Wednesday, December 7, 2011

My First Marathon: Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas

On Sunday afternoon I stood in the Mandalay Bay parking lot with my mom, eating a banana and keeping an eye on the porta-potty line so I could jump in before it got too long.

The sky was perfectly clear and the Las Vegas sun reflected off the gleaming hotel, bathing the entire race start in golden light.

Suddenly, it hit me: “I can’t believe I’m about to…”

“…run a marathon?” my mom finished for me as I choked up.

I nodded silently, my face crumpling with emotion as I thought back on the early Saturday-morning alarms, the piles of sweat-soaked running clothes and the hundreds of miles that had made up the past 19 weeks.

All for this day.

The marathon start was gloriously uncrowded, as the vast majority of the race’s 44,000 participants ran the half-marathon that started an hour and a half after the full. I easily tracked down the only other people I knew who were running the full, Chris and Rob, for a quick photo and round of good luck.

The weather in Vegas was colder than I'd expected — in the 40s and 50s — and I hadn't brought any long-sleeved running tops, so I went to Fashion Show Mall the day of the marathon to pick up the lululemon pullover I ended up wearing. The oldest rule of racing is, "Don't wear anything new on race day," but that was quickly replaced with, "Don't freeze to death on race day."

It was an extremely good decision.

My mom and Don made up my support crew, and they did an amazing job of accompanying me to the start line, reassuring me that the race would be great and literally saving my life afterward.

See that medical aid tent in the background? We'll be revisiting it in a major way.

After eating my banana and most of a Larabar, I took care of business in a porta-potty and then headed to corral 8 about 15 minutes before the 4:00 start.

I always stop feeling nervous as soon as I get to the start line of a race. Most of my pre-race anxiety stems from making sure I have everything I need, trying to eat stomach-friendly foods, getting there on time, being able to use the restroom, etc. Once I'm actually there, I'm good!

My race accessories included: my Garmin Forerunner 305 watch; a fuel belt with four chocolate Clif Shot gels and two bottles of Nuun; a hat and gloves for warmth; and a headlamp (included in our swag bags) so I'd be able to read my watch in the dark. I also grabbed three salt packets from a volunteer who handed them out at the last minute.

I almost didn't bring my fuel belt to Vegas because I thought it was kind of dorky to race with it, but it saved me big-time. Another good decision!

I hung out with my mom and Don for as long as possible...

...until finally, it was time to go.

The corrals were released about a minute and a half apart from each other to prevent bottlenecking in the first mile. I felt very alone as soon as I left my mom and Don, but also excited to run!

I should note here that a few days before the race, I discovered that Kate Gosselin was also running Las Vegas as her first marathon. Obviously, my competitive side came out.

I never believed that in a sea of tens of thousands of runners, I would actually see Kate Gosselin. But oh, I saw her, all right — she was in my corral. Super-tan, super-blond and super-tiny Kate Gosselin was just to my right, hanging out behind the 4:15 pacer.

If that's not extra motivation to hit my 4:15 goal time, I don't know what is.

Once my corral was released and I began running, I instantly choked back tears of joy and disbelief that I was finally running a marathon. I'm sure all the cheering people along the sidelines thought I was injured and in pain because my face was all screwed up into what Oprah calls "the ugly cry."

Then I sucked it up and focused on running at a steady and sustainable pace. I also realized I needed to get around the large 4:15 pace group, since I wanted to run slightly faster and it was clogging up the course.

As if that weren't enough, Kate Gosselin had a guy hanging off the back of a motorcycle taking pictures of her and yelling, "Look up! Act natural! LOOK UP!" More than a few snickers and echoes of, "Are you kidding me?" rippled through the runners. I had to get out of there.

I left the 4:15 pacer and Kate in my dust at the first opportunity, and I never saw Kate again (she finished in 4:59:21). The pacer and I would reunite many, many miles later.

The marathon course immediately veered off the Las Vegas Strip and wound through nondescript side streets for the first 13 miles. I've heard many runners say this part was horrible and boring, but I really liked it because it allowed me to focus on hitting my 9:40 min/mile goal pace and think about my strategy for the rest of the race. Every time my Garmin beeped and showed my split for each mile, I thought, "You're doing it! You're keeping a great pace! This is easy!"

It started getting dark, so I turned on my headlamp and was happy to find that I could easily read my watch. I also remembered from training at night that I could hit the "On/Off" button and it would briefly light up the watch face, then automatically light it up for a few seconds every time it showed a mile split. For some reason, instead of hitting the "On/Off" button once to accomplish this, I held the button down, which obviously turned off my watch.

Well, shit.

I briefly panicked, thinking I had completely lost the ability to keep track of my pace and overall time for the rest of the marathon. Then I turned the watch back on and was beyond relieved to find that it had saved my info and all I had to do was hit "Start" to resume timing.

