I expected the first-ever Las Vegas Night Marathon to be full of energy, costumes, and running Elvis’s. I also expected it to be a party atmosphere with lots of twists and turns along the way. I would not be disappointed. I just didn’t expect quite so many people!
I arrived at the start line about 10 minutes before the race. Most of the marathoners with their white number bibs were already in their corrals for the 4:00 pm start. I slipped through the barrier into corral #2. As with any race, you would feel the nervous anticipation of the runners; some listening to music, some talking and laughing, some in silence doing some last minute stretching. There were a total eight corrals for the marathoners totaling 5,000 for the race. The runners were placed in corrals based on projected finish time you place on the registration form. I looked behind me and saw my first running Elvis.
I was pleased to see an Elvis so soon. My friend, Tim Burke, bet me that for every Elvis I passed, he would donate $.25 to Parker. I felt it only fair to give him $.50 for every Elvis who passed me. Five minutes till the race was to start and the crowd of runners started to push forward. The band at the start line stopped playing while someone sang “The Star Spangled Banner”. Minutes away and we would be off. Had I trained well enough? Would I be able to Finish Strong? Would the training run calf cramp come back and haunt me? Would the slight hamstring pull at the end of the St. Louis marathon return? Lots of thoughts and questions….
Then the countdown started: “5, 4, 3, 2…..1″… And we were off. I stood close to the barrier and let people run by. I remember thinking it would be good to let some Elvis runners pass so I could pick them off later. (Each one worth $.25!!)
I was in no rush. It didn’t matter when I started, as this was a chip race. The chip tied to my shoe laces would register when I crossed the start line, mark my finish time and measure my progress at multiple times during the race. I collected myself, tried to stay calm, breathe and think of Parker.
I noticed thousands of Half Marathoners starting to crowd around the barriers in their yellow bibs for their 5:30 pm start. I knew I would see many of them about two hours later as we would merge with them at mile 13. It was time. I started jogging with corral 5 and crossed over the electronic chip timer. It was on!!!
The first 3-4 miles were rough. I found I was working hard. Despite the massage and stretching two hours earlier, I was still tight. I had to adjust my running belt packed with four GU packets, a piece of paper, $20.00 bill and my iPhone. The first few miles of any race is difficult for me. It seems like it takes about 4-5 miles to settle in, and start hitting a pace. I noticed lots of costumes: I was running with a devil, an angel, Captain America, an indian and five running Elvis’s – all of whom I passed.
By mile 5 it was getting dark. It was surreal at times running along dark streets lined with large flood lamps brought out to light the way. It was very calm and the next 8 miles were perfect. At one point I ran by a band and heard the lead singer thanking everyone running for a cause. He, the female singer and the drummer were all in remission from their battles with cancer. I immediately thought of Parker and his battle. I reached down and patted my race belt – written on a piece of paper in it, “My Heroes: Parker Shanton, JoAnn Svetanics and Matt Michel. FINISH STRONG!”. You all know Parker, but likely don’t know JoAnn and Matt. They are the mother and friend of Skip Svetanics, who lives in Cincinnati. I haven’t met Skip in person, but met him via Facebook after a friend, Caroline Keating, shared one of my posts. He reached out to me as he was facing a 10 mile run that would take him around the hospital where his mother was battling Myelofibrosis. JoAnn, Matt and Parker had traveled with me though the Death Valley Marathon and were now about 14 miles from finishing at Las Vegas!
Supporters along the course were sporadic during the first half of the race and I recall how quiet it was. I had found my zone. I was running comfortably, staying hydrated and taking GUs. I ran past another seven running Elvis’s – all shapes, sizes and ethnicities – in the dark. I passed an Asian Elvis as I ran up a bridge. I saw the Mandalay Bay Hotel just ahead. I moved comfortably down the bridge and through a long dark tunnel. So far it had been an incredible race, but I was minutes away from a huge shock.
