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Nevada

Updated: Feb 11

ROCK 'N' ROLL LAS VEGAS

Las Vegas, NV


As we entered the sprawling lobby of the LINQ Hotel & Casino on the first day of our girls' trip, we were greeted by the chorus of Katy Perry's "Waking Up in Vegas," and I couldn't think of a more appropriate song that could have been playing when we touched down in Las Vegas on that chilly February evening. We strode through the lobby and reception area with confidence even as we felt disoriented in this hotel that seemed to go on for miles, joking that we likely reminded onlookers of the clique straight out of Mean Girls. There were plenty of Hangover references and jokes, and the consensus seemed to be we were actually hopeful to find a tiger in the bathroom.


I was returning to Las Vegas for the first time in 12 years — but this time with three of my favorite ladies, who somehow managed to convince me that it would be a good idea to spend three full days of daring, dehydrating mischief in Sin City before running a half marathon on the fourth day of the trip. Oh, and this half marathon was going to be at night, something none of us had done before, so I knew fueling and hydration for this race would be uncharted territory. I couldn't resist rolling the dice to find out what my body was capable of. Sherri would be running the Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas Half Marathon with me, and the other two women in our group, April and Brandi, were there for what we affectionately referred to throughout the trip as "moral support."

The four of us miraculously stuffed 15 days' worth of luggage for a 4 day trip into the back of April's SUV, and we began our amazing adventure together. There were many laughs, colorful jokes, and a lot of strange, hysterically funny experiences that we will never forget, to include attempting to preserve expensive steak from our dinner in our hotel room sink filled with ice, thinking it probably would make a good breakfast the next day. Then there was an extremely unsavory Uber driver of questionable motives who kicked us out of his car and left us stranded in the middle of a flash flood while we were wearing ball gowns and stilettos.


There were late night trips to CVS that none of us probably remember any details of, drugs (the CVS kind), waking up to fire alarms because of an electrical fire in the casino in the middle of the night, amazing food and drinks throughout the entire trip, and being entertained by some pretty outrageous behavior from our fellow tourists and some of the locals — to include a woman who got up on stage and asked for her generous tip back when the dueling pianos did not play the song she requested. By the end of the trip, our hotel room trash can was filled with uncomfortable shoes, which we decided to throw away after determining the shoes were trying to cause us grave bodily harm.


Some of our memories will stay in Vegas. Everything else that's considered "safe for work" will be divulged below, to include my detailed recap of the race, and what it was like to run the #StripAtNight. While writing up this blog post, I've been doing several loads of laundry, and as I'm pulling garments out of the washing machine, I'm still shaking the glitter off my clothes.


What Happened in Vegas

Day 1: Thursday, February 23, 2023


On our first night, we stopped at the Tilted Kilt Pub & Eatery located on the LINQ Promenade. It was a nice Celtic-themed restaurant and bar, with great appetizers and a good variety of menu options. We were starving after our flight, and Tilted Kilt definitely hit the spot. If memory serves me correctly, I got some sort of turkey and avocado sandwich, and insisted we try the giant pretzel. We then continued our walk along the Promenade, and couldn't resist stopping at the I Love Sugar Candy Martini Bar.

It was a sensory explosion of giant gummies, cotton candy, gummy pizzas and burgers, gummy cupcakes, candy-themed stuffed animals, every kind of candy dispenser you could possibly imagine, and gargantuan martinis that one person alone could not reasonably finish without dire, intoxicating consequences. It was FAO Schwarz meets adult playground.


Each of the giant martinis were topped off with a special fog effect that presumably was achieved with dry ice capsules, and it allowed us to capture some pretty cool photos and videos of the fog in action as the bartender dropped the capsules into the glass. We collectively decided on a Nerds candy themed martini, which based on the description seemed to be the most unanimously liked option. It was sickeningly sweet, as expected, and we were glad we split one among the four of us. The drink, which was decorated with Nerds around the rim of the huge glass, also came with a complimentary cup of Nerds, as if the drink wasn't confectionary enough. The experience was more of a novelty than anything else, and we absolutely did it for the photos. No regrets.



Afterward, we walked over to Paris Hotel & Casino, where we had the distinct pleasure of seeing the dueling pianos at Napoleon's Lounge. It had a very charming vintage vibe, and to say the performance was excellent would be seriously understating how awesome the two gentlemen playing for us were. We were given cards to list our requests, and it was expected that when requesting songs for them to play, you also include a well-deserved tip. They played everything from Elton John and Billy Joel to Taylor Swift and Sir-Mix-A-Lot. Their sense of humor kept us laughing the entire time, and sitting at one of the front tables, I feel we had kind of an advantage when it came to song request priority.

