Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas
November 12, 2017
A little over a year ago, I had just finished running the Rock 'n' Roll Philadelphia half marathon and my wife and I were stuck in traffic driving back to Long Island. As we sat trying to pass the time, the monotony of the commute was broken when the radio announced a vacation giveaway to anyone who could call in and name any country with three letters in its name. "Albania!" My wife exclaimed and quickly picked up the phone. Within seconds she was connected to an operator, gave her answer, and was told she'd get a call back sometime in the next hour with the details.
The next hour was spent furiously debating whether or not this could be some kind of scam but after attempting to do some online investigating, we decided to take a chance and go for it. Sure enough, here we are a little over a year later and fresh off of our trip to Las Vegas for the Rock 'n' Roll Half, and what an amazing weekend. Wanting to make the most of the trip, we were also able to convince several of our friends from college to make the trip and the eight of us had a blast hanging out altogether for the first time since we graduated in.
After a better than expected performance in Montreal in September, I also made the decision to really push myself in the weeks leading up to Las Vegas and to shoot for a new PR. The goal to beat was my Rock 'n' Roll New Orleans performance in 2015, 1:49:43. That was only my 2nd half marathon, and the first one I'd actually trained for. Although I'd set a PR, I hadn't really "raced." I ran with a friend from grad school focussing on keeping a consistent pace as opposed to pushing for time. I decided to aim for 1:48:00 in Vegas and started investigating pace plans and strategies.
My wife and I flew out to Vegas on Friday night and did exactly what you're NOT supposed to do leading up to a race, we stayed up until 2 am Vegas time (5 am at home). Needless to say, we slept in as long as we could on Saturday morning. I think the hardest part of the race was using our time responsibly before the race. We did pretty well getting to bed early on Saturday, what I wasn't so good at was managing my pre-race nutrition, especially during the breakfast buffets! My other fear was hydration in the desert but I stocked up on Pedialyte to help take care of that.
Distractions aside, we made it to Sunday and had a pretty relaxing day. We probably walked more than we should but we spent most of the day taking it easy and exploring the strip without overindulging. Come race time, my wife and I decided to separate from the group and head back to our hotel to start getting in the zone and preparing for the race. There was some traffic with the road closures for the race but our driver was able to detour us around to the backside of the starting area where we had no trouble getting in by showing our bibs to event staff.
Arriving at the race I was definitely starting to feel a little anxious. Like I said, I'd never really "raced" a half marathon so I didn't know what to expect and how I'd be feeling by the later miles. After looking up a few different strategies, I decided to aim for around an 8:30 pace to start for the first 1-3 miles. After that I'd start pushing for closer to 8:15 and try to slowly accelerate based on comfort. Depending on how I felt towards the end I'd push as hard as I could manage for the final 5k. I was trying not to stress too much and luckily ran into a few other BibRave Pros, Jeannine and Fallon, before the race. Catching up with some running friends was definitely a nice way to relax before the start.
When it was time to move towards the corral it was a bit of a struggle because I had to enter my wave from the back of the corrals and fight my way towards the front. There were around 20,000 people in the race divided into 3 waves so needless to say the corrals were a bit crowded. Once I was in place I started to stretch out a bit and the craziest thing happened. I accidentally bumped into the guy standing next to me and when he turned around he recognized me from I RUN ON BEER! How cool is that! It was great catching up with a fellow beer runner and definitely got me pumped up about the race.
When the countdown started I was itching to go, especially when the first corral started and jets of fire started shooting from the archway over the starting line. I queued up my running playlist, set my watch, and was off! Ever since my first half marathon in college, I've listened to the same song at the starting line of every race I've run. Louder by DJ Fresh, the Flux Pavilion & Doctor P remix. After that, I transitioned into some standup from Daniel Tosh to help me coast through the first hour of the race.
