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Strip Nightmare

Strip Nightmare

Running a marathon should be a lot of emotions, but it shouldn’t involve pushing, elbowing and fear for one’s own safety, despite what I had hoped for that is exactly what I got when I ran the Las Vegas Rock n Roll Marathon. I wasn’t the only one who had a rough night: “Absolute Chaos,” “terribly understaffed, “poorly managed” and “extremely unsafe” are just a few of the phrase I heard runners mutter after largest night race was held in Las Vegas last weekend.

The morning after the race I wanted to post my race recap but I was so annoyed and irritated how the whole thing went down that I thought it better to take a week to cool down and reflect on what transpired during the night of December 4, 2011. Without getting into every detail I will try and break down the aspects of the race that I experienced.

[divider3 text=”EXPO”]

I have run dozens of races before and this was my second time running the Las Vegas Marathon. I knew that the expo would be crazy busy and that the lines would be long. Being a local of Las Vegas it was easy for me to navigate the side streets and slip into the Palazzo parking garage, get a spot and briskly walk to the Sands Convention Center. I was savvy enough to side step the masses of people and get in and out of the expo in less than 30 minutes. I was extremely pleased with that, others seemed to be taking time and shopping, signing up for giveaways etc. Great for them, I was interested in the race, expo’s are great for families and first time runners, I had to get to work and spent little time in the pre-race circus. Two things stood out: 1. I was surprised how many people were switching from the full marathon to the half marathon at the expo. I had never seen a line that long for this at other races. 2. No one seemed to care that I switched corrals. I didn’t have to prove anything or re-sign a waiver. I wondered if it was this easy for me, would there be any enforcement the next day at the race?

[divider3 text=”PRE RACE”]

I lied. As a almost 3 year sober gambler I lied to the kid at the parking garage at Mandalay Bay when he asked what I was doing parking there. I told him I had come to play blackjack and he let me roll right through. I parked where I wasn’t supposed to. Unlike most runners I didn’t have anyone to meet me at the finish and I knew when the race was over I wasn’t going to park 3 miles away and walk in the freezing cold. I knew from a previous Rock N Roll race here in Vegas in 2009 that the finisher chute was understaffed with people handing out blankets and that the food was pathetic so I wanted my car as close as possible so I could warm up and get food.

After parking I headed inside to check a bag at bag check. With the last name Zimmerman I had no problem checking my stuff, no lines, no waiting. It pays to be at the bottom of the alphabet sometimes. Once my bag was checked I stretched and headed to the start. No one stopped me as I ran up from the back and started ducking corrals. I was assigned to corral 5 but changed to number 2 at the expo. I had trained to run a 3:15 or better and I was right in the crowd of people hoping to hit those times. Before the race started you could hear people talking about qualifying for Boston and running PR’s. It was exciting as the wind blew at our backs.

[divider3 text=”First Half of the Marathon”]

The air horn went of silently for the elite runners and then it was our turn. Louder this time, I took a deep breath and away I went. Sneaking out right in stride the pack started thinning right over the first hill on Hacienda. The first 8 miles are a blur. I was in the zone and running the race I wanted. I was under 1 hour for the first 8 and as the sun went down my right hip flexor started to tighten tremendously. I compensated by shortening my stride and then my knees really started to flare. I knew at 10 miles this was not going to be the race I had trained for. I slowed from 7:20 pace to 9:00 pace over the next few miles and ran a respectable 1:45 first half.

Up until that point my mind was good and my legs were moving. I still had dreams of running a 1:40 second half and breaking 3:25. The course had been littered with a small but cheerful amount of spectators, great water and encouraging bands. Although frustrated I was still running a great race. I came down the hill at 13 miles and started to hear the mass of people that were just ahead of me. I had no idea what was about to happen.

[divider3 text=”Second Half of the Marathon”]

Rounding the corner onto Las Vegas Boulevard I was overwhelmed with people. Screaming fans were crowding the lane, runners probably from the first 4 or 5 half marathon corrals are jockeying for position. Trying to familiarize myself to my new surroundings I stumble on a groove in the road and tweak my knee just enough that I slow even further. Frustrated I keep running to mile 15.8 where my wife is waiting with a new pair of gloves and hat. In the mean time as I continue running in the designated marathon lane I have runners come up from behind and elbow me in the back, head and almost trip me at one point as they try to get around walkers, and joggers and everything else in their way.

The poorly marked marathon lane is filled with people of kinds: costumed Elvis’s running 10 min pace, marathon runners trying to keep an 8:30 pace, half marathoners walking and taking pictures of all their favorite structures. It is a sea of people and I am overwhelmed as I try to run my pace and watch out for those catching from behind. Finally at 15.8 I get a new clothes from my wife and Gatorade. I stop for just a moment and start again. I cross 16 miles at 2:16. I have slowed to over 10min mile pace. My knees are hurting and I can’t feel my hip flexor. I know this is going to be the hardest 10 miles of my life. But I keep moving. For the next 5 miles I am constantly harassed by the bike patrol to get out of the marathon lane because I a running too slow. When I argue back that I am a marathon runner that is injured they fight me still. I am starting to get really aggravated.

Around mile 17 a gentleman gives me a nice shove in the back while passing me, I step up on the curb to get out of his way and my right calf muscle cramps. I am forced to stop and stretch. When I do, everything locks up. I am standing, holding a cone, screaming in pain: cramps in 4 muscles. Time stood still. It might have been a minute, it might have been 5. I thought to myself, “Benji either you quit and get help or you have to keep moving.” I kick my leg forward and let out a huge scream and start to hobble down the street. Walking I am again harassed by the bike patrols to get out of the marathon lane. I stay on the side walk and walk through an aid station as they pump the water from the hydrants into the garbage cans. The water taste terrible but I drink 3 cups trying to hydrant my cramping body.