The evening devolved into an episode of Jerry Springer when a woman in the audience approached the stage, began belittling the performers and berating them for not playing her song request, and then promptly asked for her tip back. One of the performers, clearly as surprised as we were, stared blankly at her, and said into the microphone, "Apparently this lady is asking for her money back. That doesn't ever happen." The woman proceeded to become more agitated and aggressive, and started shouting at the men, in tune to a chorus of "boos" from the audience that continued to increase in volume. Meanwhile, the men kept playing the song they'd been playing, except their rhythm on the keys went from smooth and professional to playful, which reflected their amusement with the situation.


It was outlandish enough that we almost thought it was staged, but unfortunately it wasn't, and she actually was just a miserable human being. We collectively booed her off stage, and as she walked out of the lounge she continued with her string of profanities. After she exited the room, cheers erupted from the crowd. After she left we continued enjoying every genre of music from every generation, long into the early hours of the morning.


Day 2: Friday, February 24, 2023



On Friday morning, we had a light breakfast at Café Americano at Caesar's Palace. I ordered the absolutely mouth-watering Nutella & Almond Toast, which came on large slices of multigrain bread, slathered in almond spread, drizzled in honey and Nutella, and topped with chia seeds, blueberries, bananas, and strawberries. It was so simple to the point that I thought about how easily I could make it at home, but it was seriously the best breakfast toast I'd probably ever had and was worth every penny to have someone else prepare it for me.

Later that afternoon, we headed over to Chayo Mexican Kitchen & Tequila Bar at the LINQ for lunch, where we ordered some of the most phenomenal Mexican-inspired dishes and cocktails that did not disappoint. I was obsessed with the elote (Mexican street corn). While we were enjoying lunch, we were interrupted by the fire alarm, which was going off throughout the entire casino. No one really seemed concerned, and the staff said they were working on determining the cause, but guests could continue to eat at the restaurant. If they weren't worried, we weren't worried. The alarm shut off about 45 minutes later, after getting on our last nerves. We believed that would be the last we'd hear of the alarm at the LINQ... and we were wrong. But that's something I'll explain later.


After two awesome, filling meals, we were stuffed, so we decided it was time to walk off our lunch and make the trek to Resorts World, which was hosting the Rock 'n' Roll Running Series Health and Fitness Expo. It was there that we would pick up our packets and nail down some of the final details before race day. We took the time to wander through Caesar's Palace on our way to Resorts World, checking out some of the shopping opportunities and architecture inside. Once we arrived at Resorts World, there were signs directing us to the expo.

At the entrance to the expo and inside, there were plenty of fun photo opportunities. We were able to pick up our bibs and race T-shirts, verify our bib color start time, and wander through the maze of vendor tables set up selling different health and fitness products as well as racks full of official race merchandise. Vendors offered free samples in some cases, including a pre-workout mix that I later realized contains an ingredient I'm allergic to after I sampled it. There were also very useful blown-up canvases of the Start Village, the race course, and the Finish Festival towards the exit to the expo. There was a table set up where participants could get their ID checked at the ID Check Booth in order to receive a complimentary adult beverage at the finish line on Saturday and Sunday. Initially, I thought that sounded great, so I handed over my ID, but then learned I'd have to wear a disposable wristband on my wrist from that moment forward and throughout the rest of the weekend if I accepted.


It was only Friday, and the race was not until Sunday. So, I had to shower with it, and wear it for the next TWO days until race day? No thanks! I'm the person who cuts the inside tags off all clothing garments, and to me, that just sounded like a sensory nightmare. I asked the volunteer to cut the wristband off after I determined was it not worth the hassle. Below are some of the opportune photo spots around the expo. There was also a giant 13.1 sign, which was pretty neat, although the lighting wasn't my favorite. That could have also had more to do with my flash than anything else.



Later that evening, we went to see Michael Jackson ONE by Cirque du Soleil at Mandalay Bay. The show was absolutely fantastic. Having seen a Cirque du Soleil show many years ago the last time I visited Las Vegas (Criss Angel), I did notice there were a few differences and this wasn't what one might consider a traditional Cirque show, but more than anything it was a tribute to Michael Jackson and his work. I feel like I could see that same show again and probably notice hundreds of things I might have missed the first time.



The performers predictably did stunts that involved gracefully dropping from the ceiling, and then before you have a chance to process what you're seeing, they elegantly disappeared. It was excellent as far as the entertainment factor goes, and there was a part of the show where they brought out a hologram of Michael Jackson, which was a very emotional performance. The hologram was extremely realistic in many different dimensions, and I think nearly everyone in the audience might have felt that Michael Jackson was actually performing on stage — even if only in spirit.



