Race Recap: Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Half Marathon

Add text (1)This was the second year I ran the Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Half Marathon, with a fabulous course up and down the Las Vegas Strip after dark.

I’ll be honest; I have mixed feelings about this race. It’s a totally unique experience to be able to run up and down the Las Vegas Strip at night amidst the neon lights. The course is also pancake-flat. Plus, running the race means taking a long weekend in Vegas, which guarantees some good times.

On the negative side, the race is expensive (even before the travel costs). It also attracts huge, huge crowds of runners, many of whom openly disregard the corrals for the wave starts. This makes for a congested first few miles. A runner hoping to achieve a personal best on this course will have to factor in the extra effort and energy to weave through slower-moving runners.

What the heck, I signed up anyway.

The Expo

At the Expo. It seemed like the thing to do.
At the Expo. It seemed like the thing to do.

Dear Lord, the expo is huge (makes sense, there are something like 40,000 total runners between four races). It’s actually fairly well organized for such a large expo. My recommendation is to get your packet on Friday if you can. We were able to go right into the Convention Center and didn’t even have to wait in line, but I heard that on Saturday some people had to wait in line just to get into the building. This is also because the guest speakers are scheduled for Saturday, so if that’s something you really want to see, disregard my advice.

The shirt.
The shirt.

Items in the packet include the race bib (very large per Rock ‘n’ Roll standards), the timing tag for shoes (which are mostly phased out now by other race organizers–what gives, Rock ‘n’ Roll?), and the very well-fitting black technical t-shirt, identical in style to last year but with a different print. I love the way these shirts fit, and wore one to run the LA Marathon.

The Start Line Festival

Pre-race selfie, the ritual of champions.
Pre-race selfie, the ritual of champions.

We decided to take the Vegas monorail to get to the start line this year. It was . . . crowded. I felt bad for the non-runners who were unlucky enough to be riding with us. The runners were mostly laughing and making the best of being crammed in the car, while some non-runners seemed less than impressed with all of the half-dressed folks rubbing up on them. Oops.

Me and George, photo courtesy of @georgeokinaka.
Me and George, photo courtesy of @georgeokinaka.

After exiting the monorail at the MGM Grand, we walked about fifteen minutes to the start line festival in a lot across from Mandalay Bay. I quickly said hello to my Twitter friend George and then kept moving to avoid getting too cold (did I mention it was cold? It was cold.). Macklemore and Ryan Lewis were playing the festival so we listened to them a bit while walking around.

Finally it was time to line up.

The corral experience

This is one of the worst parts of the RnRLV race. The marathon and half-marathon use the same start and course for the first 8-9 miles, so there’s something like 35,000 runners sorting into 40+ corrals. The corrals are assigned in advance based on your projected speed. Your race number’s first one or two digits indicates your corral assignment. The idea is that the fastest runners start first, so that there aren’t traffic jams of slower runners.

Me with the husband pre-race.
Me with the husband pre-race.

How well do you suppose that works?

I was in corral 10, and just in my immediate vicinity saw lots of runners with bib numbers starting in the 30s and even the 40s. Once we actually got moving, the course was ridiculously congested. In the first half mile, I passed:

  • Someone hobbling in a walking cast
  • Several solo walkers
  • A large group of women in matching tutus walking

Argh! This makes me so angry! I think it’s against the spirit of running to move yourself forward in the corrals so dramatically. You’re first of all creating a safety concern when people need to dodge you. As someone with bad knees, I am not a fan of the swerving run, but that’s what I have to do to navigate through. Second, there are people who trained hard to make a certain time on the race. A half-marathon is no joke. If you’re getting in the way of people trying to run their best race, you’re not respecting the hard work they did to get there. Argh. /rant.

The race

I know, I'm terrible. Here is my pirated proof from the finish line. I have too much pride to share the awful selfie I took.
I know, I’m terrible. Here is my pirated proof from the finish line. I have too much pride to share the awful selfie I took.

Yeah! Finally the good part! This race is timed so the sun is setting just as it begins. You head out south for about a mile on the Las Vegas Strip, and by the time you turn around, the sun is down and the lights are up.

