Pain among runner's constant companions


After his legendary "Thrilla in Manila" fight against Joe Frazier, Muhammad Ali said, "It was like death. Closest thing to dying that I know of."

I felt the same way after surviving Sunday's Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas half-marathon on the Strip.

I suppose I could've made things easier on my battered 43-year-old body had I not carb-loaded with pizza and a Peanut Buster Parfait before the race. But I unwisely scrapped my original plan to reward myself with pizza and ice cream after the race in favor of a full weekend feast.

In reality, I was running against the cumulative effects of a lifetime of questionable carb-loading that had me carrying about 225 pounds on my 5-foot-10-inch frame as I squeezed into my aptly-named corral shortly before the 5:30 p.m. start in front of Mandalay Bay.

Armed with my iPod and tape recorder -- on which I kept a running diary -- and wearing shorts, three layers of T-shirts, a "Run Happy" winter hat and gloves bearing the phrase "My sport is your sport's punishment," I shuffled to the start line with 38,000 other insane half-marathoners.

My strategy was to start slow, then back off, and I carried out that game plan to perfection.

Running slowly wasn't a problem as the course was extremely congested the entire way. That ultimately wreaked havoc on my time -- yeah, that must be the reason I didn't contend in the over-40 heavyweight division.

From the start, the throng of runners looked like an endless rush of Black Friday shoppers, frantically sprinting down the Strip in a quest for the last Xbox 360 on Earth. My wife, Nancy, and I just hoped to avoid being trampled or pepper-sprayed.

MILE ONE -- As we approach the first mile marker, just past New York-New York, a sea of sweat shirts and other clothes is scattered in the street, shed by runners as they warmed up -- or had gone streaking with "Frank the Tank."

I spot the first of many Running Elvi, who are dressed in a wide range of white, black and even pink jumpsuits.

As we run past Bellagio, its fountains dance to the sweet sounds of Frank Sinatra's "Luck Be a Lady." Not sure if the water show is affecting me or the fact I've been hydrating all day, but I already have to pee.

MILE TWO -- As couples gather at the run-through wedding chapel in front The Mirage volcano, I saunter alongside Erin Martens, a Colorado woman wearing a replica neon "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign.

"I'm not an artsy person at all, but I really wanted to go all out since this is the first time running the Strip at night and my third time running this," she says. "I kind of had to top Elvis from last year."

MILE THREE -- After a quick pit stop at a port-a-potty near Fashion Show mall, I see a sign reading, "You've Got Great Stamina, Call Me Later."

Near Circus Circus, I cringe at the primordial screams of a death metal band before thinking, if my knees could talk, that's what they'd sound like.

Don't know what's more depressing: the fact my knees are already aching or that the Las Vegas sign lady just passed me.

Confined to close quarters in the race, we are subjected to odors that definitely don't smell like victory.

MILE FOUR -- Nancy says it feels more like mile seven, and my Achilles' heel agrees.

One drawback of shutting down the Strip to traffic is the fact we can't hail a cab and pull a Rosie Ruiz to the finish line.

I am passed by someone in a pink gorilla suit and a 70-something man dressed in a Hawaiian shirt and running alongside a woman riding a bike.

It looks like a Chilean miners convention outside the dark Sahara as many runners sport headlamps. Others wear Christmas lights, but mine would short circuit from sweat.

MILE FIVE -- Legs are already feeling rubbery.

I only hear heavy breathing and moaning on one recording, but that could be coming from the Sinvocation adult "fun" store. We're not on the Strip anymore.

Not sure if I'm hallucinating, but I was just passed by Wonder Woman, a shirtless, tattoo-covered man, a caped Elvis and a guy wearing a blue rhinocerous head.

MILE SIX -- A man ahead of me trips over traffic cone and goes down. Gets up in stride and continues.

I take advantage of a "Free High Fives" sign and nearly throw out my shoulder doing so.

Running on a sidewalk, I smoothly stumble on a crack and go down. After taking a tumble, I get up in stride and continue, only to see a shirtless guy wearing boxer briefs and a balloon animal on his head. Do I have a concussion? No, but the man might as he suddenly reverses direction and disappears. Maybe he wasn't in the race at all but had just stumbled out of a bar.

The fall is a blessing for me as my focus shifts from sore knees and Achilles' heel to my sore hip.

MILE SEVEN -- Caped Elvis cruises by as we pass Graceland Wedding Chapel and the shop from "Pawn Stars." We pass another Elvi pushing a baby carriage carrying a cutout of Presley and playing his songs.

My gloves are long gone, and I toss my hat as well as sweat pours out of me.

MILE EIGHT -- We take a short walk break. Legs suddenly feel like cement blocks.

I pass a lady who fell flat on her face and is being helped to her feet. This is a battle.

MILE NINE -- My last recording is an incoherent, mumbled message. Trying to feel flow and go to my happy place, but the only Rhino I see is blue, not Spearmint.

Drink some Cytomax in front of Sahara. Nancy accidentally dumps rest of her drink down my leg. Good times.

MILE TEN -- Quick stop near Encore. Ponder taking nap in port-a-potty.

Need some inspiration. Exchange high-five with "Running Joe," a man carrying a U.S. flag and wearing a shirt that reads "Four states. 31 days. 1500 miles."

Passed by guy wearing a Mexican wrestling mask. Might have been Nacho Libre.

Get boost from high-fives with spectators in the heart of the Strip. One lady wears a sock on her hand. Last high-five.

MILE 11 -- No notes here. Not sure who or where I am at this point.

MILE 12 -- Hope that's what the sign says, but can't be sure. Delirious.

Hard to bend knees. Legs are numb. Not so much jogging as limping and stumbling down the Strip like so many drunken revelers on New Year's Eve.

Welcome to the Land of the Walking Wounded. Man moving slowly while holding an ice pack on his knee, and a woman wearing a tutu being held up by two friends.

Passed by 70-something man wearing dark dress socks. Must keep going. Go the distance. Moonlight Graham.

Think of Ali's quote. Close to death.

Hallelujah. See Luxor light and Mandalay Bay sign. Almost there.

MILE 13 -- Longest mile of my life. Felt like 10.

Hand in hand, Nancy and I cross the finish line together. Thank God. It's over. We did it!

We happily announce our retirement from running to each other.

But on Monday, much to my horror, I discovered she beat me by one second -- 2:41:05 to 2:41:06. Might have to end my retirement and re-enter the torture chamber next year.

I'll be the guy in the cape.

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0354.

 

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