Day 3: Saturday, February 25, 2023

Saturday morning began shortly after midnight, when Brandi and I awoke to the obnoxious sound of the fire alarm going off throughout the entire casino (see, I told you that wouldn't be the last of it after our lunch at Chayo). Thankfully, the alarm wasn't actually going off in the section of the hotel where our rooms were, just blaring in the casino and adjoining areas of the hotel downstairs, but it was loud enough to be extremely annoying as we were still only a few floors up from the ground level. We had just gotten to sleep after the show, so my guess is I may have been asleep for 40 minutes before hearing the alarm.


Sherri and April slept through it, because they are superhuman. We learned, I believe later that morning as we were going down to breakfast, that the cause of the alarm was an electrical fire in the casino. I don't know... I was trying to sleep. Being from the Midwest, and regularly sleeping through tornado sirens (and going outside to watch confirmed tornadoes on the ground instead of seeking shelter), the four of us did not consider the alarm to be anything worth jumping out of bed for. Now, if the smoke detector in our room or a carbon monoxide detector had been going off, that would have been a different story.

Around 10:00 A.M., we wandered over to Alexxa's to have brunch on the patio. If you are not familiar with it, Alexxa's is actually located within the Paris hotel, and, like all of the food we'd had in Vegas up to that point, it was nothing short of incredible. We tried some of the cocktails that paired very well with the stuffed French toast, heaps of bacon, potatoes, waffles, and eggs.


Because race day was the following day, I went heavy on the carbs and protein and light on the cocktails, choosing a classic mimosa, and then gradually began the process of hydrating only with dihydrogen monoxide from brunch going forward. My order ended up being a big tray of bacon, and the stuffed French toast, topped with fresh fruit. We each sampled each other's meal and all of the portions were huge. Brandi ordered this photogenic Bloody Mary (pictured below) that made a very good photo subject against the backdrop of the Bellagio. We thought we'd be good until dinner... until we later discovered Fremont street had some of the best pizza on earth. The plans we had formulated for that day, and later that evening, included wandering around on Fremont street, exploring downtown a little bit, checking out the Speakeasy at the Mob Museum, and getting dressed to the nines to visit the legendary Golden Steer Steakhouse for dinner.



From brunch, we headed over to the Bellagio to check out the beautiful Conservatory & Botanical Gardens, which is a 14,000 square foot space decorated seasonally, and according to special occasions throughout the year. This time, we were fortunate enough to be within the visiting window to see it in all its splendor, decorated for the Chinese New Year, the Year of the Rabbit. The rabbit is fourth in the twelve-year periodic sequence of animals that appear in the Chinese zodiac related to the Chinese calendar, and the way it was represented in each of the horticultural displays was amazing. Incidentally, rabbits are a common symbol of good luck in many cultures, and what a fitting symbol it was for visiting Las Vegas, where we needed as much good luck as possible!



After our stroll through the Bellagio we headed down to Fremont Street. We were browsing some of the bars and shops along Fremont Street, when we passed by the large corner glass window of Pizza Rock. I did a double-take, and my pizza radar went up. I took several steps back to gawk at what was on display, and it was the most mouth-watering Hawaiian pizza I had ever seen, confidently labeled the "Hawaiian Hitman." I absolutely had to have it, and I would not die happy until I did. It was indeed the best Hawaiian pizza I'd ever eaten in my entire life, sweet and savory with crispy pieces of bacon and huge slices of pineapple, and baked to perfection in the brick oven.

Afterwards we immersed ourselves in the underbelly of the Mob Museum, and went on a trek around the building on a journey shrouded in mystery and steeped in intrigue, as we searched for the hidden door to the Underground Speakeasy. When we found the somewhat secret door, which of course was locked, we knocked on it affirmatively, hoping someone would let us in. A few seconds passed by, and then suddenly we were startled by a gentleman aggressively sliding open the narrow metal shutter at the top of the door, with only his eyes visible. "PASSWORD!" We thought we had the correct password, but the one we looked up online earlier in the day was already out of date. Even though we got it wrong, the doorman laughed at us and let us in.


The atmosphere was of course reminiscent of the Prohibition Era, with the walls decorated in historical black and white photo exhibits telling the stories of the Roaring Twenties, accompanied by captions explaining their significance. The bartenders worked at lightening speed and were talented beyond belief. They did not take a single second to even breathe. It was very impressive. They were also dressed in 1920's era clothing, which added to the overall atmosphere of the speakeasy. We made a friend at the bar, who regaled us with a horror story about finding a used towel in his hotel room. We even let him join us for a photo.



Brandi ordered this adorable drink called the "Bathtub Fizz," and it indeed was served in a miniature porcelain bathtub, which for the price of $30.00, you could take the bathtub home. April ended up buying Brandi's bathtub, which was intended to be a gift for April's daughter, and it made a comical point of conversation during our time there.

