Monday, March 17, 2014

Monday Morning Stories With Mookie - Episode 108

The Time Mookie Ran A Half-Marathon In Las Vegas

Since it is now March, that usually means one thing for the kids out there: Spring Break Vacation. To celebrate Spring Break, all of the "Monday Morning Stories with Mookie" episodes in March will be about something that happened during one of my visits to my favorite vacation destination: LAS VEGAS. Enjoy.

As I have mentioned in previous Episodes, I once went to Las Vegas for an extended weekend with my life-long pal "Rick.*" (I just re-read that sentence and it sounds a little "gay" but I don't care). The trip had several memorable events (some of which have been documented in previous episodes), but other than gambling and drinking - the basis of the trip was to run the Las Vegas Half-Marathon. We had talked for years about the two of us heading to Sin City together and ripping it up, but nothing ever came forth and made it happen. Then one day I was looking at the various marathon and half-marathon schedules, and noticed the Las Vegas race was going to be held in mid-December that year. I had already been training for a full 26.2 mile marathon that fall, and Rick was also doing some moderate running but needed a good excuse to stick with it. When I suggested we should think about doing the Las Vegas Half-Marathon, BOOM....things fell into place and the trip was booked.

Back when I started running, The Las Vegas Marathon was one of those things I thought would be pretty cool to do. The big "feature of the race was that it starts at one end of Las Vegas Boulevard (The Strip) and runs all the way up it past all the casinos under their glittery lights. This appealed to me in a BIG WAY, because of an experience I had one of the first times I went to Las Vegas (before they had those pedestrian walkways over The Strip). I remember basically standing in THE MIDDLE of The Strip at the intersection of Las Vegas Blvd and Flamingo Rd, with the lights from Caesar's Palace, The Flamingo, Bally's, and The Bellagio shining down on me and thinking "THIS IS AWESOME."

The only problem with this entire ordeal was that in order to do it under the casino lights that line The Strip, the race started at 6AM on a Sunday morning. Normally things should just be winding down around 6AM (if you had a good night) - not starting. So this trip would not only have the challenge of running a 13.1 mile half-marathon, but also in planning our sleep/drinking/gambling schedules so we were rested and prepared for this thing. We figured that since the race started at 6AM, in order to get up, get ready, and walk all the way down The Strip and make it to the race on time - we had to be up at 3AM. THREE G.D. AM. Ugh.

So the game plan for the 3 nights we were there was to rip it up the 1st night, be "good" and go to bed early the 2nd, and then rip it up the 3rd and last night we were there. We landed in Vegas and made good on our plans to rip it up the 1st night. The main thing on our Day 2 agenda was to attend the Marathon Expo down at Mandalay Bay. The purpose of going to this thing was to get our race numbers, race t-shirts, and be exposed to any and every running marketer out there. Since it was in some expo hall clear off The Strip, we had to seemingly walk 42 miles just to get there. The low-light of the Expo (but in hindsight its now quite funny) was some fitness bitch inadvertently SLAMMING Rick. I must mention that while he is not a fat ass, Rick is a "big-boned" gentleman. I don't remember what she was pitching, but she mentioned to me that I could use the product while I was running, and Rick could use it while cheering on the runners. He quickly said "Yeah, well I am running too." The embarrassment was very apparent on her face and her pitch ended pretty quickly. BITCH. Once we left the Expo, we stuck to the game plan, didn't drink too much, and made plans to turn in early (7pm). This was made easier to do by the fact there was a Will Ferrell movie marathon on TBS, so that actually turned into one of the highlights of the trip.

The 3AM alarm came sooner than we wanted, and we stumbled around getting ready, drinking coffee, and preparing for the long trek from our middle-of-The-Strip hotel down to the far end. We quickly found that they had already closed the street for the race, so we ended up walking right down the middle of the road, which was cool. The entire time we walked down there, we didn't say much to each other except for the random exclamations of how stupid we were for doing this thing. "GOD THIS IS STUPID!" The excitement of running The Strip was definitely null at that point due to the cold and because we had to be up at 3AM.

