Tuesday, December 6, 2011
My brand new half-marathon medal, emblazoned with its sparkling Vegas skyline is hanging from a shelf near my bed. If you look closely at the ribbon, there is some discoloration. That is because I barfed all over myself about an hour after the race. But doesn't that paint the perfect picture of athletic endeavor?-- The pride and the pain are part of the same package.
Walking to the start line for Sunday evening's Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon was pleasant enough. We walked with lots of people, plenty dressed as Elvis, numerous women and men in tutus. How tutus became the "in thing" for runners I may never know, but they were all over the place.
With music in the background, and announcements over the loudspeaker when the full marathon started, we dove into the crowd and tried to check our "gear" and nibble on snacks and stand in line for the porta-potties. Still an hour before our start time, and with all the pre-race energy and optimism, I was mainly concerned about staying warm. Not until we tried to make our way to our starting corral did the weight of the enormous crowd become a burden.
I don't want to go on and on about the overcrowding. If you're interested, you should read Review Journal articles about the masses of people: there were 44,000 runners, plus all the spectators. Better yet, "like" Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas Marathon & 1/2 Marathon on facebook and read their apology for the "inconveniences" of the race. The hundreds of comments following that post are revealing. They capture both sides of the issue: 1) This is a for-profit race organizer with an iconic race location. No matter what the complainers say, there will be thousands more racers next year. They're predicting 60,000-100,000 according to some accounts; 2) Someone should pay for the extreme lack of organization and resulting fire code violations. I see both sides. I lived both sides.
Once we jogged over the start line, I felt thrilled to run past so many towering Las Vegas landmarks and through the intersection of Las Vegas Boulevard and Flamingo with no cars, only runners. It was magnificent. But I couldn't gaze up for long because I had to dodge people. There were walkers who had evidently skipped their designated corrals and became obstacles right away. When I could squeeze between people, I'd speed up. Then slow again. Then speed up again. I kept overhearing people say, "It will thin out quickly," but it didn't. It didn't really thin out comfortably until about mile six or seven.
At the 5K mark, we were at 36 minutes, and whatever positive outlook I had maintained past the billions of walkers was dashed. The second 5K was a similar pace, and shortly before the 10-mile mark I felt like crap and wanted to collapse on the median. Taking stock, I didn't have any pain, but I also didn't have any energy. That was a strange sensation. My only mental boost at this point was the presence of so many people around me, and plenty more behind. I kept an eye on my GPS and knew that if I could at least maintain a jog, I should be able to accomplish my goal of beating my first half-marathon time of 2:43. Soon after the 10-mile mark, when I kept sputtering and stopping to walk "just to the next stoplight," I realized that unless I could really pick up the pace (like, to a 9-minute mile) this marathon was going to be slower than my first. No way I could do nine minutes at this point. But I managed to jog the last mile without stopping even though it wasn't pretty and I stopped seeing and hearing the cheering crowd at that point. I just wanted to be done.
According to the "Rock 'n' Roll Marathon Series Medical and Fluid Replacement Information" pamphlet that was in my race packet, blood is directed away from your internal organs to your legs during a race. It reads, "YOU MUST CONTINUE TO WALK AFTER FINISHING YOUR RACE. MOVE FOR AT LEAST 20 MINUTES!" I walked for about 15 seconds after finishing, and then was herded into a slow-moving mass past medal pick-up, past Mylars, past water and green bananas, and into the reunion area and gear pick-up. I was too grouchy and nauseous then to pay attention to the time, but later estimated I stood in a slow-moving horde of people for 15 minutes immediately following the race. Another 15 minutes was spent waiting to pick up my dry sweatshirt. While waiting in that line, I had to sit twice for fear of fainting, and felt sick. All around us, in the Shark Reef lobby, there were people sitting or lying on the ground, next to medical team members. It looked much more like a Red Cross tent after a natural disaster than a post-race scene.
My friend and ride home was waiting in front of a restaurant, which under normal circumstances would be a 3-minute walk from the Shark Reef area. It took us 90 minutes. We were in a throng of wall-to-wall bodies, most of them sweaty, and moving only a few inches a minute. There was no way out. It was one way with no side exits and it was horrid. I can honestly say that it was one of the worst experiences of my life. After a very miserable hour, just as the crowd began to move at a slow walk, I started vomiting. I should have employed this strategy sooner, because a 3-foot space miraculously opened all around me right when the retching started. I heard comments and murmurings from several men behind me. Oddly, I detected a hint of "this is to be expected" intermingled with the repulsed horror. Moments later, there was a place to pause and try to clean myself up. I stood near an area full of gurneys and EMTs and runners worse-off than me, but wondered if an ambulance ride might get me home quicker. Thankfully, I felt better after my "episode" and survived the remaining walk and monorail ride. Bodies were so close on that monorail that my friend's husband said we all needed to go to Confession afterward.
Today is Tuesday. What little hip flexor pain I had yesterday is now completely gone. I have no limp, no soreness. I suppose this is because I didn't run that hard, physically. Mentally, I am still in recovery mode. Given another couple days, I expect to label this run in my memory as the amazing experience it was: the third largest race of its kind after NYC and Boston; nighttime; on the Las Vegas strip. But for now, I need to get over missing my goal.