That night, we put on our best ballgowns, our highest and most elaborately decorated heels, jewelry that made the biggest statement, and graced the Golden Steer Steakhouse with our presence. Earlier in the afternoon there was a flash flood warning, and as we waited for our Uber under the shelter of the parking garage, the torrential downpour had already started. We were careful to avoid stepping in any unsavory puddles before dinner.


The Golden Steer, which I learned was founded in 1958 and is considered the oldest steakhouse in the City of Las Vegas, prides itself on its mouth-watering steaks and best of all, desserts that get set on fire at your tableside. There was a confirmed press release that the Kansas City Chiefs were there in Las Vegas too, and we imagined what it would be like if they were also dining at the restaurant with us at the same time. This resulted in a game where we would make a few nonchalant passes by one of the secluded private rooms whenever wait staff went in to deliver food, to hopefully get a glimpse the Super Bowl champions.


I personally could not say with a certainty that the Chiefs were in the room... but then again, there were no indicators that they weren't. We ordered course after course of five-star dishes, and top-shelf drinks. I laughed when the waiter brought me a water, and announced it as, "One house water for you." House water, as opposed to imported water, I guess. While we were feeling like royalty inside the restaurant, the flash flood prevailed, but we were none the wiser as to what that meant for us later. Our dessert was rolled out to us on a cart, where a chef began preparing it in front of us. We opted to split a bananas foster, after we learned from watching other tables that this was the one that would be set ablaze.

The chef skillfully prepared this culinary masterpiece of ice cream and rum-soaked bananas that was then engulfed in flames, and not knowing if we even still had the room for it, we made it disappear within less than a minute of it being set down on the table. This was the best finale to the absolute best possible last dinner before race day. Celebratory sky-high flames would also signify reaching the Finish Festival on race day, so all of the synchronicities seemed to be aligning perfectly.

There were so many laughs and memories that were made that night. Unfortunately, one of the most notable memories ended up being our ride back to the hotel. After we settled our bill, we continued to laugh hysterically all the way into the Uber. It was still pouring rain, which meant that our ride was a little longer than anticipated due to traffic. We continued to joke and laugh in the car, and our driver did not find us as funny as we thought we were, all the while stealthily taking us to a destination we did not request. Despite us cackling over our leftover steak inside of a to-go bag, we collectively felt something was not right. There was an energy the driver exuded that made us all a bit wary, which we were not able to explain until we were talking about it later in our room. It was something all of us were thinking, and yet we could not quite put it into words. Still, we carried on, not exactly certain yet that he did not have the best intentions. We saw our hotel come into view, but that was not the direction we seemed to be going.

We were a good block away from the LINQ, passing through a parking garage that did not belong to our hotel, when the driver promptly stopped and said, "I can't take you any further," and kicked us out. We looked at each other in confusion and got out, believing we were at the hotel at first, then realizing we were a decent walk away. We protested, insisting this was not our hotel, and the driver still refused to take us any further. He gave no additional explanation.


The other obvious part of the problem was the flooding. Separating us from any building entrance and safety was rapidly rushing water — a small, dirty river that was coursing through the parking garage. The water was easily about knee-deep, and crossing it was not an option. Not in ballgowns, and certainly not in heels. At this point we were drenched, freezing cold, and very angry, and we eventually managed to get back to our hotel by walking through the labyrinth of casinos across a good city block.


We were able to laugh about the entire situation later, and now that it's a story and not actively happening anymore. Fortunately we were able to make a complaint with Uber and receive a refund. There was a new problem to address: the leftover steak. We did not have a refrigerator, which we were suddenly surprised about. This was not new to us, it was just the gravity of the situation did not hit us until it became a necessity. The consensus was the best idea was to fill a bucket with ice, and then fill our sink with ice, and lay the meat, in its to-go box, carefully in the sink where it could be immersed in the ice overnight. It was a brilliantly orchestrated idea at the time we thought of it.


Somehow in the chaos, the meat bled everywhere, on the floor, on the bed, and probably in the hallway, and we ended up needing to request more sheets from room service. It took us a few minutes to determine that none of us was the source of the blood, and it was indeed steak juice. After a few moments of panic, we were laughing hysterically over it. I slept pretty soundly that night, with my stomach full of food, our sink full of meat, and our trash can full of shoes.



Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas Recap: #StripAtNight

Day 4: Sunday, February 26, 2023 — Race Day


It was surreal waking up on race morning, sans race anxiety. Typically the night before a race, I don't sleep well, knowing I have to be up early for the race, and I go through the normal gamut of intrusive thoughts and nightmares about missing the race or being late to the start. My favorite race nightmare (that I'll likely never forget) happened the night before the Yippee-Ki-Yay 50K, Half Marathon, & 5K in Iowa, when I dreamed that there was a massive snow storm on race morning and my phone would not work when I tried frantically to call the race directors to see if the event was delayed or canceled. Of course, there was no snow storm, the weather was perfect on race morning, and Yippee-Ki-Yay now ranks as one of my favorite events of all time.

