While California was haunted by a storm, I escaped the rain only to find myself on the Las Vegas Strip on a Sunday afternoon in early December at the starting line of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon and Half Marathon. How did I get here?
What eventually drew me to it was probably the prospect of running along the Strip in the dark, since the race gun would be fired at the unexpected 4:30 pm start time. Thinking about it a little, it actually makes total sense to have an event like this in Sin City, in the middle of the desert. After all, that is the town that has a replica of the Eiffel Tower, a Venice-themed hotel including the Rialto Bridge, a pirate ship and a gamblers’ den in the shape of a pyramid. Vegas sees moderate temperatures in December, so at least from that perspective, it deems to be perfect for running. That, and the mostly flat course. What else would you expect in the desert?
Viva Las Vegas
I arrived on Saturday afternoon, making my way to the hotel and to the unexpectedly busy Marathon Health and Fitness Expo. 30,000 participants were there to pick up their race packet and try out and buy the latest in sports and running equipment, clothing and nutrition from one of the many vendors. I had a chance to exchange a few words with Patrick from The Stick (which I can totally recommend), who is also Austrian (from beautiful Tyrol to be exact), while he was demonstrating the tool on interested passers-by. Later on, I went for a stroll along the Strip, i.e., examining the course, listening to Christmas songs blasting out of loudspeakers, watched people skate on an ice rink in front of the Venetian and enjoyed The Fountains of Bellagio choreographed to Elvis’ Viva Las Vegas.
The diversity of the crowd was proven to me at the pre-race brunch on Sunday, race day. People at my table came from Pennsylvania, Oregon, Washington, Georgia (Atlanta) and Colorado (Denver). There were the first-time half-marathoners and the multiple marathon finisher veterans. The event was accompanied by motivational words from Frank Shorter, winner of the 1972 Olympic Marathon event in Munich, and writer and deliberate slow-runner John “The Penguin” Bingham. Bingham, in all seriousness, claimed that everybody lies about his/her finisher time, which I don’t agree with, but I leave The Penguin to his opinion.
Having to check out from my hotel at noon left me with about 3.5 hours to kill. For performance-enhancing reasons, I opted for…Starbucks (not steroids). While sipping my latte and walking towards the starting area at the south side of the Strip across from the Luxor, I hoped not to face a repeat of the unfortunate events of 2011. Back then people disapproved of the overcrowding, and dozens complained about nausea, vomiting and stomach pain, allegedly due to contaminated water, which however was later denied by officials as a possible cause.
Warm up at the Sphinx
Apparently much better thought through this time, I arrived at the warm-up/gear check area way beforehand, with enough time to stretch, use the bathroom, check my gear and even watch the fastest of the marathon runners zoom by since their start was a full one and a half hours before ours. Presumably, another lesson learned from last year’s event. As I made my way to my assigned corral, I noticed that the wind had picked up substantially after the sun had gone down, blowing intermittently from a southwesterly direction. “Don’t worry, the wind is all in your back!”, the announcer claimed over the PA. “Yeah, only until we turn around and head back down the strip,” I thought to myself.
The start went quite smoothly with not too much overcrowding happening (at least for my start block), however the wind, it was apparent, would become most likely the main issue. After heading south for about one mile, we turned around and continued north on Las Vegas Blvd all the way to downtown where we took a couple of turns and eventually found ourselves heading back down the Strip via 4th street. The wind, which started to push us in heavy gusts for parts of the way north, also had the not noticeable effect of not cooling you down enough, making you sweat more and proper hydration even more important. The last four miles to the finish line were filled with agony, as we were not only running slightly uphill but also had to fight against heavy wind gusts at times.
Finish at The Mirage
In the end, I managed a new personal record but missed my goal by about 1 minute 20 seconds. Battling the last couple of miles along the Strip I already knew it was going to be tight to meet my target and seriously thought about giving up 2 or 3 times, but eventually, I crossed the finish line at the Mirage, exhausted, but blissful it was over. I picked up my medal and some nutrition items, headed back to my hotel, grabbed my luggage and got into a cab to head straight to the airport.
The cab ride was probably the most entertaining I have ever had, when the driver, of Asian descent, told me how other cabbies have their specific strategies of ripping off their customers by taking detours around the Strip to rack up more miles and bump up the price. “I had colleagues who were fined $200 the first time, $400 second time, third time they lose job”, he disclosed in his heavy accent. He was also eager to report that customers had sexual intercourse in the back of his cab twice and that numerous suggestive hints from clients to either follow him into the hotel or to tell them where to find the best hookers. However it had gotten increasingly more difficult for these sort of adventures since many of the cabs are now equipped with onboard surveillance cameras, audio recording and GPS (as was the one I was in) to make sure cabbies do not get involved into any illegal activities while on duty.
I advised him to write a book about his tales. “Confessions of a Las Vegas cabbie,” I suggested for a book title. A short fifteen minutes from the hotel I was at the airport, tipped my driver well and was at my gate well before my flight at 9.30 pm. I also didn’t hold back in showing my pride, still wearing my running clothes and sporting my medal. Would I do it again? What lunatic would have a running event in Vegas!