Marathon Recap and Reflection

With the Las Vegas Rock 'n' Roll Marathon two weeks behind me, I thought I'd share a quick recap on the event (for anyone looking to participate in a RNR marathon in the future), my performance, and what I'm thinking about moving forward from a running and overall fitness standpoint.

Short Version: I completed the full marathon in 3:46. It was my slowest of 7 marathons, but good enough for 242nd out of 2800+ marathoners, and 212th out of 1900 males.

Long Version: I arrived in Las Vegas on Thursday evening with the race scheduled for Sunday evening. With nearly a six-hour flight, plus a three-hour time change and ~2000 foot elevation change to adjust to, I figured getting in a few days ahead of time would work fine.

I stayed at my friend Kip and Donna's place in the Las Vegas suburbs - about 20 miles from the strip - in their magnificent house. Super spacious, wide open and minimalist concept, plus a huge backyard with a pool and hot tub. They were extremely welcoming, picking me up from the airport, driving me to the expo on the strip, and taking me out to dinner. It certainly made for a relaxing few days leading up to the race.

At the Expo

Expo: for those who don't know, every large-scale marathon has a health and fitness expo which gives runners a chance to pickup their bib, ask any final questions, and explore a variety of vendors selling everything from gels to shoes to apparel to CBD oils to other marathon entry fees. This expo was held at the Las Vegas Convention Centre just east of the Las Vegas Strip which we went to on Saturday. After grabbing my bib (prime number 1279) and wandering through the booths, we grabbed dinner at the Venetian before heading back to relax at their place.

The weirdest thing about this marathon is that it's run at night. Usually marathons are first thing in the morning so you generally wake up, eat something, and go to the start line. To get the full experience of running the strip while the lights are shining bright, the Las Vegas marathon kicks off at 4:30pm right before sunset. This made figuring out what to eat, when to wake up, when to relax all new decisions.

On Sunday morning, Kip drove me back down to the strip to Planet Hollywood where I had booked a room for two nights. I often stay at PH, but in this case the convenience was unmatched as the start village was directly behind the hotel. After getting dropped off, I met my Mum and Dad who had graciously driven up from Palm Springs (nearly 5 hours) to join in on the Vegas fun and cheer me on during the race.

We checked in, grabbed lunch at Paris, and it was time for me to get ready to toe the line.

Injury Update: I injured my achilles 3 weeks before the race. I was feeling quite fit prior to that and was logging quite a few miles per week. After the injury, I completely stayed off it, other than a very slow test run of 2.6 miles. The morning of race day, it felt alright but I knew that could be temporary and change as soon as I started running on it.

Dave walked me down to the start village, in a massive parking lot behind PH. After a while, they escorted us through an alleyway between Paris and PH, and onto Las Vegas Blvd which police had spent the last 4-6 hours closing. Fences were lined up all along with thousands of people watching the 38,000 runners be herded like cattle towards the start line somewhere near MGM grand. It was actually a really cool way to begin other than the fact that it was a long time on your feet (over an hour in total) before actually getting to start running.

Me and 38,000 friends headed to start line on Las Vegas Blvd

Given recent events in Vegas, it was also cool to see how much security they had in place. Cops were up on construction lifts with binoculars and rifles checking every vantage point in every surrounding hotel. Scary, but really cool at the same time.

When the gun went off and I finally managed my way to the start line, I began jogging with the goal of taking it slow, listening to my body, and taking in the sights and sounds of my favourite street.

We ran south down Las Vegas blvd, past all of the hotels, past the 'Welcome to Las Vegas' sign, and then all the way back up the strip northbound into downtown Las Vegas.

Mile 4: Dave and Dwenda battled the crowds to cross the Strip from PH and wave to me and cheer me on from in front of Cosmopolitan. It was great to see them and it was nice that the Achilles wasn't damaging at that point. I could definitely feel it every stride, and sometimes the pain even crept up the calf muscle, but it wasn't a "you need to quit" pain. I told myself I'd keep an eye on it.

Running the Strip!

Mile 7: Kip came down from his house to meet me and cheer on runners at the north end of the Strip past the Stratosphere. I had never really been near Circus Circus or 'the Strat' in all my times in Vegas. They are of course really cool concepts and structures, but that north end of the strip is very shady at night. The hotels are more spaced out, and in between it's nothing but darkness, sketchy diners, and wedding chapels - some with drive-thrus! Needless to say, it was nice to have thousands of runners around.