This race morning was different... I'd had at least a few hours of solid sleep, and felt relieved that there was no reason to rush out of bed since we had an entire afternoon ahead of us before the start of the race. The four of us planned a very low key morning and afternoon, without a lot of walking, but plenty of eating. We were still reeling from the previous night's events, but were in a place where we could now laugh about it.


Sherri and I wandered down the street to Harrah's to grab a light breakfast at Starbucks, and April and Brandi hung back at our hotel and planned to join us later for some shopping and another light meal. Normally, I eat a plain bagel with cream cheese and black coffee the morning of a race, at least an hour prior to the race start, but I decided to add in some protein this time for a more complete meal since I had several hours before my glycogen stores would be depleted.


My breakfast consisted of not only my customary plain bagel with cream cheese, but also a brown sugar oat milk latte, and Starbucks' Protein Box. The Protein Box comes with two hardboiled eggs, slices of gouda cheese, dried apples and apricots, and Justin's honey peanut butter spread. It was perfect and delicious. After breakfast, the four of us walked down the LINQ Promenade and popped into some of the shops to browse souvenirs, and scope out a potential lunch spot. We decided on Off the Strip Bistro, and I selected the Breakfast Wrap with sweet potato waffle fries. I was hoping it would be the complete nutritious meal I needed to power me through the race, keeping my fingers crossed it would not be the cause of unforeseen disastrous gastric consequences. I knew there would be plenty of portable water closets along the course... but still. This trip was already memorable without a bathroom emergency.

After resting our legs in our hotel room for a couple of hours after lunch and getting all of our race gear laid out, we tried to get in a quick nap before wandering over to the Start Village at around 3:00 P.M. The Start Village was located behind Planet Hollywood at the intersection of East Harmon Avenue and Audrie Street. Our hotel was conveniently located right between the start line and the finish line — more importantly, closer to the finish line. We later learned the actual start line was on E Tropicana Avenue at MGM Grand, which was a half mile walk south from the Start Village where everyone was loading up by bib color. When we registered for the race, participants were all assigned a group color and corresponding start line loading time based on the estimated finish time we entered during registration. I was in the Pink Group, and Sherri was in the Yellow Group, because she estimated her finish time would be faster than I estimated what mine would be.


I was not hoping for a PR, I knew I was there to enjoy the course, take lots of pictures and videos for the 'Gram, and have fun. If I finished in my average finish time with minimal discomfort and lots of photographic evidence at the end, I'd consider it a good race. The Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas Half Marathon, celebrating its 25th year, was state #8 for me on my 50 states quest. Each group color was to load to the start line every 15 minutes, for what was in theory an orderly wave start that should have gone off without a hitch. The pre-race communication about this was excellent, the planning was seamless, but the execution was a bit disastrous.


There was mass confusion as groups were not instructed to load at their designated times, delays in the next group in the sequential order being called to load, and the end result was ten thousand slightly confused runners squished together within the fenced in start line loading area, clamoring to attempt to squeeze through a narrow black inflatable tunnel to then be released out of the corral to the other side, where they would then begin their half mile walk to the actual start line at the MGM Grand.


There were volunteers providing security at the entrance of the inflatable tunnel checking bibs to ensure no rouge runners escaped through before their group was called, unless they elected to load with a slower group than their estimated finish time.



Sherri and I initially watched from the other side of the start corral (pictured above on the right) as the elite runners first began escaping from the mouth of the inflatable tunnel with the enthusiasm of race horses, and other runners in the first group began trickling out behind them, lightly jogging, and (presumably) not realizing initially that they still had a bit of a walk to the actual start line and this was not the start. We watched in amusement, and also confusion, thinking the way the corral was set up reminded us of animals in a zoo escaping their enclosure while being herded into another corral. A gentleman on the microphone reminded them to take their time and not run out of the tunnel, quickly realizing some runners might have mistaken it for the actual start and were unnecessarily expending energy.

According to my weather app, it was 53° F that afternoon with an expected low of 48° F, with wind speeds of 12 mph. On any other occasion, I'd consider those conditions to be absolutely ideal, gorgeous race weather. And, on any other occasion, I'd feel comfortable running a race in those conditions in only a T-shirt, shorts, and my compression socks, but this was not like any other occasion — this was The Strip. At Night. The sun would eventually set, and the temperature would drop during the latter half of the race as opposed to the temperature rising at the end of a morning race (like I'm used to), and while waiting my turn to escape through the inflatable tunnel I quickly realized I was woefully underdressed for this race as the sun was beginning to hang lower in the sky and dip behind the hotels.


