It's mile 26 of the Rock n Roll Las Vegas marathon. For the last 12 miles I have been teased, taunted, twisted and denied. But not deterred. My mantra since mile 15 has driven me onwards, "11 more miles to history." For those who haven't been following my running saga this year, history means being the first person to complete every mile of every 2010 Rock n Roll Marathon series event. This collection of marathons and half marathons, put on by Competitor Group has taken me back and forth across the US and the 14th and final event is here in Sin City.
While others have run every event in the series in prior years, and some had run in every event this year, there has never been 14 Rock n Roll events in a single year and none of my Heavy Medal compatriots would run every mile - completing all 8 marathons and 6 halfs.
With every remaining mile I ticked down the distance to the final finish line. But it was feeling more like a cruel death march than a victory lap.
Rock n Roll Las Vegas started with a lot of anticipation and planning. Since much of our running club, SMS, and our local Team in Training group knew about my plans, many had registered for the event and would be running it with me and helping me to celebrate when it was all over. Close to 30 people were expected to come be part of the festivities.
Reesa and I arrived in Vegas the Saturday before the race, dropped our bags at THEhotel, a special tower in the back of Mandalay Bay that is reminiscent of a W Hotel. We then met some friends for breakfast and headed over to the race expo. While the event was being hosted at Mandalay which would serve as the start and finish line, the expo was up the strip at the Sands Convention Center behind the Palazzo Hotel. While inconvenient, I don't think Competitor had much choice as Mandalay's own convention center was over taken by cowboy central. The National Rodeo was in town and a western wear supercenter had moved into Mandalay. This created an interesting juxtiposition of country and western fans and Rock n Roll athletes for the weekend.
At the expo we picked up our race gear as usual then I got a nice surprise at the Competitor Group booth where Kyle, who runs the Heavy Medal program, presented me with a framed gold record commemorating my completion of the 2010 series. That plus a nice jacket and running bag from Brooks completed the prize. Thanks, Kyle, this is going in my office.
That afternoon we chilled in the room then hit the official pasta party which featured appearances by Sarah Rinertson, one of my personal heroes, and the voice of all things excess, Robin Leach.
That evening we walked off the pasta with a tour of City Center before returning to our rooms to dress our chairs, set the alarms and prep for the next day's race.
It doesn't matter how many times I run a marathon, I always have nerves the night before. With all the anticipation of finally being done with this incredible feat, I was feeling it extra strong this night. I woke up pretty much every hour and my dreams in between were filled with projections for the following day. The usual scenes took place: waking up late and running to catch everyone who had already started, working my way up to my corral just as I realized I didn't have my timing strip, not finishing because of injury, and a cavacade of other disasters. When I remembered the dreams upon waking I'd look over at my dressed chair, double-check the alarm on my iPhone and my Timex Ironman watch, then fall back to sleep confident I was prepared.
I finally awoke for the last time at 5:40am, five minutes before my alarm, and got ready.
The corrals at the start were arranged in a U shape. The start line, heading up the strip was followed by corrals 1 through 11. Twelve and 13 were on a curve crossing the strip and just ahead of 14 through 33 which headed down the strip the opposite direction. This made it easy for everyone to walk right up to their corral, that is until they closed the passage through the U. This, of course, happened just as I was making my way to the corrals so I had to run around the complete U to get to corral 2. It served as a nice warm up and killed time before the start. When I got into the corral I met up with Tim, a fellow Heavy Medaler from Canada who was wearing a commemorative bib denoting his status having, with Vegas, compeleted 7 RnRs in a single year.
We didn't have to wait long for the start for just 10 minutes later a Cher impersonator appeared on the deck above the start, in full feathered gown, to do a Vegas rendition of our national anthem. It definitely sounds different in Vegas, especially with the storytelling interlude in the middle of the song. At least she (it was a she, right?) didn't cut to a runner and ask, "Hey, where ya from?"
After we all took our hands from our hearts and replaced our caps the wheel chair start commenced and our corral started moving up. Within minutes we were off.
The first half of RnR Las Vegas is a scenic trip up the famous strip, then up to old Vegas where some of the original hotels dating back to the 1960s are located. We turn around in front of the Fremont Street Experience a covered road that turns into a free light show every night.
What makes this trip up the strip so special is that Vegas closes the road to runners, something they only do twice a year and don't even do on New Year's Eve. As we passed by several of the enormous hotels they had switched their large promotional boards that face the strip to live coverage of the race provided by the KLAS TV 8, the local CBS affiliate. It was quite a treat to see the sea of runners streaming down the road on a 5-story electric billboard.
Two quintessential Vegas traditions were on full display during the race. The first was the constant stream of Elvis Presley impersonators peppered throughout the course. There were several very fast Elvi - I have no idea how they kept from overheating in their spandex suits - and a few back of the packers. All, to a fault, were portraying old, Vegas Elvis, none went for the teen heartthrob version. My favorite was SpongeBob Elvis. Loved the jiggly nose, stapled-on sideburns and cape.
