Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas Marathon Baby...Yeh!

If only I'd had the chance to check out the forecast at 3pm Saturday afternoon - I would then have seen the severe winds warning from the US National Weather Service for the Las Vegas area, which was due to arrive just in time for the marathon on Sunday evening. Maybe then I would have adjusted my goal for the race I'd spent the past 10 weeks working hard for, but up until the actual start of the race on the Sunday evening, I was blissfully unaware of what was coming and had no idea how it was going to impact on my plans.

We'd arrived in Vegas on Friday evening having made the 4 hour drive from our home in Phoenix. It was the relatively close proximity that had drawn me to the event, more so than the renowned attractions of the strip with its neon lights, amazing shows, and the selection of bars, restaurants and casinos. Las Vegas would be my 30th marathon - it would also be my last competitive marathon, so I was determined to make myself work for my 8th and final sub 3 hour marathon before I bowed out and turned my attentions back to purely running ultras.

We spent the majority of the weekend hanging out with our good friend Alan Lam from Calgary. Alan was the first friend I met when arriving in Calgary nearly 4 years ago, and he introduced me to the running scene there along with many of the other wonderful friends I made in "the true North". Alan was also in Vegas on a mission. He's ran close to 30 marathons himself and was hoping to get that Boston qualifier which has alluded him for a while now, and whilst we both knew that our personal goals would mean pushing to our limits, we were both ready to embrace the challenge, and hopeful of achieving our goals.

Alan and Del at the Race Expo
Race day arrived and as we headed over to meet Alan at the Mandalay Bay Hotel for the start, we noticed how much the wind had picked up. It wasn't just a breeze either. Palm trees were bending with branches and leaves breaking free in the gusts, litter was flying around, and the flags at the top of the flag poles were being whipped about  viciously as the strength of the wind increased. It was such a contrast to the past couple of days which had been calm, warm and sunny, but we had no control over mother nature and would have to either like it or lump it. 

For me, if I was about to do a trail race, it really wouldn't have bothered me as I do them for that very reason - to test myself against the elements and mother nature, without needing to worry about time and pace - but this was a road race, I had a time goal in mind, and everything needed to be perfect in order for me to achieve that goal. 

Although I had only mentioned this to Andy, I felt that 2.55 was within my reach based on how well my training had gone this past few weeks, but as the wind strength increased, I knew that was now a tall order in these conditions and yet I made the decision to go for that sub 3 regardless as I didn't want to be defeatist before I'd even started.

One of the things that particularly stood out for me at this marathon was the heavy police presence and the high levels of security. Even without the devastating terrorist attacks just a couple of days earlier, the US had learnt from the Boston bombings and were already taking things seriously to ensure everybody's safety at the event. It was certainly reassuring and yet also a stark reminder of the crazy world we live in these days, and with a moment of silence to remember all those affected by the attacks followed by a rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner", it brought a sombre moment to the event but also a sense of pride and solidarity as the 30,000+ people from all over the world stood together on the roads around the Mandalay Bay Hotel, awaiting the start of the Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas Marathon.

Just prior to the start, they had warned us that it was going to be windy out on the course, but I wasn't quite prepared for how bad it actually got. Although I went through the first kilometre bang on pace, I was already breathing heavily and it wasn't until we made the turn that would take us back to the start line but on the opposite side of the road that I noticed that it was on a slight incline. The wind hadn't been that bad up to that point, but after that turn and for the next 10km or so, there was a very strong crosswind with gusts that threw me off my stride every so often. 

On "The Strip" and still focused on that sub 3
Running down "The Strip" really was amazing. The bright lights and the crowd support was tremendous, the bands were loudly playing out their tunes, and I was getting extra cheers and encouragement with being a lady. I absorbed the atmosphere as much as possible, but at the same time I was trying to remain focused on my race plan with the words of my coach Laura sticking in mind as I ran along: "Another sub-3hr is within your reach, just focus, remain consistent and let those legs fly!!" It became my mantra and I was happy to be knocking out splits that were keeping me on track with my 5k and 10k splits being spot on, and passing through 15km pretty much on target at around 63 minutes, and I was lying in 7th place in the ladies race.

On "The Strip" and still feeling determined
It was around about then that we separated from the half marathon runners and as we turned off the strip, things went much darker and far quieter, and the crazy wind had intensified and was really making its presence known.  I tried to see what pace i was doing, but with fewer street lights it was difficult to see my watch, and it was then that I realised that I hadn't seen any mile markers or timing clocks along the route. We later found out that they had all been removed due to the high winds and the risk of injury they posed to the runners and others on the course.