My thought process when I'd picked out my gear was, "I always warm up during a half marathon, just give it two miles and I'm sweating," but I'd later learn this school of thought would turn out to be a mistake this time. What I ended up wearing was actually a step up from what I'd originally planned, which was a tank top instead of the race T-shirt. Yes, I know... it's bad luck to wear the race shirt on race day. But I knew I'd be cold in a tank top. Don't worry, my bad luck for wearing the race shirt on race day came full circle later. I looked around at the other runners, and the vast majority were in long sleeves, some with gloves, some with ear warming headbands, some with several warming layers.


I felt like I was in kindergarten again — I was the only kid in the class who stood out because I failed to follow instructions when every other kid was doing what they were supposed to do. This is probably part of the reason I was always picked last in gym class. This problem followed me into the Marine Corps as well, when I was not wearing the proper gear I was supposed to be wearing that everyone else was wearing. It usually resulted in a timeout... filling sandbags. I was lost in these thoughts of self-deprecation when suddenly it was Sherri's turn to go through the tunnel, and we wished each other good luck as she vanished into the crowd. I wouldn't see her again until our reunion at the hotel later that night.

I latched onto a group of strangers with my bib color, and we squeezed up against the fence and inched closer to the tunnel, wanting to be the first out of the chute when the opportunity arose. Any warm-up we might have done earlier was wearing off, and the late afternoon chill was setting in. For the first time that day, I had serious pre-race anxiety. It was more like stage fright... the word "anxiety" sometimes has negative connotations, and negative was not what I was feeling.


The walk to the start line got us pumped up and warmed up, with THOUSANDS of spectators cheering along both sides of Las Vegas Blvd, and music that energized runners and spectators alike. There were people everywhere. In the streets, on the sidelines, and above us, cheering from the pedestrian bridges, and even on the stairs of the pedestrian bridges. The best way to describe the energy of this race was literally a rolling party. My start time began when I crossed the start line timing mat. I pressed START on my Garmin, hearing that familiar and comforting beep despite the deafening roar of the music and crowd, and off I went into the night.


My muscles began to loosen and shake out while I plodded along at an easy pace, and I was absolutely thrilled to find that the entire course was not only beautiful and lively, but it was a gradual gentle downhill pretty much the entire time, and every single mile fully engaged every single one of my five senses. If any race course could be described as "downhill both ways," this could be it. Miles 1 - 7 were so enjoyable... the most enjoyable miles I've ever experienced. For the thousands of miles I've run in the past 18 years, that's saying a lot.

Maybe it was the crowd support, maybe it was the extraordinary enthusiasm of the volunteers, or maybe it was the perfect dry weather and low humidity that didn't aggravate my sinuses, but I felt amazing for the first half of the race. My breathing was almost effortless the entire time, and I was surprised that even with the race beginning in the middle of what was essentially my dinner time, I was not feeling sluggish or even worried about my time. It was a total immersion in the experience, which is something I don't normally allow myself to do.


We headed south on Las Vegas Blvd, and by the end of the first mile, we'd passed Tropicana, Harry Reid International Airport (LAS), and the Clark County Fire Station all on the left, and on the right side of the strip as we continued south, we passed Excalibur, Luxor, and Mandalay Bay. At mile 2, we looped around, stopped at the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign, and continued back up the strip now heading north, with Mandalay Bay looming in view on the right.


The course was extremely well supported, and definitely in my top 5 races as far as excellent course support. There were aid stations approximately every 2 miles, and each aid station had water, with alternating aid stations providing snacks and electrolytes. Medical stations were located at the start and finish. Rock ‘n’ Roll Running Series included this little nifty chart in the participant guides (pictured below) depicting where each aid station would be, and what to expect.

We passed Luxor on the right while running mile 2, and then got nice close up view of Excalibur. Reaching Mandalay Bay marked mile 3, and this time we were passing Luxor and Excalibur on the left as we headed north on Las Vegas Blvd. I was treated to a spectacular up close and personal view of one my favorite hotels, New York New York. All the while, there were bands set up on elevated platform stages along the course, playing every genre of music imaginable, paying homage to each decade with favorites and classics. I was happy with my decision to not wear my headphones this time. The sunset glistened off Mandalay Bay, and it was one gorgeous view of each landmark after another as the sun continued setting.