The other Vegas tradition was the running wedding chapel. On the steps of the Venetian Hotel was a run-in altar complete with preacher and corrals for runner and non-runner guests on both the groom and bride sides of the aisle. None from my corral were taking part as I went by but I heard there were between 70 and 90 people who got hitched that day. Classic.
As we left the strip Vegas reminded us why its called Sin City as a proliferance of advertisements for strippers, tatoos, and escorts lined the streets.
After returning down the strip and approaching Mandalay Bay the course split with half marathoners carrying forward to the finish while we broke right and headed away from Mandalay for another 13 miles. Suffice it to say that the first half of this race is the scenic part. Now began the challenge. The second half started with the first "hill" of the day, an overpass crossing Luxor Drive. Off in the distance was the fabulous Red Rock Canyon state park, which would have made a great destination, but no, we would be denied this vista - and the view of the finish line many, many times today. After the first overpass it was time for another, this one crossing the freeway. After a few miles down Hacienda Avenue we turned right for what would feel like a thousand times. At first the miles went by fairly quickly thanks to all the bands on the course as well as the cheerleader squads who were there to pump us up. If you start dragging in one of these events just veer over to a cheer squad to get some high fives. It's instant energy.
I was also kept company by another Heavy Medaler, Nicole, a student at UCLA who was also completing her 7th Rock n Roll of the year. In all, I would see or run with three other heavy medalers including Guitar Girl who also completed 7 events, all while wearing a guitar headdress. Nicole and I traded paces from mile 12 through 18 where her youthful energy separated us.
I got another boost of energy starting around mile 15 where I came across Andre, a colleague from work who was there to cheer me on, Android phone at the ready. The second half of this marathon could be best described as a corkscrew since you basically do a series of out and backs and loops along Hacienda Avenue before eventually returning to the strip for the finish. This turned out to be good planning for spectators like Andre for the corner he chose I ran past four times. I needed his enthusiasm and friendly face at each one.
If you haven't toured Hacienda Avenue, you aren't missing much. Behind Mandalay and on the opposite side of the freeway it doesn't provide much to write home about. The area is filled mostly with industrial complexes, body shops and warehouses. The low-light was Dean Martin Drive which borders the freeway but without a sound wall.
What drove me crazy all these final miles was the torturous teasing. Countless times we turned onto Hacienda Avenue heading towards Mandalay Bay and the finish just to be denied that goal with another right turn down yet another industrial road. Thus the importance of the mantra. Seeing the finish before you is a tease but a false one when the mile marker ahead reads mile 19. Eventually, you know you'll be turning away from the finish so mentally it made more sense to count down the miles than look forward.
At mile 25 we made the final turn back onto Hacienda and faced what you hate to face this close to the finish - a hill. To get back to Mandalay we'd have to cross the last two overpasses to get back to the strip. With the 25 sign behind me, I picked up the pace. With just over a mile left, at my new pace, I was 8 minutes from the finish line - the last version of my mantra.
I was passing people on both sides as I ran up the first overpass' incline and was telling my talkative right hamstring to be quiet, this was almost over. I passed more people on the second and final hill, then picked it up a bit more as I rounded the corner onto the strip. What?! Where's the finish! It was nowhere in site. Was this yet another tease? I did read that last mile marker correctly, right? We were now passing in front of Mandalay Bay and I was beginning to think I had picked it up a little too early. But then the course turnede right, into the Mandalay parking lot and there it was - the finish line. I stepped up the pace once again and started seeing familiar faces and hearing my name. I waved to the crowd, my wife Reesa, her best friend Brooke, SMSers Stephanie, Randy, Kari and Regina as I started to sprint. I then thrust my fist in the air as I crossed under the banner. Three hours and 34 minutes later and it was over.
Twelve months earlier this crazy quest had started on a desert road in Arizona. Now, 288.2 miles later complete. What a relief. What a feeling.
I shook hands with Tim, Nicole and several other runners in the finisher's corral, then made my way over to the Give Your Sole booth. This great charity collects lightly-used running shoes for children in Africa and poor countries. I had already given them 3 pairs and with two marathons and two halfs and two 10Ks on these, they were ready to serve another.
With flip flops soothing my sore feet it was time to dance.
I met up with family and friends in front of the stage where the day's winners were crowned and onto the stage came Bret Michaels. And he put on a hell of a show. The former Poison front man pulled out the classics including Talk Dirty to Me, Look What the Cat Dragged In, Every Rose Has Its Thorn, Unskinny Bop which had us swinging and singing. What pain?
That evening we celebrated.
An incredible year - complete.
My great, great thanks to everyone who supported me throughout this endeavor. I really could not have done it without you. Together we raised nearly $12,000 for the fight against blood cancers and raised the awareness of this worth cause.
This season's accomplishments were run in honor of those dealing with this crippling disease.
Father Mason of Haverhill, MA, Kristen, Jim, Doug, Betsy, and all the rest of my honorees, this was for you.