Mile 11: Often the worst part of any race is when the half-marathoners break off from the full marathon course. That happened here as they were on the home stretch down the strip. We peeled off into the Arts District, just west of Fremont street and Old Las Vegas, wishing we were only 2 miles, and not 15, from the finish.

Mile 15: Just as things were starting to get painful, I saw Kip again which was great. He was cheering loudly with his cowbell and reflective vest for easy spotting. Really appreciated his support out there.

Mile 16: Here's where things got hairy. The course really veers away from any bright lights and more towards the freeway and it starts with a giant uphill onto a freeway overpass heading into a four-mile sequence with several out-and-backs. As you come over the bridge, having just passed the mile 16 marker, you see the mile 20 marker at the bottom of the bridge, so you know that you'll have six more miles once you hit this bridge again.

Mile 19: I'm struggling, and I know that bridge is coming again. It's dark, and there is nobody cheering on this remote stretch of the course. Lactic acid was beginning to build in my legs and I could definitely feel the effects of not training for the past three weeks. I felt weak in my quads, like there was a lack of fuel. Thank goodness the next aid station was giving out whole bananas. Literally so clutch. Even though I knew it wouldn't get into my blood stream and down into my legs for a while, it helped my mind feel stronger and allowed me to push back up over that freeway one more time. I also ran for a bit with some guy from Brazil who was also struggling, so it was nice to take our mind off the pain for a bit with some mindless conversation.

Mile 22: Three out of the last 4.2 miles of this course suck. While I know that's the case in many courses because you've hit the wall, you're exhausted, and you're angry, this was course-based. Mile 22-24 is down a road off the strip, about 500m north of Encore, into an empty parking lot, and around the parking lot for more than a mile in one giant loop. When you come out of that, and back onto the strip, you think it might be a straight shot home down Las Vegas Blvd., but it's not. You do another out-and-back down another dark road before FINALLY turning south back onto the Strip and into the crowds of people.

The finish: I was completely drained, and hadn't paid attention to my running watch all race. My mum borrowed me hers as I had forgotten mine in New York, but instead I just tried to listen to my body - which hurt. I finished strong, using the massive crowd's cheering to fuel me, and sprinted past a few runners to a 3:46 finish in front of the Mirage.

Very tired post-race under the Vegas lights

Dave met me at the finish line and we headed back to the hotel so I could shower, change and go out for dinner with my parents. While I wasn't happy with the time, I was proud that I stuck through the pain and crossed the finish line. It was especially nice to have my parents there for the next 36 hours to roam around Las Vegas and catch-up.

The Las Vegas Marathon: I would recommend the Half Marathon to anyone. Essentially the entire course is on The Strip or Downtown, lined with people cheering the entire way, and is just a fun atmosphere. For the full, the organizers did a nice job - bands every mile, more than enough aid stations with food and drink, but the second half of the course sucks. Darkness, nobody cheering (understandably given the area), and too many out-and-backs. Overall, running the strip at night is a super unique opportunity and one I'm glad I was able to experience.

Watching the Bellagio fountains with the parents the day after the marathon

If you're still reading, pat yourself on the back.

Going forward, I have lots of thinking to do about my fitness and marathon goals. First step is to get this injury over and done with. The Achilles was very sore for three days after the race (along with everything else in my body), so I need to give it proper rest and rehab to ensure it's not something that nags for months to come.

My marathon times have ranged from 3:18 to 3:46. That's not a very wide window for seven marathons (~1 min/mile) which is kind of disappointing since it shows I haven't truly applied all of the things I've learned throughout the races.

I would like to qualify for Boston soon. But to do that, I need to shave nearly a minute per mile off my PR. To do that, I need to more properly commit to a lifestyle that caters to that sort of improvement.

To be perfectly honest with myself, I know that this requires cutting out socializing and cutting out alcohol. That would improve my sleep habits, give me more energy, and allow me to attack a more regimented training plan that includes more speed work, more slow runs, and more tempo runs. I'd also need to incorporate strength training - my quads have never been strong enough to power through the late miles in a race.

So the question I need to answer is "how badly do I want it". It's not difficult to understand - if I want improved results, I need to improve my process. I'll take some time to digest this race, work on the rehab and then think about how to answer this question.

Thanks again for reading. Any marathon tips or questions - feel free to share!

Mike