By the fourth mile, we creeped up on Waldorf Astoria, Park MGM and the Cosmopolitan; and of course I got a glimpse of the iconic Bellagio and its fountains, mid-show and washed in purple light, seeming to bow in approval as we ran past them. The sound of the delicate spray of the fountains was drowned out by music and DJs making announcements and shouting words of encouragement along the course. Mile 4 also treated us to views of Planet Hollywood, Paris, and the Horseshoe Las Vegas on the right. As I passed this sequence of hotels, I thought about how Paris had easily become one of my favorite hotels during this trip, with its ceiling painted like the sky and healthy variety of restaurants to get brunch.

Mile 5 was bittersweet as I ran past Caesars Palace and the Mirage on the left, and I longingly looked at the Finish Festival, hearing an announcer already preparing for the arrival of the elite finishers crossing the finish line just as I was beginning my fifth mile. I could see giant flames erupting in sequence to music at the finish line, and I told myself it wasn't really that far and I was almost halfway there. I then passed the Flamingo, and along the fence line there were spectators — but these were angry — they were spicy spectators, and they were holding up giant picketing signs that read things like "REDEEM YOURSELF" and "DELIVER US FROM EVIL," and there was one man with a bullhorn protesting... something, and he shouted unintelligible angry things at passing runners. The intended intimidating delivery of their passionate, malicious chants was blunted by the glittering, pink, happy Flamingo in the backdrop, and the almost ethereal palm trees lit up along the street. It was truly comical.


I deduced they were trying to tell me I was going to burn in hell. I looked at the spicy spectators, glanced back in the direction of the flames shooting up 50 feet into the night at the finish festival across the street, then I looked back at the protestor with the bullhorn shouting about the flames of hell and eternal damnation, and I laughed at the irony. What a kind, insightful man, I thought. I get it now... "burning in hell" is a metaphor, and he is actually cheering me on, telling me I am going to finish the race, I just need to keep running towards the flames of the Mirage. I then thought of my dad, who would have approached this with the same sense of humor.

I continued on past the LINQ, which was now on my right, and I began having intrusive thoughts about how amazing a hot shower and a personal pan pizza was going to feel after this. It was torturous intentionally running past my hotel and seeing that only a fence separated me from a shower. I ran past Harrah's, where only hours ago I had breakfast. The Venetian then materialized into view, and then finally, mile 6 was marked by Encore Beach Club and Treasure Island to my left. The Wynn was to my right, and this is where the 10K course diverged from the half marathon course.


Half marathon runners continued north on Las Vegas Blvd, passing Circus Circus and Resorts World, where the Expo was, only a day before. I was still feeling really good at mile 6, and I hadn't yet come down from my runner's high. From the Mile 6 marker, I could see the Strat looming in the distance. By mile 7 things started getting a little bit darker — literally and figuratively, and a little bit more weird as we got closer to the north side of the Strip. The number of spectators waned, and instead, sparsely lining either side of the street were homeless people, some of them shouting obscenities at passing runners while either under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or suffering from mental health concerns. Some of them were inert, lying down on the sidewalk and burrowed underneath layers of cardboard and blankets, trying to keep warm. It was sad to see them — I felt nothing but compassion — and it was a stark contrast from the atmosphere we had been experiencing just miles before we got there.


The combined brilliance of the lights from most of the hotels faded into the distance behind us the farther north we went, and the light that remained on this end of the Strip was only the street lights, save for a few hotels left before the turnaround point. We passed Sahara Las Vegas, and at the corner of E Sahara Ave and Las Vegas Blvd was a McDonald's, and Cookies on the Strip Las Vegas Dispensary, which both made me realize I was hungry. I'd already eaten both of my Huma gels, and I was down to my two Honey Stinger Waffles. The STRAT was suddenly to my left, as I ran under the glittering neon City of Las Vegas Sign.



Miles 8 and 9 were not terribly well lit, but still modestly illuminated by the street lights. Either side of the road was lined with plenty of palm trees and closed, unremarkable storefronts. I remembered seeing at least one gas station, and a few convenience stores. Everything seemed deserted, quiet. Anyone who believes the adage that Las Vegas is "the city that never sleeps" has clearly not been to the northern-most part of the Strip at 7:00 P.M. on a Sunday. As we went by the Little White Chapel, I thought about how many spontaneous weddings might have taken place there. I suddenly remembered the episode of Full House, "Luck Be a Lady: Part 2" where Jesse and Becky are getting married in secret in Las Vegas at the Fabulous Ali Baba Hotel & Casino Wedding Chapel.


Mile 9 was the second turnaround point for the half marathon course, and we looped back around at Fremont Street and began heading south down Las Vegas Blvd again. At the turnaround, the wind was no longer at my back, and I was running against the wind. It was bone chillingly cold, and I should have worn a long sleeve shirt under my T-shirt and gloves. I was also acutely aware of how different 45° F feels without the sun, as opposed to 45° F during the daylight.


