Thursday, December 6, 2012

Las Vegas Rock 'N' Roll Half Marathon: So not even close, so completely far away

It's hard to know where to start on a race recap when you miss your goal by such epic proportions.

We'll start with logistics: hotel, travel, nutrition, outfits.

We stayed at Tropicana. It was less than a mile to the start line, we could get a non-smoking room with two beds, and it was affordable (average rate was around $120/night and a $20/day resort fee). Plus, the casino and rooms were just remodeled. And check out the view:

If you are looking for a scene, Tropicana is not the place to be. The casino is very small. And we didn't see a nightclub - or if there is one, it's not popular because there were hardly any nearly nude young ladies tramping around the casino. If you are looking for a non-scene, Tropicana is the place to be. We were quite happy there.

Kristen drove to Vegas, bringing one metric shit ton of stuff for us. We had tons of bananas, oatmeal, peanut butter, crackers, our body weight in Gu, water, grapes, Gatorade, and energy bars.

She also brought all of our favorite torture devices (foam rollers, tennis balls, toe stretchers, etc). Indeed, our hotel room floor looked like a physio therapy clinic:

Penny could not bring as much because she was flying from New York but still managed to pack 7 pairs of shoes. 

On Saturday we decided to take it very easy. We hit the expo and bought the aforementioned new head bands, the one piece of girly running gear we have decided is acceptable because the velvet--ahem, the "non-slip technology"--in those things make you feel like you're wearing a nuns habit. In a good way. 

For breakfast we ate our traditional oatmeal, peanut butter, and bananas and then got takeaway food for lunch (chicken, rice and veggies for Penny, a chicken panini for Kristen). Dinner was Penny's traditional pre-race meal:  French toast! For some reason, this feels like the perfect combination of carbs, protein, and fat.

Kristen was still feeling some calf pain so Penny forced her to ice her legs. And then took a picture of it.

Calf pain went away by race day!
Race day, we decided to switch it up (we know, always a good idea to switch things up on race day). We discovered an article via Twitter about pre-race meals for evening races. Ah yes, we also established a Twitter account . . . follow us @twolittlerunners! Following the article's advice, we had a high protein brekky and our traditional carby breakfast for lunch. Because it was our first afternoon/evening race, we couldn't really rely on what we had done previously. But the eggs, toast, and hash browns for breakfast worked, and we forced down oatmeal, peanut butter, and bananas again for lunch. We then drank a Gatorade each up until 1 hour before the race.

Speaking of which, we should probably discuss the actual running portion of this thing. Well. Here we go.

We got to the race about 45 minutes early, and got through the porta potties just in time. We switched out of our pre-race scrubs (which we didn't really need, because it was 70 degrees out). 

No, I don't want no scrubs!
And then we jogged to Corral 1. We felt pretty cool. All the while completely in denial about massive gusts of wind hitting us in the face. In fact, at one point Penny said to Kristen "Well, good thing the gusts are happening now, instead of in ten minutes." As though the gusts just had to "get it out of their system" before we began our race. Ah yeah. Another of Penny's wishful thinking said aloud that didn't come true: "These winds are strong, but we are stronger."

We hopped in the corral, located the 1:30 pacer and took a picture of ourselves about to run some massive PRs.

Consecutive race numbers! We thought it was an auspicious sign . . .
Oh we also saw Meb Keflezighi and took a picture of him with some random dudes and texted them the pic. Good deeds. 

We lined up right next to Meb who was a 1:30 pacer. Unfortunately, this was the last time we saw Meb.

Mile 1: 7:04 (both)

We couldn't really believe this split. It was immediately apparent that this was harder than it should have been. The first mile was straight into the wind. The wind didn't feel terrible yet, but you know that energy you have at the beginning of a race, where you can run race pace without feeling a thing? Yeah, we didn't have that. Ever. We stuck together though, and figured that maybe it would be tons easier when we got to the hairpin turn and ran with the wind behind us.

Mile 2: 6:56 (both) 

Hairpin turn not what it was advertised. Penny, still the optimist, yells out at about mile 1.2, "We are right on pace." It felt really hard, harder than it should have. Mile 2 of Philly RnR, Penny ran a 6:50min/mile and it felt easy. Kristen just ran 6 miles at 6:33 at a Turkey Trot. But this? This was already sucking.

