I almost can't believe I'm sitting down to write this post. Finally. Well, "finally" and "already" all at once.
After I was a few months into running and it really started to stick, I knew I wanted to set a goal for myself. A big one. Something challenging but attainable. And something that would force me to decide if running was truly going to become part of my lifestyle.
So back in May, after I had raced in all of three 5Ks, I pulled the trigger and went and committed myself to a half marathon. In Las Vegas. And I immediately started to panic. (It's what I do.) Sure, six months is a long time to train, but I didn't even know what "training" was. I didn't have any idea how to get from three miles to thirteen miles. And I'd gone and committed us to a trip requiring plane tickets and hotel reservations. Not to mention the pesky little requirement of the THIRTEEN MILES. But I had time. And I had supportive running friends and an encouraging husband (also periodically prone to committing himself to somewhat outrageous physical challenges). So I felt ready.
I Googled my way to a training plan that felt right and I kept running. The 5Ks turned into 10Ks, and I was gaining mileage – and confidence. When I officially started my 12-week training plan the calendar square marked "Race Day!" seemed so far away, but it kept creeping closer and closer and closer. And then – just like Christmas and anything else anxiously anticipated – it was here.
We drove to Little Rock to drop off Colt with Jeff's parents and catch our plane. After the merciful people of TSA allowed me through security with an expired Drivers License (oops…) we were off to Sin City!
After checking into our weekend home at the MGM Grand, we set out to meet our friends Tena and Scott for dinner and a show. They had scheduled a vacation to California the last week of November so they extended their trip and met us in Vegas! We grabbed some dinner, saw Ron White at The Mirage (SUCH a funny show), and stayed up disgustingly late hanging out in the empty Sports Book at the Bellagio. After we couldn't keep our eyes open anymore — flying west and "gaining" two hours will do that to you — we decided to call it a night.
Before we said goodnight we made plans to have breakfast together in the morning, but no one was really awake while it was still "breakfast" so we joined up for lunch instead. And after lunch it was time for my very first race expo! There were 44,000 runners signed up for this thing and, from the looks of it, they each brought ten people to the expo with them! It was crazy and crowded and loud and crowded and more crowded (little did I realize this was obvious foreshadowing for race night…) but we successfully picked up my shirt and swag and bib and timing chip. We tried to enjoy the expo a little and peruse the different vendor booths, but the foot traffic was just ridiculous so we bailed. We got what we came for.
Typically, our trips to Vegas involve a lot of walking, but I wanted to save my legs as much as possible for the big event Sunday night so we cooled it the rest of Saturday. We watched A LOT of football in the MGM Grand Sports Book that afternoon and mostly lazed around.
Same story on Sunday. The wildest thing we did all morning was meet Tena downstairs for some fabulous Vegas breakfast buffet action. THAT is eatin'. The race was at night and I didn't exactly know what to do all day Sunday as far as eating, so I had a big breakfast then some midday snacking (when I wasn't napping), and I had brought along my usual pre-run oatmeal.
Around 2:30 I started nervously laying out my clothes and pacing around the hotel room. I knew I was ready, but I was so incredibly anxious to actually be there. I got dressed and we headed out of the hotel to meet Scott and Tena – and find the Start Line.
It was COLD. I had debated for a week whether I should wear shorts or pants. It's December… but it's Vegas… but it's at night… I brought both and made the call Sunday afternoon. Pants. Wise choice, as it turned out.
The Start was at the Mandalay Bay – clear at the end of the strip. And there were SO MANY people headed that way. The full marathon started before the half so that race had already cleared out by the time we got there. But oh my gosh. It was dark and cold and there were a bajillion people everywhere — a lot of them dressed up in sequins or Elvis costumes or blinking lights. Vegas!
We made it to my corral and had plenty of time to hang out, warm up and do some people watching.
Here's a pic of my favorite running buddies. I've run with Tom for awhile, but I recently added baby Aidan (Does his middle name look familiar?). Aidan's mama, Tara, is a friend of mine from high school and, after losing Aidan in September, she writes a blog about the emotions and heartache she and her husband have experienced – as well as the special ways they are finding to remember him. I am so proud to run with both these boys.