This course is super-flat, and the majority of it is on the Las Vegas Strip, so you’re surrounded by neon lights the whole time. There’s so much to see that you’re able to easily distract yourself from the fact that you’re running. Ugh, running. Who does this?

The bad part of this race is that I was dodging slower runners for a really, really long time. Like 7-8 miles long time. C’mon, guys.

At some point, the course veers to the right and circles through several blocks of Old Vegas, the Fremont Street area. Some of the streets are residential and others lined with bars and restaurants. This year,  the race organizers did a much better job lighting the residential part of the course so that the street was visible. I also saw a couple getting married underneath one of the portable street lights, so that was cool.

Side-by-side comparison of 2013 and 2014 medals. I like last year's better.
Side-by-side comparison of 2013 and 2014 medals. I like last year’s better.

Remember I mentioned the weather was cold? I have these crappy gloves I wear at race start lines in the fall and then typically strip off and throw away within the first mile. I wore my crappy throw-away gloves for NINE MILES during this race. My fingers were numb through mile six or seven.

After the turnaround back onto the Strip, it’s all about spotting the Mirage where the finish line is and staying focused on getting there. Finishing this race is the time when I am most acutely aware of how freaking far apart everything is on the Strip. It’s the world’s greatest optical illusion.

RACE RESULTS (3)Finally, though, I finished. My time was 2:00:06–a bit of a disappointment since I always have the goal to break two hours, and I really wanted to break my PR of 1:55:16 this year. However, I knew that this race was not a good candidate for a PR due to how congested it gets, so I can’t be that disappointed.

Worth mentioning: The congestion didn’t bother my husband on his quest for a PR. He was in the top 100 finishers. I’m torn between pride and envy, which both may be sins (help from any Catholic readers on that??).

The finish chute is loooooong and includes:

  • Mylar blankets (so needed in this weather)
  • The finishing medal
  • Water
  • Gatorade
  • Chocolate milk
  • Michelob Ultra if you got a wristband in advance showing you’re legal–I didn’t
  • Finisher photos
  • Bananas, pretzels, and other carby snacks
Key to recovery: The Zensah compression sleeves.
Key to recovery: The Zensah compression sleeves.

We had strategically booked a room at Caesar’s Palace, which is where the finisher chute finally lets people out, so I was able to walk right from the finish into the lobby and up to my room, where I put on my life-saving compression sleeves. After a quick shower (where I made the pleasant discovery of no chafing–a bonus of colder weather!), it was off to dinner, drinks, and the blackjack table.

See you next year, Vegas.

6 thoughts on “Race Recap: Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Half Marathon

  1. Great recap & Congratulations! Great time! I am running my first half marathon in Philly this coming Sunday. I ran the Philly Broad street run this past May and it was the same thing with the slow start times because of so many runners. I don’t really understand why people walking would move up to the front. Oh well.

  2. You helped me with yoga terms this morning – I can help with the Catholic guilt.

    Don’t worry about the sins! I’d be proud & jealous too if I were in your shoes.

    I’ve never been to Vegas & my goal for next year is to up my race mileage, so maybe I should put this race on my wish list.

    1. You should! There’s also a 5k on Saturday night and a “Half of the Half” on Sunday that starts about an hour before the half and full marathons. It’s so much fun to run in Vegas!

  3. Hi,

    I really enjoyed reading your report of not just the race, but the weekend as a whole. I am coming over from the UK to run this year, so am interested to see how it compares to some of the larger runs over here. I have no doubt it will be far better.

    I totally agree about the annoyance of people moving up front with the faster runners. Why potentially spoil the experience for others when you can just start towardsthe back?

    The weather worries me slightly as i dont know what to expect. Cold is fine as Newcastle is always cold, but if its warm/hot i struggle.

    1. Thanks, Danny. The weather is always a bit nerve-wracking, but I’ve found that it tends to cool off quite a bit after sundown in the desert. It’s not been too hot either year that I ran it.

      I’d love to run a race in the UK one day! Any you’d recommend?

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