Mile 3: 7:23 (both)

As soon as we saw this split, Penny said to Kristen, "Lets just have fun with this." Kristen confirmed. Code for "a sub-1:30 is not happening today." We were a minute off pace. Our legs had no spring. We were not huffing and puffing; but our legs felt like lead from the beginning and there was no coming back from this.

Mile 4: 7:15 (both)

This was a gusty mile. We found out after the race that Vegas was under a severe wind advisory with sustained winds of 25 mph and gusts up to 45 mph. Sounds fun to run in that kind of tail wind. But the gusts made these tail wind miles (2-7) like a series of intervals. Fast sprints with the gusts; trying to recover between them. It was impossible to run at a steady pace. 

Mile 5

Kristen: 6:57 - I took a Gu at 5.5. Legs were burned up from the gust intervals. 

Penny: 7:15 - I lost Kristen at this point in amongst a few runners. At first she was just a few feet away, and I couldn't really run around people to get back to her. Stayed about 20 feet behind her for this mile. Took half my Gu. Got demoralized when the 1:35 pacer passed me.

Mile 6

Kristen 7:13 - I actually felt pretty decent at this point. Maybe it was the Gu - my first ever 2x caffeine. The 1:35 pacers passed me and I hung with them . . . for awhile. 

Penny - 7:23 - Here is where I began to hate the race. I decided not to catch Kristen. I watched her little legs keep pounding the road and hoping that she might be able to pull a PR out of the day. I got blown forward by some gusts, which at first was encouraging. But here's the thing about the wind being behind you. When its that strong, you are POUNDING your legs running with it. You might go faster for that interval, but then when the gust dies, you are left feeling weaker and slower than before.

Mile 7

Kristen 7:25 - I had my first I hate running moment. I knew I was only half way done. My legs were gone. And the second half would be into the wind and also slightly uphill. Curses!

Penny: 7:31 - Still had Kristen in my sights. Every mile I thought I might try to get back to her, but frankly, couldn't be bothered trying. I tried to hold a 1:35 pacer clopping away next to me, but let him go too. I was mentally done and only half way through. At this point, I also began to hate running and all the runners around me. And all running-related things. 

Mile 8

Kristen 7:32 - I lost the 1:35 pacers at a water station. Damn. I was supposed to take the second half of my Gu during this mile, but I didn't have the energy to retrieve it from my pocket. A lot of this mile was sideways to the wind. I saw some people running in a modified karaoke, or a pas de bourree as we call it in ballet. It didn't look effective. 

Penny 7:44 - Took second half of Gu. Didn't actually think it would help, but figured it would distract me from hating running for about 10 seconds at least. Got side-swept by the same wind as Kristen and veered from lane 1 to 3 of the road. Well at least I was practicing running tangents!

Mile 9

Kristen 7:54 - Miles 9 to the end were head on into the wind. The gusts were literally blowing me and others around. A giant 6 foot tall man actually blew into me while he was passing me. I got passed by a lot of runners. Each time one passed me, I told myself this was the one I would stay with. But I never did. As each runner passed, I was hoping it was Penny!

Penny 8:19 - First - of many - walk breaks. I wasn't that tired, but had no desire to continue. This mile turned into a few different streets before coming back around to the strip. So windy.

Mile 10

Kristen 8:10 - I got passed by a power walker. And it just keeps getting slower from here. 

Penny 8:36 - Walked a couple of times. I tried to walk for 10 seconds and then just keep moving. Kept being passed by people.

Mile 11

Kristen 8:41 - By this mile I could clearly see the Mirage - where the finish line was. Never have two more miles felt so far. 

Penny: 9:50 - Rolled my ankle. It only hurt for 30 seconds or so but it was an excuse to stop and walk. Again. I think I actually stopped altogether at the water station. Contemplated exiting the race for a DNF. Decided against it, only because the finish line was on the way back to our hotel; figured I may as well cross it on the way home and get a free chocolate milk. 

Mile 12

Kristen 8:49 - A warmhearted runner said, "You are kicking my ass." We ran together this mile. But I couldn't keep up with him. I watched him pull away. But he gave encouragement to each runner he passed. I don't know how he had the energy for such kindness. 

Penny 10:54 - Same as mile 11, sans the ankle rolling. I got passed by so many people. Stopped to walk about four times. I told myself to just enjoy running the strip at night. I looked up at some of the lighted hotels and felt like they were taunting me for walking so frequently. Back to misery.