By this point, the wind had picked up to 15 mph, and it was bordering on Omahalf cold. I'd endured pretty miserable race conditions in Nebraska, and I was starting to feel the same level of discomfort as the blood began to drain from my extremities.

Four miles to go, one foot in front of the other. It was time to begin reciting my mantra, "Left, right, left. Time on feet." And I kept repeating it to myself all the way to the finish line. By mile 10 I hit "the wall," and my stomach began to protest. I felt a fire begin to well up in the pit of my stomach, coursing through my intestines, and the abdominal cramps began. No, I thought silently. My muscle relaxers and pain medication were only blocks away in my hotel room, and so was pizza and a hot shower.


Though by that point, pizza sounded less appealing. I tried to distract myself from my discomfort by shouting at a runner next to me, "Hey!" When he pulled out one of his ear buds and looked at me, I said with great conviction, "I'm cold!" He nodded silently in agreement and put his ear bud back in and continued in his zone. At this point I kept telling myself I'd already completed ten miles, and I was really currently running mile 11, which meant I only had about two miles left to go. I could do two miles. But the last two miles felt absolutely unbearable. Everything hurt, especially my skin.


At mile 12, we entered the spectacularly glamorous portion of the strip again, with all the lights and fanfare, and the Finish Festival was just up ahead. I could see the flames skyrocketing up into the night at the Mirage, and the streets were once again lined with spectators cheering, reading our bibs and calling out our names to cheer for us. The genuine enthusiasm complete strangers had for us finishing felt like a warm hug that broke the spell of the cold, dark, desert air.


I made a last ditch effort to smile for the final set of photographers as I crossed the finish line, despite feeling terrible all around — numb, freezing cold, and sore. By this time it was 8:00 P.M., but my internal body clock was still on Central Standard Time and I felt every bit of the time difference as my adrenaline quickly spiked and dumped, and my energy suddenly crashed the second I hit the very last timing mat. I texted my friends and asked where they were, my numb fingers barely able to churn out a single sentence. I felt a sudden wave of complex emotion that was hard to navigate.


After a few seconds, my friends replied that they'd had to go back to the hotel, since everything was blocked off on either side of the street at the Finish Festival, and they had no way to get to Sherri and I to greet us at the finish. Sherri was already back at the hotel as well, having started and finished her race 30 minutes prior to mine. The logical part of my brain understood all of this, and yet still, the emotional, exhausted part of my brain was focused on being cold, hungry, and I didn't want to be alone. I had to get back to the hotel as quickly as possible. Warmth and friends were waiting. I continued walking through the finish corral, in search of the medals, and the space blankets.



I started grabbing bags of potato chips and shoveling them in my mouth, and pounding water. I searched frantically for the volunteer handing out medals, and in the chaos, I realized I had to walk a little bit farther through the finish corral to grab my medal. I grabbed a space blanket and began searching for a way out of the corral, seeing my hotel right across the street. I was not particularly keen on walking a whole extra mile to exit the corral properly and then go back up the street to my hotel, which was right there, so I squeezed through a row of bushes along the barricades and hurried across the street to the LINQ.


Once at the hotel, I went up to the counter inside where there were pastries and personal pan pizzas. I waited for my pizza while people passing through the corridor were taking pictures with the giant purple zebra statue behind me. Some of them congratulated me. I managed to eat one slice of pizza, and then felt a wave of nausea. I thanked the cashier and then headed upstairs with my pizza box, and learned Sherri was also not feeling well after the race. Our stomachs and bodies had gone through a lot that day. After I showered, I tried to sleep.


Here's the weird thing, though: I didn't. I didn't sleep. At all. For as tired as I was, and for my track record of needing to nap immediately after a race, I laid in bed with my eyes closed, wide awake, all night long, until our alarms started going off at 3:00 A.M. for our early morning flight. I leapt out of bed. I enthusiastically started packing, and eating whatever snacks I could find lying around the room. I was so wired and wide awake, that I didn't feel tired even at the airport, or on the flight home, and I didn't have any desire to sleep all day until I actually hit the pillow of my own bed. It was the most bizarre thing, being awake for nearly 48 hours straight after running 13.1 miles.



The conclusion I drew was I probably could survive running an ultramarathon, a 100-miler, even, and run all through the night, without sleeping. I later learned this phenomenon is normal when you exercise very intensely when it's close to the start of your natural sleep cycle, and all that cortisol and adrenaline stay in your body long after the race is over. My body stopped racing, but my mind never did. I expected some sort of crash, and it never came, not until my actual bedtime again the following day. Will I test my limits and try a 100-miler? We'll see. Stay tuned.


LODGING:

The LINQ Hotel

3535 Las Vegas Blvd South

Las Vegas, NV 89109


Happy running and safe travels,

Stefanie




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