Rock 'N' Roll

by Doug Armstrong

This race report is proof that "what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" isn't always true. For anyone considering a "Rock 'n' Roll" series marathon or half-marathon, I can report that it was, in fact, a rocking good time! The "Strip at Night" race takes place down the famous Strip in Las Vegas, all lit up at night.   

They also offer a "half of the half" race, which covers most of the highlights of the Strip if you want a shorter distance. For those who like the "I Challenge" of doing a 5k before the Illinois Marathon, they even offer a similar "Remix Challenge."   

One of the first benefits of the race is that it provides a legitimate, almost downright wholesome, excuse to visit Las Vegas. Make a vacation of it! Whatever your vice may be, they are built to serve in excess: Fine gastronomy experiences for carbo-loading, elegant designer shopping hard to find even at the exotic Tanger of Tuscola, pulsing late-night parties, even shows from visually stunning, gravity-defying acrobatics to acoustically rocking music to cerebrally bending magic and comedy. Or just get all dressed up to chill at an ultra-lounge to discuss potential scientific gaffes in the movie ‘Interstellar.” (Did you know that if a black hole is massive enough, then the event horizon is far enough out that you can theoretically avoid death by spaghettification before passing through?) Vegas has it all, for a price. Of course, if you've got what it takes, you can spend time at the poker tables to give your trip a net positive cash flow. Personally, I refrained from excessive casino donations. But overall, runners brought $178 million to the local economy on what would otherwise be the slowest week in Las Vegas. Be sure to budget enough time on your trip for important things like debating the relative merits of getting a massage at the spa before versus after the race.   

Another great benefit of the race is that it benefits the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA), which is a great cause for diseases that affect a surprising number of Americans. You may even know a friend or three with one of the diseases, and it is meaningful for me. I salute Team Challenge and their fundraising! I also have to wonder if perhaps the connection with CCFA led to a great porta potty setup at the race. Plenty of rows at the start meant a short wait and there were plenty on the race course itself, but more on that later. The race also gave back with plenty of perks, parties and benefits for the racers, even chocolate milk at the finish line!    

From our 43rd floor hotel room, we could see the convention center housing the expo just a short way across a golf course. So, being endurance runners, we decided it would be appropriate to walk there. The thing about Vegas, though, is that stuff is not closer than it appears; something to keep in mind for the run itself. After a meandering route including several bridges, waterfalls, gardens, floral merry-go-rounds, malls and wrong turns getting in, out and through intentionally labyrinthine casinos, we arrived. The expo itself was really large with lots of official swag, vendor booths, free samples, Mazda test drives and talks with folks like Meb Keflezighi, Olympic silver medalist and winner of the 2014 Boston Marathon. In true Vegas style, they also had an exclusive VIP section with massages and cocktails. I took advantage of the free KT taping, which was actually really helpful with my strained tendon. Leaving the expo, we took advantage of one of the four monorails to start our pasta feast. The free shuttle to the start line party was also useful since they do shut down Las Vegas Boulevard.   

If you're not familiar with the Rock 'n’ Roll race series, one of their things is music playing along much of the course and a pre-race concert to send you on your way pumped with adrenaline, or at least distracted from the wait. It's random who you get, but they are significant headliners. Last year was All American Rejects and we were supposed to get Snoop Dogg this year, until he dropped us at the last minute. But no worry! We got to hear from Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. He actually had great racing advice. For example, he sang to encourage the use of thrift stores for clothing. I can only assume he was referring to getting cheap throwaway clothes to stay warm at the start line while waiting before the race. I wished I had also popped twenty dollars for your granddad's clothes to stay warm while looking incredible. Instead, I assumed the Nevada desert would be hot so I only had shorts and a fifty-dollar t-shirt. Race day was 54 degrees at the start, which was awesome weather for running (but we still had 70s the day before for hanging by the pool, how cool is that?).   

The pre-race concert also had, of course, free beer! I fully enjoyed one and discovered another possible reason why they had so many porta potties along the course. By now it was dusk, possibly timed to allow people to clear their hangovers from the night before. Getting to the start corrals, all 50 of them, was a little crowded but nothing like the "cozy" Chicago Hot Chocolate race with over 40,000 of my close friends, where we had to riot over the gates to get in. Here everyone was chill, even though it had over 30,000 runners. There were official corrals, though they were not enforced. Take care when selecting your starting corral, as this race has over 25 percent first-time racers whose pace estimates seemed to share the over-enthusiasm of Vegas. I was originally planning to run with a friend who was going to run with Meb Keflezighi, the 1:45 half marathon pacer. At something like half his normal race pace, I imagine this may actually be a tough pace for him to keep. Read Michele Marcus' race report to hear all about it. But I was injured from the Hot Chocolate 15k and Indy Monumental Marathon in the weeks before. So my wife and I decided to just hang out and run it for fun together. It did not disappoint.  

The race itself starts out with, of course, spotlights and flame throwers for each corral countdown. If you think that's excessive, you're not considering the giant praying mantis statue on the course that spits fire from its antennae. The course starts heading south on the Strip by the airport, going around the tiny replica of the famous Vegas sign. The sun sets and it gets dark as you head back north to cover the full stretch of the Strip from Mandalay Bay to Fremont Street. While the race doesn't have the frats cheering and handing out beer that the Illinois Marathon does on First Street, it more than makes up for it in the excitement, lights and rocking vibe. People cheered from the sidelines and pedestrian bridges, bands and DJs rocked along the way, and the casino marquees lit the way. Even when leaving the densest parts of the Strip, spotlights were set up to keep things reasonably lit. Somewhere by Caesar’s Palace, the beer kicked in and I made my first-ever use of one of the abundant porta potties along the course. If you haven't figured out by now, this may not be the most serious race. Tutus are an increasingly popular trend at races, and this race had its fair share of couples or friends dressed up in costume. There was even a speedo- and bikini-donned Chippendale couple. We played leapfrog with a couple of girls in hot-pink hot-shorts who would race ahead to stop at each landmark or band to get selfies for most of the way. If selfies aren't your thing, there were plenty of professional photographers along the way. In the spirit of the race, I tried to give the camera the obligatory devil's horns, only to realize afterwards that I was really saying "I love you" in American Sign Language. After running the Strip, you head downtown. Even this relatively quiet section of Vegas provides entertainment watching the various Elvises going to work at their respective wedding chapels. The place to get married that night in Vegas, though, was at mile 3 where the Blue Man Group would escort you off the course for a run-by wedding. We saw quite a few running brides, but no one decided to take me up on my sign language proposals. After looping around downtown near Fremont Street, you head back south past the Stratosphere again. I even decided to get my own selfie with it; careful, of course, not to stop or annoy other runners around me. Coming back into the lights of the north side of the Strip helps to re-energize for the sprint to the finish. Imagine the final stretch with everyone running towards the Mirage's volcano as it erupts in thunderous flame and adrenaline.    

Sometimes running is about competition or personal goals and getting PRs. Sometimes it is about health and fitness, training with dedication. Sometimes it is about relaxing quiet time or finding your Zen. And sometimes, running is just about having fun and spending time rocking with family and friends... and Meb. I hope to join more fellow Second Winders rocking the Strip at Night next year!  

This story originally appeared in the Jan/Feb 2015 issue of In Passing.

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