My watch missed out on recording several seconds and a few fractions of a mile, and I had to manually hit "Lap" for a few miles until the watch resumed automatically showing my splits. It also screwed up the lap counter in such a way that I had to Photoshop the rest of the lap numbers down by one to have them reflect the actual mile numbers.

See how miles 5 and 6 are weird in terms of time and distance? I was ridiculously happy when my watch decided to start being normal again at mile 7.

I almost started to beat myself up and feel really pissed off about making this stupid mistake, but I stopped and said, "You're better than this. Just keep running." So that was that.

Mile 8 had the first notable incline as we ran over an overpass, but it wasn't that bad at all. Fast marathoners flew past us in the opposite direction, and I noted from a mile marker that we'd go back over the overpass right at mile 12. I had eaten my first Clif Shot at mile 6 as part of my plan to fuel up every 6 miles, but decided to take the next one at mile 11 so I would already be done with it by the time we hit that overpass.

Another good decision.

I was mentally and physically prepared for the return trip over the overpass and cruised up it with ease, passing several runners who slowed to walk. At this point I was within a mile of reaching the Strip and drank in the sight of all the famous hotels lit up in full glory.

I distinctly remember thinking, "I'm coming for you, motherf*ckers."

Mile 13 was a total rush. Every step brought me closer to the Strip, and I was thrilled to know that the rest of the course was on the infamous Strip itself. We ran through a little tunnel and rounded a corner that was completely packed with cheering spectators as we made our way there. At this point I had completed a half-marathon, and would now be racing farther than I'd ever raced before.

I felt awesome.

Miles 14 through 16 were great because I looked around and took in all the sights and sounds of the Strip at night. I wasn't hurting at all yet, and a series of cones separated the marathoners from the half-marathoners. We had plenty of room to do our running thing while the tail-end of the half-marathoners walked.

At mile 16, I whipped out the first of my salt packets and poured a little mound under my tongue, letting the salt absorb for a few minutes before taking a swig of Nuun (and I did this again at mile 19 and mile 22). The whole time, I had been grabbing water and Cytomax from each aid station, plus taking little sips of Nuun whenever I needed to. I loved having the Nuun because I didn't have to plan my Clif Shot consumption around aid stations. Fuel belt for the win!

I took my third Clif Shot at mile 17, and I needed the boost, since my legs — especially my feet — were starting to feel tired.

This is where the course started to get more crowded and the separation between the marathoners and half-marathoners became sloppy. You can see I slowed down quite a bit during miles 19 and 20 because I had to start fighting my way through slow half-marathoners. Mile 20 is not the time to piss off a marathoner, folks.

As a side note, I had always heard of marathoners "hitting the wall" anywhere between mile 18 and mile 22. I decided before I even began this race that "the wall" didn't exist, and I wasn't even going to entertain the idea of hitting it. I never felt like I hit "the wall" — not even close — and I truly believe it was largely due to that attitude. Honey badger don't care!

At mile 21, shit got real with the half-marathoners.

I could not believe my split for mile 21. The "sloppy" separation between the full and the half runners became "non-existent," and slow half-marathoners stretched across the entire course, leaving the full marathoners to either waste a ton of energy weaving through them or to run in the gutter and on the sidewalk. Occasionally people who worked for Competitor would yell, "Half-marathoners and walkers move to the right!" but everyone either had headphones in or were too tired to care.

I think I took my last Clif Shot at mile 23.

At some point — it's all a blur now — the 4:15 pacer caught up with me and saved the day. She sped through the crowd like a boss, yelling, "Pace group coming through! GET OUT OF THE WAY!" I jumped right on her tail and committed to never fall behind.

Her pace literally felt like 5K pace to me, although now I see it wasn't nearly that fast. I had to dig deep for these miles.

At one point I pulled over to an aid station only to find that it was completely out of water and Cytomax (and my bottles only had a few drops left, at best). When I looked up to spot the pacer, she had pulled way ahead. I started freaking out and busted my ass to catch up.

As I sidled up to her, she checked her watch and said, "Oh, now we're like 20 seconds ahead of our pace," then started slowing down. I was tired, I was thirsty, I was out of fuel and I was ready to be done. I took off and left the 4:15 pacer behind for the second and final time.

I have no idea where this last mile came from. It was my fastest mile by far, and I spent most of it staring at the ground and willing Mandalay Bay to pick up and move closer to my current location. I no longer had a rabbit to chase; the only one who could push me to the finish line was me.

I had spent the last several miles telling myself, "You can do anything for four more miles. You can do anything for three more miles. You can do anything for two more miles..." and that's what got me through until the end. That, and thinking: "DEVON. GUT. IT. OUT."

