by the Wizard   2010-12-08 15:23

This story starts about two months ago, when the same friend who challenged me to do the Triathlon Sprint did so again with the Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas Half Marathon. Two months is not a lot of time to prepare if you're starting from square one. Fortunately, I was already on square 3, doing 3-4 mile runs from time to time. So, I went on a crash training course to build up my endurance to 13.1 miles.

I followed my training regimend and ultimately did reach my goal. On Saturday, December 5, 2010, I exited my house rip, roaring, and ready to run. The weather was great for running. It was cold waiting for the race to start, but once the race started everyone seemed to throw off their outer layers, and run in shorts and t-shirts. The race route was littered with discarded clothing. I wonder what happens to it all. At times I saw people collecting it in hefty bags, but what they did with it all, I have no idea.

My adventure began with just getting to the start line. I had planned to exit the I-15 at Tropicana to park, but there was a huge line of vehicles on the off ramp, so I went to plan B: the Russell Road exit. That exit's back up was even worse, so I moved on to plan C, the 215 exit ? there is an exit on the 215 off-ramp that leads to the Strip. I found easy parking at the executive airport, just a bit south of the Welcome to Las Vegas sign and about a half mile south of the starting point at the Mandalay Bay. At this point, I took my bike out of the back of my minivan and pedaled the rest of the way, chaining my bike to a tree at the start line. This worked out beautifully. I hesitate to ruin this parking secret by writing about it, as it was incredibly convenient, considering 30,000 people were gathering for the race and the Strip was closed, creating parking nightmares elsewhere.

Another hot tip is you can pick up your number the day of the race near the start line. The race website says you can't, but you can. That will save you a trip to the runner expo, which they incorrectly say is mandatory to attend. The line to pick up my number was only a few minutes long.

My ardent fans may recall I ran the whole marathon in 2005. One of my gripes when relating that story was that from the Mandalay Bay to about the Monte Carlo it was elbow to elbow runners, all moving northbound on the Strip at walking speed. There was nothing you could do about it if you were part of the mob, and anybody hoping for a competitive time, I'm sure, was unhappy about the log jam.

Skip ahead five years and they have learned a few things. This time they had about 30 separate runner corrals with staggered starting times, and everybody was given a corral number somewhat according to his estimated completion time. However, there must have been other factors as well. The person who challenged me and I both indicated two hour times, and he got corral 8 while I got corral 12. The lower the corral number, the faster your estimated finish time was supposed to be.

This year, I was still so upset over the stampede of 2005 that I had the idea to wait 10 minutes after the last corral. For those who haven't ever run a race or haven't run one in a while, everybody was given a timing chip to put on their shoelace, so your own clock doesn't start until you cross the start line. However, some volunteers were walking behind the last corral in an effort to push all the runners over the start line, including me. So I was in the handful of last runners to start, just behind the final corral.

The corral method definitely did thin the herd of runners, which was a very good idea. However, by starting last, what I had in front of me was a sea of walkers. I had to zig-zag around them the entire race, but it was especially bad at the beginning. Much of the time, I ran on the sidewalks and outside the cones to get some clear passing space. At the risk of sounding like a misogynist, what I found very annoying was the many groups of two or more women walking side by side. They had that right, but you could see lots of other runners behind them jockeying for position to pass them, creating bottlenecks. It was very frustrating, and not just for me, but plenty of women runners too.

I also blame myself for not starting in my designated corral 12. This would not have entirely alleviated the problem, as walkers seemed to be present in every corral. I spoke with other runners afterward in various corrals, and they all complained about walkers. It wouldn't surprise me if a lot of them indicated fast estimated times when they registered but then didn't adequately train and ended up walking the whole thing.

As in 2005, it was a fun race with lots of bands playing along the route and thousands of spectators watching and cheering. This year, the half marathon route went from the Mandalay Bay to downtown and back. That would have been a little under 13.1 miles, so they added a bunch of turns to the downtown section. Between the Luxor and the Mandalay Bay on the return trip, the full marathon runners split off and did a convoluted route to the west of the Strip before coming back east and crossing the same finish line, although with their own lane, as the half marathoners.

My goal was to finish in under two hours. I had paced myself for 9 minute miles, but I wasn't keeping up that pace between miles 10 and 12, and by the time I realized it, I was too far behind to catch up. My final time was 2:02:12. To put that in perspective, I finished 354th out of the 947 men aged 45 to 49. The median time in that group was 2:10:28. The fastest was 1:18:12, and the slowest was 4:05:19.

One thing that should not go unmentioned is the bathroom situation. It was chaos in 2005, with lines 20 people long for the limited number of porta-potties, with the vast majority of runners deciding to just go any old place. This year, there were many more porta-potties, and the lines were only about 5 people long. I still think it would be faster to dart into any casino along the route. A lot of men still used any available tree or vacant lot, despite hundreds of runners passing by.

Overall, the organization was notably improved since 2005. I also greatly appreciate the later starting time of 7 AM, as opposed to the 6 AM of prior years. My compliments to the organizers. I have just two suggestions: First, spread apart the corrals even further. Second, don't confine the runners to one side of the Strip, or any street. Instead, use some other route on the way back. The runner density was simply too great this time. I'd like to make this an annual thing, so I hope to run again in 2011.