The race started at the New York, New York Casino. The first mile was tough because we were so packed in from the corral that I was struggling to find my pace. I was averaging around a 9:00 pace with occasional bursts weaving through the crowd. When my watch buzzed for mile 1, I'd clocked in at 8:46. Luckily the herd had started to thin out so I was able to settle into a more comfortable pace closer to my goal. My 5k was 26:47, an 8:37 pace. Not quite as fast as I'd like but not far off.
The first 5k was an out and back down Las Vegas Boulevard. Because the first couple of miles were slower than I would have liked, I started picking up the pace in the 3rd mile and was doing my best to keep around 8:15 at this point. Mile 5 ran past the finish line which I'd expected to be tough on morale knowing how much further I'd have to run before I saw it again. The crowd was so loud and enthusiastic running down the strip though I barely noticed. I'd been slowly cutting time off my pace and by mile 6 I was running under an 8:00 pace.
I was a little nervous about pushing too much too early but I didn't feel labored, the pace was comfortable so I kept with it. I tried not to check my watch too often and mostly just focused on keeping my breathing consistent. The race is basically just one long out-and-back down the strip and towards Fremont Street so once we got passed the bulk of the casinos I will say the mood definitely died down a bit. It was much quieter as we approached mile 7 but I didn't pay much attention to that. On the bright side, we ran past the pawn shop from Pawn Stars, and although I can't know for sure, I'm pretty sure I saw Chumlee working the late night window.
This was my first time visiting Vegas so I had no idea what to expect as we approached the turnaround at Fremont Street. One second we were running passed quiet pawn shops, the next we were surrounded by packed balconies and bright lights. I also loved the giant metal praying mantis that was shooting flames from its antennae. I was still dancing around an eight-minute pace and I was feeling great.
I was starting to feel a twinge of fatigue in my legs but every time I noticed myself starting to lag a bit I'd push my pace for a quick jolt for 5-10 seconds to refresh and re-energize myself. Another strategy I'd used during cross country was to pick a runner ahead of me and slowly work on catching them. Both of these helped me to continue to push myself and also helped pass the time towards the end of the race. I've flirted with race anxiety close to the finish line in the past so I decided to maintain close to an 8:00 pace until I was within 3 miles, then I would push. I was already ahead of my goal so I wasn't too worried.
Like I said, I was already ahead of my goal pace so I was feeling great, I couldn't wait to cross the finish and see my official time but I was pretty certain I'd come well under my goal. With only 3 miles to go, I pushed harder but tried not to look at my watch. I just wanted to enjoy the end of the race and take everything in. I was back on the strip and there were people everywhere cheering. I probably had a big stupid grin on my face but I was having a blast. The effort was definitely tougher and I was huffing and puffing a bit, but it was sustainable. As soon as I saw the finish line I took off, lungs burning.
I'll admit it, I got a little choked up crossing the finish line. I didn't know my official time but when I stopped my watch I was at 1:46:10, more than 3 minutes faster than my last PR. The race had been such an incredible experience and I couldn't believe how good I had felt throughout (not only physically, but mentally as well). My legs burned but in a good way. I never questioned my strategy and had comfortably run significantly faster than what I was shooting for. Walking through the finisher's chute, I grabbed everything I could get my hands on.
I'd started about an hour ahead of my wife which ended up working out perfectly because as I finished, I also got to stop and give her a hug as she was crossing mile 5. I had some time before she would finish so I burned through my snacks and refreshments and wandered through some of the casinos before I met up with our friends. Sunday night was slotted to be our late night now that the race was over so I was sure to stock up on extra Pedialyte for the adventure.
Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas closed out my 2017 race season and I've been spending a lot of time this week thinking about what's ahead. It felt amazing to push myself in Vegas and I'm itching to start training for my next PR attempt. I'm putting that on hold though because, as of last week I'm officially registered for my first full marathon in April! I'll likely take it easy over the next couple of weeks but I'm sure marathon training will be sneaking up quickly!