At the 21 mile mark I watch and listen as a marathon runner, running a 10-11 minute mile pace harass some women walking in the marathon lane, at one point he threatens violence and turns around and stares them down. This just a few miles after I watched a runner literally push someone down and out of their way. The course was absolutely crazy and filled with people who had no business being there. I put aside my own dreams of finishing in record time and I manage to jog the rest of the course and I finish with a 4:19 marathon. 1 hour and 4 minutes longer than the goal. I am disappointed and freezing. Along the latter part of the course I come across an aid station that has empty tables, except one table had water left. I take my cups and keep moving. The next aid station has no cups, just pitchers of water and empty cups, I pour my own water and keep moving. The last aid station on the course has no water when I arrive. I remember thinking that 3 or 4 of the aid stations had water that tasted absolutely terrible, most of them were by old downtown. I never got sick from the water, but I can understand why some did. Las Vegas might have “safe” drinking water, but we are also linked to some of the worst water in America.

[divider3 text=”Post Race”]

Having run the Las Vegas Rock N Roll Marathon in 2009 I knew the finish area would be chaos, so I got my medal and skipped the heat blanket (there might have only been a dozen or so people handing them out for 30,000+ finishers anyway) and circumvented the photo area. Being allergic to bananas had it’s upside this race because apparently they were all green and hard to eat, but I grabbed some Cytomax, water and a couple snickers bars and headed straight for gear check. After all I am a soaked with sweat and it is 38 degrees outside and I am injured. I just want to go home.

Inside I find more chaos. Hundreds of people waiting in line to get there gear, thankfully I am still a Zimmerman so no wait. I change my clothes as quickly as my body will let me. I leave the Mandalay Bay Convention Center and head towards the parking garage. The hallway is crowded. Too crowded in fact. People start slowing down and all of the sudden we are not moving. Overheating, dehydrated and exhausted I do everything I can to keep my composure. I feel like throwing up. A man and a women coming barging through the crowd “EMERGENCY, I HAVE AN EMERGENCY’ They scream. Only to make it another 20 feet before the woman collapses and starts vomiting all over the exiting crowd.  I hold my phone up and snap a photo of the people behind me and text it to my wife. I am overwhelmed. I just want to get to my car.

The crowd starts moving ever so slowly as we weave around vomiting runners and piles of puke. Eventually I get to the front to find EMT’s with a handful of people on the side wall. I finally make it into the clear and maneuver to my car. One hour and 40 minutes after I left the expo I made it to my car. I am exhausted and discouraged. I drive home in a daze about the whole event.

[divider3 text=”RECAP”]

It is only the next morning that  I start seeing posts from friends about their experience at the race and all the chaos that ensued for each of them. The nightmare starts to come clear. I start to realize that horrible experience I just had. Why didn’t I take out my iPhone and record the guy pushing people down? Why didn’t I record the bike patrol harassing me or the people in the marathon lane? Why didn’t I video tape the empty water stations or the way they were distributing water? Why didn’t I snap a photo of the finishers chute and lack of staff ? Why in the world didn’t I record what happened in the hallway?

Why?

Because I had just endured an injury and completed my 4th marathon. I was exhausted, frustrated and discouraged. A week of interviewing others, hearing their stories and sharing with friends has brought me to this post. I am so thankful that I finished and grateful that I wasn’t majorly injured as I stubbornly continued to run the course. I don’t know if I would ever run this race again, after a week of asking myself that question, I think the answer would be no. Not unless some major improvements happened.

[divider3 text=”RECOMMENDATIONS”]

If any of the Las Vegas Rock N Roll Marathon race directors happen to stumble on this, there are just a couple of things I would recommend if you are really looking to make next years race better and possibly woo me back into running with you again.

  1. Run the marathon and half marathon separate. Start the marathon at 3 and half at 5:30. The elite runners might not get to run the whole strip in the dark, but is that really why they came? No, they came because it is a flat course and the prize money. Starting an hour earlier would allow even less marathon runners to keep separated from the half marathon runners.
  2. Learn from Boston, corrals should be enforced! Don’t let Grandma Smith and her 13 friends walking for Team Challenge in corral 3. Chaos will ensue.
  3. Cones only separate little kids at soccer practice, not runners looking for open space. You have to have an isolated lane for the marathoners, if you don’t you are going to have the same thing happen on repeat.
  4. The water really was terrible at a few aid stations in old downtown. Truck in water, fill a tank, do something!
  5. I have no idea how many volunteers you had at aid stations but the later ones on the course need double whatever they had. Same with the finish chute and the gear check. I know plenty of unemployed people through our food assistance program where I work, if you need to pay people minimum wage to pass out water let me know!
  6. Over order. I heard you ran out of swag bags, t-shirts, medals, and food. This is flat out terrible. The rescue mission in town could use a few thousand (ripe) bananas, it wouldn’t kill you to over order and bless those in need around town.
  7. I don’t even know where to begin with Mandalay Bay, but something has to be done to move people better.
  8. Lastly, if something goes wrong next year, don’t wait 3 days to issue a statement from the CEO. Your #1 sponsor, Zappos, has a an excellent book called Delivering Happiness, in case you haven’t heard of it, you should read it. Zappos pride’s themselves on customer service and making things right. I wish you would do the same. Offering me $10 off my next race is not a way to get me to come back. Offer me 50% off or more and I might consider it. Take the next step and do the right thing, don’t fall short on fixing the mistakes.

Running a marathon should be an amazing experience. The Las Vegas Rock N Roll Marathon fell short on just about every aspect. I just hope that this experience doesn’t ruin running for all the first time runners and that they get back out there and try another race soon to get a better taste in their mouth.

Run my friends run.

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