Can we take a moment to think about the mental anguish that comes with running not just 0.2 mile, but nearly half a mile at the end of a marathon when your watch says you've already run 26?

As I ran toward the finish chute, I consciously lifted my eyes from the ground to take in the scene and a huge smile spread across my face. I wasn't even sure what my time would be since I had screwed up my watch earlier; I was just so happy to be finished.

I never walked. I never gave up. I wasn't even all that upset about the half-marathoner debacle and the empty water stations. I couldn't believe I never got hungry, I never got a single cramp, I never needed to go to the bathroom and I finished the race in full beast mode.

I'm lucky, I know, but I also worked my ass off for 19 weeks for this race, and it was worth every sacrifice. This is what a marathon finish should feel like.

Official time: 4:15:10
Average pace: 9:44

I'd love to say that I calmly collected my medal and space blanket, got my finisher's photo taken and then reunited joyously with my family.

Instead, I searched like a fiend for water through the mass of runners, chugged it, skipped the photo line and staggered to find my mom and Don so I could collapse on the ground.

I ended up like this. And then, halfway through that banana, I found the nearest garbage can and violently emptied the contents of my stomach in three great heaves.

We went into Mandalay Bay so I could attempt to warm up, and Don massaged my legs and feet like a saint. I tentatively sipped more water because I was so thirsty. After a good half-hour, I felt like we could head back to our hotel... until I stood up. Then I found another garbage can and threw in three more heaves for good measure.

Don't ask me how I vomited six times on a nearly empty stomach. Just know that it was exactly as fun as it sounds.

And that is how I came to spend a good amount of time in the medical tent, wearing three sweatshirts and sipping Cytomax and warm chicken broth. I don't think this was the worst I've ever felt in my life, but it was pretty darn close.

I eventually felt warmed-up and hydrated enough to leave, except for the whole walking thing. Since I had been too busy throwing up to stretch, my legs were very sore and stiff.

My mom and Don dragged me to the Four Seasons, where we hijacked a wheelchair and hung out in the ritzy lobby while Don negotiated with someone to wheel me in the general direction of our hotel, which was New York, New York. (The line for cabs was a mile long.)

There are no slot machines or lobby bars at the Four Seasons. Just rich people.

They turned on the fireplace just for me, and I felt very distinguished and fancy even though I looked like death.

Eventually a small man who looked like Marc Anthony became my designated wheelchair-pusher, and he escorted us from the Four Seasons to Mandalay Bay, where he dropped us off at the tram. The tram took us to Excalibur, and I hobbled across the skybridge to New York, New York. We got to our room just before midnight — three and a half hours after I finished the race.

I had to get one final photo to commemorate the night. I'm well aware that my nose is red, my eyes are tired and my skin has that just-returned-from-the-brink-of-death glow, but I don't care.

Even though the night progressed, errr, rather unfavorably, it didn't even begin to put a damper on the high of my accomplishment.

I'm a marathoner, baby.


New here?



  1. New to your blog. WOW! Loved your recap and I totally agree with your sentence "This is what a marathon finish should feel like."

    If I ever do one I want to do it right. Heck yeah. Congrats on your accomplishment!

  2. Congratulations!! That is such a huge accomplishment, and your time was super-awesome. :) rock!

  3. I'm also new to your blog! Congrats on the marathon, you did a great job maintaining your pace!!!!

  4. You say marathoner, I say, Kate Gosselin crusher.

    You need a t-shirt Devon that says, "I crushed Kate Gosslin mother f*ckers!" :-)

  5. Congrats on an awesome first marathon!

  6. I'm glad you're ok! Awesome job on the race! I'm so happy you hit your goal!

  7. Congratulations!!! Great writing and super smooth description. Maybe one day I will run one too (I'm not 23 anymore)

    Not a clue who the Kate person is, but the T-shirt idea is good ;)

  8. I'm from Brazil, and I'm with you in this journey (following this blog...).

    This is the DREAM of my life, and I will go to a Round The World trip very soon!!! (I hope so.)

  9. Great job Devon!! I'm glad to hear how well your first Marathon went. I can't wait for my second shot at it.

  10. You are such a badass. I've done two half marathons, and this post was the first thing that made me think maybe a full marathon could be worth doing.

  11. You're incredible!! I loved reading your story... in fact, it was my favorite race recap! I've run 4 marathons and I had aches, pains, cramps, etc. in everyone of them and either walk some during the last few miles or have panic attacks trying not to haha. This was so inspiring! Congrats:)

  12. What an awesome post! I'm so proud of you!

  13. Yay! Congrats to you! I'm one of those non-fans of running. But I knew running can be a source or exercise/inspiration to some. So it was always on my list to at least do a half. Where I completed my first half-marathon last month. The Big Sur! And of course I wrote a recent post about it. :)

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