Mile 13

Kristen 8:54 - I was determined to pick up the pace in this mile and finish strong. Every time I tried to kick, a gust of wind would blow and push me backwards. Ah - *&^% it!

Penny 10:24 - I had no desire to pick up the pace and finish strong. Gusts kept blowing me back. Crossed the finish line with about the most despondent look on my face I could muster. I didn't even feel tired. I just felt dejected. Found Kristen after a few minutes. I was simultaneously disappointed she couldn't pull out a PR either but kind of happy that she found it as tough as I did (albeit not giving up quite so dramatically as me).

Kristen's official results - 1:42:17 (7:49 average pace). 92nd female of 13487; 14th of 2612 in division F30-34. 491 out of 22087 overall.

Penny's official results -1:48:17 (8:16 average pace).  229th female out of 13487, 34th in division out of 1901, 1014 out of 22088.

Notes On What Went Wrong
So what went so dramatically wrong? We had both run 1:34 races earlier in the year with little to no speed-work or real conditioning. Just general fitness gains from running mostly easy and long. This cycle, we hit all our speed workouts and tempo workouts and - notwithstanding a few injury setbacks - felt our fitness was at, or very near to the 1:30 goal. By race day, all our injuries/niggles were gone. Penny's hamstring/butt felt fine. Toes (Penny's) felt normal. Kristen's calf was pain-free. So why the epic fail when many others toughed it out to the end? Well besides the wind, we have a few theories. The first is that we failed to adjust our race goal early enough. We kept pushing it in those early miles, holding onto the idea of a good PR at least, not realizing that we were trashing our legs (especially the quads) for the later miles. Second is that we weigh about 105-110 pounds. We get pushed around in the wind easily. Third, it was much warmer than expected; it was 70 degrees at the start line. Penny got hot early and lost a lot of sweat when then wind was behind us (had been training in 50 degree weather). Accustomed to this temperature, it didn't bother Kristen.

Mentally? That's a different story.

Penny: I think I just mentally lost it. When I realized our goal was outside of my reach, I didn't want to try at all. This was a fail on my part. I am great when I know a goal is on the line; in Philly I didn't ever let go because I knew that I could get what I wanted if I pushed through the pain. Here, I knew our goal was gone and that a PR was out of the question too; so I gave up. This is something I need to work on. Not every race will be a PR or a win. So I need to be able to adjust my goals early on, and be content with racing as hard as I can on the day, given the circumstances. 

Kristen: I was prepared for a different type of tough moment. You know, the one that comes at mile 9. I had my stock of mantras ready to go. But I was not prepared for the tough times we experienced here. I've only ever raced in near perfect conditions. Next time I'll stay tough in difficult conditions and have a better race strategy. I was inspired by some of the amazing performances at CIM where the conditions were probably worse (RoseRunner, In It To Win It!).

On the Race
One final note about the organization of the race. We had heard horror stories about last year's event. But we couldn't have been more pleasantly surprised to see how well-organized the race was. The corral was not too full, we were never in bottle-necks. The water-stations and finishing line were very well laid out and organized. The changes Rock N Roll made to the race were commendable and obviously worked. 

two little runners


  1. First, before anything else, I must say: LOLZZZ hahaha. This was funny! It was probably the LAST thing from funny during mile 10 of this shit, but it does make for a great read. I like the duo-recap.

    Second, CIM weather was the worst, but man, running with wind and heat might actually win for worst. Yuck.

    I imagine your theory about the first miles is correct -- your intensity was probably that of a 6:10 mile, because of the wind, and so you wiped yourselves out with no hope of recovery over the next 10 miles. Can't wait to see you both try again on a better course! I recommend the OAKLAND HALF!! it's a fast one (even though I find it a bit long every year, 13.3-ish)

    1. Thanks RR! I'm impressed you made it to the end of the recap . . . it was 9 page downs on my screen. You know what happens when you get a couple of lawyers together working on a document - gets real long real fast!

      I'm afraid our lack of strategy to deal with the wind was a rookie mistake. But these lessons are best learned the hard way? :) -K

  2. Well written....felt like I was there and not just watching the 5k splits live on the 'net 10,000 miles away!

    But most of all well done for finishing-you've both learned something about yourselves....that when the going gets tough, the tough don't give up.