As I came out of the tunnel at Mandalay Bay, I saw a HUGE sea of humanity moving slowly right to left in front of me. I couldn’t believe how many people there were – a number that would turn out to be 38,000!!! I turned to the left, immediately forced to merge into the slow – moving mass of runners and walkers. The energy and fun I had anticipated was more like a rude and abrupt punch in the gut. I had to walk as there was no where to go. Momentum lost… physically and mentally. I lost the runners I had become familiar with for over 13 miles – the Army vet running with the American Flag, the girl with the blonde ponytail, the sisters doing their first night-time marathon and an older guy running with a headlamp. I didn’t know them but for over 1.5 hours we were all at the same pace and drew strength from each other. They had been absorbed into the mass. I wouldn’t see them again. I tried to stay to the far left and run against the barrier. Any openings were immediately shut down by walkers or slow runners. It was frustrating!!
Then someone yelled, “GO PARKER!”. I got chills… it changed everything and brought me back to why I was there. Not for me, but for Parker, and Joann and Matt.
So I relaxed and took what the race gave me. I tried to be present to everything around me – the neon lights from the casinos, the music from the live bands, the cheering of the crowd.
I also knew there were four runners and a spectator in Parker shirts somewhere along the course. Suzanne Butz Adcook and Deborah Hill bought shirts for all their friends to run in during the race. While I didn’t see them, I knew they were with me!
As I ran past the Bellagio Hotel, there was a wedding ceremony in process. Forty-one couples were married during the event. I recall seeing a sign that read: “Run Faster, everyone’s watching you!!” There WERE a lot of people watching and supporting the runners. Over 100,000 spectators lined the course, with most along The Strip.
The street was so crowded I ran on the sidewalks, and on the medians, jumping over the decorative rocks and bushes. I would run wherever I could find an opening. I tried to make a game of it, like an obstacle race.
I heard more “GO PARKER”s!!
After leaving The Strip and going past the Stratosphere, we ran about four miles (miles 17-21) in an old commercial area of Las Vegas. There were constant twists and turns, and it seemed like every time we turned a corner, I would see the sea of runners a block away, sometimes headed to the left , other times to the right. I didn’t know if they were ahead of us or behind us. It was very confusing – like a giant snake making its way around one block after another. I just kept running, taking wide turns on some blocks and cutting corners on others, all the while, thinking of Parker. I noticed some of the water stations were out of water, I just kept running. I noticed after Mile 13 , the mileage signs and timing clocks no longer listed the marathon; but only the half marathon. As with Death Valley, I had no idea of the time I was running or how far.
We circled around and finally made our way back to the Stratosphere. I took a cool photo, “checked-in” via Facebook and called Mike and gave him an update…I was feeling fine and wanted see how Parker was doing. He said I had done 19.5 in 2:50. I asked him to call my parents and continued on. By now I was back on The Strip and a pleasant return to the crowds, lights , music and more “GO PARKER” cheers. I saw more running Elvis’s…FINALLY! I had lost count while running through all the twists and turns, but now with a straight , well-lit road and about 4 miles to go, the hunt was back on. I counted another 14, three walking which were easy and one in a giant wig and cape who I could not catch until the every end ~25.5 or so. The marathoners finally split with .2 miles to go. I was able to run freely and by myself as I made my way through the last few turns then finished at Mandalay Bay. It was emotional as I crossed the Finish Line. I knew I had Finished Strong.
Minutes after I finished, my parents called asking if I were ok. They had been waiting for me to run through the next-to-the-last chip check-in point of the race.. back at mile 23. Apparently, I was running on a sidewalk or in the median again and my chip didn’t register on the electronic timing strip in the road!! It did register my finish in 3:54. They were relieved, as was I.
I had completed two marathons 24 hours apart!! Both had their obstacles: one was cancelled and the other was over-booked. I was one of four racing through the desert and one of 44,000 running through Las Vegas. I learned a great deal from each and while my 52.4 race is over, Parker’s continues.
And I will help him Finish Strong!
Oh, in total I managed to pass 26 running Elvis’s and didn’t let one pass me! So Tim, you own me … the best $6.50 I have ever earned!!!
Post, Post Recap:
The Las Vegas Rock and Roll Facebook site has been overwhelmed by negative feedback on the race. Issues ranged from the over-crowding at the merge, no water at some stations, running out of shirts, lack of volunteers, and safety on dimly lit streets. It was so bad they offered an apology and a discount for all participants on a future Rock and Roll race. But because of my focus on Parker, I enjoyed it! I ran with an appreciation that I was able to be there and took the obstacles as challenges to overcome…just like Parker does.
- The challenge of running a marathon in this mass of runners!!!