We finally made it to the starting line and settled into the crowd. Eventually Rick decided to hang towards the back because he said he was slower, but mostly its because hates crowds. I wanted to move up towards the start line because I didn't want to run around slow people on my way up the street, so we wished each other luck and I made my way up through the crowd.  FINALLY the announcers came over the P.A. and announced the race was going to be underway, and started a whole count-down for the event. When the guns went off to start the race, the music began to blare from the speakers and fireworks began to go off in the distance further up The Strip. Since I was still quite a ways back from the start line, it took awhile for me to actually cross the starting line. As I walked towards the starting line, the excitement started to take over from the dread Rick and I had while walking to the event. The fireworks going off and the music coming from overhead were definitely doing the trick. I put in my earbuds for my iPod and cranked that as I got closer to starting. About twenty paces away from the starting line,  I started into an easy trot and crossed the starting line at my race speed. I was off.
My view from back in the pack at the beginning of the race.

I started my GPS timer and quickly got my bearings as to where I was and so I didn't run into people. As the music blared out of  my iPod, I remember looking up and finding myself passing The Luxor and it's giant black pyramid and Sphinx. The effect of seeing this, along with the fireworks still going off was totally AWESOME.

One thing I noticed right away was how many SLOW people were in front of me as I made my way up the street. Slow joggers and walkers were all over the place, which made it difficult to keep a steady pace and not run people down. This resulted in me zig-zagging all over the street and eventually pissing me off. In hindsight the race directors did a HORRIBLE job of getting people to line up according to their planned race times. There were walkers towards the front of the pack which was a detriment to everyone.

While I was zig-zagging up The Strip, I noticed a LOT of people dressed up like Elvis running the race. Prior to the event, the planners encouraged people to do this as to set some kind of record for the "most running Elvis impersonators." It was kind of lame, but it was funny too. Another deal they had was a "run-thru" wedding service. As Vegas is known as the nation's capital for weddings, they had had an area where you and a mate could run through and be married. Only in Las Vegas could you see this.
When you think of marathons, you think of weddings right?

As the race ran further up The Strip, the novelty of running under the lights began to wane. I'm not sure if this was because 5 miles had passed, or if because the sun was starting to come up. Once the course passed the Stratosphere, it left The Strip and turned towards the downtown area. I wasn't sure where we were, but all I know is that I was glad I was with a crowd and it was daylight. Reason? This was a SCARY looking neighborhood. Eventually the race turned onto a street that was a block or two from The Strip and ran parallel to it, and eventually would lead us to the finish line. This stretch of the race was rather bleak if I do say so. You could see the hotels to your left a good block away, and on your right were barred-window businesses that ranged from pawn shops to payday loan sort of places. Real classy.

By mile 9 my pace had slowed considerably, and I eventually felt it necessary to walk a bit. The necessity to walk increased a bit more with each mile after that, but to make up for it I tried to run faster than I was before. When I hit mile 12 I decided to just run the rest of the way and make my way around the Mandalay property as fast I reasonably could. The iPod was still blaring, and the song "Don't Fight It" by Kenny Loggins and Steve Perry came on - which for some reason gave me a nice jolt to finish up the race.

Eventually I could see the finish line and proceeded to do my usual "kick" at the end of the race and took off. When I crossed the finish line I was so happy, partly because of the accomplishment of finishing, but mostly because I was DONE. 13.1 miles is not a walk in the park...ever.

The funny thing was not long after I finished, the winner of the full marathon came rambling in. I say this is funny because my time in the half (by my personal standards) was horrible. It was the worst time I have ever had in a sanctioned half-marathon. Normally when I have run a full marathon, the race winner comes in just over 2 hours, and I'm not usually even to half-way yet. However today I beat the full marathon winner to the line with my shoddy time in the half by more than 5 minutes, which told me the event must not have gathered the highest caliber marathoners out there.
The reward for getting up at 3AM

In my post-race excitement, I text messaged home and let my wife know I was done and was okay. I also sent home a pic of my "reward" of the race - my finishers medal. In walking through the crowd to get out of the finish area, I had my picture taken with both Elvis, and a Vegas Showgirl, so that was fun. Eventually Rick rolled in as well, and we congratulated each other on our achievement of finishing a half-marathon.

We celebrating that night by going out and drinking/gambling to our heart's content, which you should because that's what you do in Las Vegas.

So after having the best time running The Strip, would I recommend the Vegas Marathon? After that race I would have said no, because the group that put it on when I did it did a HORRIBLE job with everything and handled things poorly. I hear the company that hosts the race now is top notch, so I would now say go for it. Running The Strip is unforgettable and you should totally put it on your lists of things to do in life.

Then again, just go to Las Vegas and gamble and drink it up. That is pretty OK too.

(*) - Names changed to protect the guilty/innocent.

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