There were several out and back sections on the revised marathon route, and it seemed that no matter which direction we ran, the wind was pushing against us. I was still trying to maintain my pace but was finding it difficult to breath with the strength of the wind, and then I started getting a stitch which plagued me for the remainder of the race. My glutes and lower back also started to tighten a little as I leaned into the wind and I found my pace was gradually starting to slow. It was then that the rain came making the roads extremely slippery and whilst thankfully I didn't fall over, we all had to use caution when making some of the turns. Every time we passed an aid station, empty cups were being blown across the roads from all directions, whilst the poor volunteers tried to prevent the full cups from being strewn all over the floor at the same time as handing out drinks to passing runners.

Shortly before the half way point whilst doing a loop around a huge marquee with music loudly pumping out as the rain came down, I gave up the chase. I was battling against conditions chasing a time that I knew was quickly slipping away, I wasn't going to win the race, I wasn't going to PR, so why the hell was I putting in all this effort? I then heard a shout from the opposite side of the railings - it was Alan and he wasn't too far behind me. Seeing Alan gave me a boost and I was willing him to catch me so that we could run together and go for a 3.15 finish - if he could catch me up in the next couple of kilometres, that was still within our reach and at least then one of us would have achieved our goal.

the rain stopped but the wind was relentless and every step forward was becoming even more of a fight. We ran even more out and back sections, and every time I saw Alan, it looked like he was gradually edging closer. Despite the cool and windy conditions, I was still exceptionally thirsty, so I started to stop at the aid stations to make sure I was drinking enough. Where the wind really was strong, I was no longer willing to do battle and so stopped to walk, head down and eyes shut as dust, debris, road signs, garbage cans and goodness knows what else were strewn in the air. Once again I readjusted my goal - I was now targeting a sub 3.30 - but all I really wanted was to get to the finish line as soon as possible so that we could get warm and relax.I pushed forward, no longer even looking at my watch, becoming more focused now on the stream of runners that I could see in the distance - the point where we would rejoin the half marathon runners once again, where we rejoined the strip and the crowds, and the finish line at The Mirage.

I was so happy to join the half marathon runners. Despite me slowing even more dramatically over the last couple of kilometres, Alan had unfortunately still not caught me and I had spent a considerable amount of time running alone. Being surrounded by people with the party atmosphere once again kicking in as we rejoined the strip helped me to get going again as I knew the finish line wasn't too much further ahead. I struggled onwards and with around 3km to go, I felt a pat on the back - it was Alan with his happy smile and encouraging words, and despite me telling him to go ahead without me, he refused. We ended up running that final stretch together , The Mirage not seeming to be getting any closer, but finally - finally! - we were taking our last few strides and crossed the finish line of the Las Vegas Marathon holding hands. What an absolute star! 

Finishing with good friend Alan :-)
It would be easy for me to be disappointed with the run and yet I didn't feel any disappointment. Yes, it was frustrating that the weather had been against us but that's mother nature for you. When road racing, when aiming for a specific time, when training has gone well and you know you're in good shape, everything comes down to conditions on the day. You can be in the best shape of your life, but if the conditions are against you, there is only so much you can do. The winning lady finished in 3.08 - her half way split was 1.28 which shows how much her race was also affected. Times become irrelevant and it comes down to who best copes.

The weekend in Las Vegas was lots of fun and maybe one day I'll go back for the party, but for now my competitive marathon running days are over. I ran my first marathon 20 years ago and Las Vegas was marathon number 30. In those 20 years, I've gone sub 3 hours 7 times and have a PR of 2.47. Of those 30 marathons, I've won 6 of them and finished top 3 in several others. I've ran 5 of them for charity and raised money for animal charities close to my heart, I've ran most of them in the UK but I have also raced in Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto, Cologne and now Las Vegas, and as a result of my marathon running, it got me into running ultras which led on to even greater things.

I'm not saying that I won't run another marathon - I'm happy to run for fun or to help pace others to their goals if I can - but I won't be putting pressure on myself to chase times. For now, I'm back to mainly ultra running which means running more slowly and running much further - that's where my strengths are these days, and I intend to make use of them whilst I can.

Way to party dude!









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