After 'good luck' hugs all around, it was time to squeeze into my corral. Did I mention the people? ALL the people? I thought so.
FINALLY, it was time to GO.
The half marathon was almost entirely on the Strip, which they'd closed down for the race. So cool. We started at the Mandalay Bay and ran by the Luxor, the MGM Grand, Bellagio, Caesar's Palace, and on and on under the lights until we left the Strip and the race had to find an extra four miles or so in the kinda boring area of town between the Strip and Fremont Street (downtown). These few miles were uneventful and I couldn't wait to get back on the Strip for the homestretch back to Mandalay Bay.
Even in the dark, the race photographers managed to get some photos of the runners. That can't be easy. And they even took some video!
Here's a clip of me at the 5K point:
You have to be quick! Along the bottom-ish portion of the shot there's a guy in a neon yellow shirt with a black stripe down the arm. He runs directly into the corner of the video screen. I'm right behind him.
And they caught a shot of me running back down the Strip. I think this is around Mile 12.
Remember the Turkey Trot? With the crowd and the weaving and the crazy walkers in the middle of the road? This was almost like that. But for 13 miles… But the energy of the crowd was awesome. And running the Strip at night was unreal.
There were spectators along the road up and down the entire Strip, but coming into the last half mile there were more and more people on the sidelines. Signs, cheering, cow bell! It was such a cool feeling to be running that last leg. I took my headphones off so I could hear the crowd and soak up the energy.
Finally! The Finish Line! (Far left. Red shirt. Right at "the line".)
And another video:
I cross the line in about the sixth second of this video, over on the left side of the screen.
See what I mean about the crowds? That's the FINISH line.
After I finished, received my medal and blanket, and grabbed a handful of energy bars it was time to pose for my official finisher photo.
Originally happy with my decision to wear pants, I'd changed my mind around Mile 2 and wished I'd worn shorts. But as soon as I stopped moving at the Finish I was SOOOO glad I had those pants on. Vegas at night is COLD. Tena, Scott and Jeff opted out of the absolute madness that was the Finish Line and we met up in the Mandalay Bay lobby. After seeing that the line for a cab wrapped around the building 17 times, we decided we were hungry enough to walk back to the hotel. It was a nice stretch for my legs anyway. And as we shivered our way back to the MGM it started raining a little, just for good measure.
Cold, a little wet, and pretty darn exhausted the four of us collapsed into a booth at the closest restaurant and scarfed down some burgers. This is the only picture I have of all of us from the weekend — and we are all so tired we can barely keep our eyes open!
I'd spent twelve weeks training and focusing and RUNNING in preparation for this. And it was honestly every bit as fun as I'd hoped.
Going into the weekend I had a few goals:
Goal #1. RUN the entire race. Check! I walked two steps through a water stop in Mile 10 so I wouldn't get water up my nose, but other than that I ran the entire thing. And – due to the weaving and whatnot – my watch says I actually ran 13.25 miles!
Goal #2. 2 hours 10 minutes. Nah. After the first few miles I was getting worried that the crowd would keep me from maintaining my pace and by mile 7 or so I just had to get OK with not hitting my 2:10 goal. You can only run as fast as the 10,000 people directly in front of you. But that's ok. There'll be a next time.
Goal #3. Learn something. Hoo boy did this one get crossed off the list. I'd like to think I've learned a little something in every race I've done — I'd even say I've learned something in every single training run. So I wanted this to be productive, too. I learned about pacing and I learned how much I still HAVE to learn about nutrition during a race. And I learned about patience and running etiquette and about rolling with the punches. I will probably wonder if I could have hit my 2:10 if I'd been able to run the pace I wanted for the entire race. And I'll wonder if running at night could have affected me, too. But it's all good. And I'll be stronger next time, either way.
Goal #4. Have a lot of fun. Check! I'll only run my first half marathon once. And I wanted it to be memorable. The Las Vegas Strip? At night? Sign me up! For gosh sakes, the medal glows in the dark!
We headed home Monday morning a little bummed we hadn't seen more of the town while we were out there this time. We always have a great time in Vegas, but Jeff reminded me that we were there on "a business trip" and that we'd be back.
You can bet on it.