What happens in Vegas...

...is that my sleep schedule is pretty much non-existent.  Might I recommend before reading my epistle that you grab a drink and maybe a snack.  This will certainly qualify as a blog post of ultra-marathon proportions.

Nearly 72 hours after landing I am finally feeling like I'm catching-up a bit on the sleep I lost during my long weekend in Sin City to run the Las Vegas Rock 'n Roll Half Marathon with friends from the running support site where I log my runs.  The dark circles under my eyes are finally starting to fade.

This is not to say that I'm not still feeling some residual side-effects of the trip.  I have been battling some vertigo issues ever since landing.  I'm prone to inner ear issues, anyhow, but several days of abnormal modes of travel (plane, elevators, escalators, inclinators) and the ear pressure from descents have really taken their toll.

My journey started on Friday.  I met my best friend, Eryn, at the airport just after 9AM.  After a smooth trip through security (no pat-down or nudie scans for either of us) we boarded our flight.  We booked separately, so never managed to sit by one-another for either leg of our journey, unfortunately.  But we did get a brief layover in Memphis (best-smelling airport)...enough time for beers to celebrate the impending awesomeness of our journey.

Once we arrived in Vegas we were met in the baggage carousel area by Erica and Robert, 2 of our RunningAHEAD.com friends (out of 30 or so of us, including some spouses and SOs).  We took a minivan taxi to the Luxor with them.

After settling-into our room we headed down to the Luxor food court for a bite to eat before wandering the strip with a few other RA friends who had arrived earlier that day or the day before.

To the right is my bestie with an inflated Crown Royal bottle.  We saw several of these in different casinos.  Her goal for the entire trip was to deflate one and get it home to her hubby (CR is his liquor of choice), but we never managed it.  Someone else must have, though, as this very bottle in the Excalibur Casino was gone the next day.

Around 10pm was our first official RA meet-up in the Aurora bar in the lobby of the Luxor. This was also our first encounter with "Bitch Tits," a rather surly cocktail waitress with scary fake boobies.  Honestly, she was the ONLY unfriendly and gracious server I have ever encountered in Vegas.

By midnight (3AM to my EST body and brain) we were all pretty wiped-out after a long day of travel, but especially those of us from the East Coast and Midwest.

9AM Saturday morning had a group of us meeting at Mandalay Bay for a 3ish mile warm-up run.  Of course, we could have planned this for earlier.  One miserable reality of visiting Las Vegas is that my internal clock was still unwilling to sleep-in.  Eryn and I were awake by 6AM or so, local time...because our bodies and brains thought it was 9AM EST.  So much for actually sleeping-in.  We did manage McDonald's breakfasts before our run, though, so at least we weren't starving by the end of our workouts.

Once we were all cleaned-up we met in the Luxor lobby to do lunch at a Baja Fresh in the Excalibur Casino.  Everyone was ready for something a bit healthier than all the fried fare at Luxor, by this point.  We had fun watching a drunken cowboy (national rodeo finals are in Vegas at the same time as the marathon) take 10 minutes figuring out what to order while he swayed to and fro staring at the menu board with a glazed expression.  I regret not getting a photo of this.

At left with the big mouthful of salad (there is another photo of her shoveling-in a mouthful of pasta--funny girl) is Kristen...she is a relatively new runner (started within just the past year, I believe) and SUPER fast (and as sweet as she is speedy).  She is already headed to Boston in April.

After lunch those who had not yet made it to the race expo to pick up race packets did so.  Most took taxis, but I joined Mel and Doug in Alex's car.  We had fun zipping around the strip area and getting a little lost.  And hearing Alex utter "seriously, assholes?!" to a group of pedestrians that walked in front of her car at an inopportune moment.  What made this query particularly amusing is that Alex has a voice that is similar in timbre to that of a kindergartener.  The lack of sleep also had us more than a little punch drunk.

The expo was, by far, the largest I had ever encountered.  I've never run a race that was larger than maybe 10k participants and this was 3x that size.  I brought home shirts for myself, my hubby, and our kid that have the same graphic: a big wheel with "ride it like you stole it" text from GypsyRunner.com.

At right is a photo of the featured speakers: Scott Jurek, Meb, and Frank Shorter...wow.  I'm not worthy!!!

After the expo we met at Il Fornaio Italian restaurant in the NYNY hotel.  They have a smaller, more private dining room that worked perfectly for 2 seatings of our RA group--half of us at 5 and the other half at 5:30.

The next morning (Sunday) Eryn and I were up at 4:30 to have time to get dressed and over to Mandalay Bay to meet up with several of the RA runners (some didn't make it to the meet-up in time for the group photos or were in the bathroom and missed the photos).  The first corral was scheduled to start at 7.  We planned to meet at 5:45.  That hour from the time we met until we headed to our corrals went so fast and really was a blur.

I made my way to corral 16 with Jen and Erica and we stood around chatting with each other and with other runners (including a couple of funny older ladies who Jen and I would see at several points during the actual race) for the next half hour or so.  Our corral started at about 7:20.

I have never run a race with an actual corralled start.  I had originally been slated in corral 8, but that was when I planned to run a 2 hour time (my soft HM PR is 2:02 on a hillyish course a month out from a marathon).  That sprained ankle back in June really messed-up my training, but my goal to run 2:05-2:10 became an unreasonable one once casino smoke and lack of sleep (see the massive luggage under my eyes?) were factored in.

My lungs were one hot mess from the second I walked into the Luxor until yesterday.  They felt bruised, almost...I don't know how people can smoke.  I'd hate to feel that miserable all of the time.  I was hitting my albuterol inhaler and popping Mucinex like my life depended upon it.  As it was I was a hoarse, raspy mess the entire time I was there.  Talking was actually sorta painful, but I wasn't about to sit quietly in the corner while spending time with so many friends who I was finally getting to meet after a year+ of planning this trip.

Jen and I stuck to one-another's sides from start to finish--we even had the exact same finish time (I forgot we were in the same age group.  Her name appeared above mine.  Dang...I could have kicked it a bit at the finish and placed above her if I had realized this, ha!).  Even funnier was that we had been calling ourselves the Wonder Twins even before we arrived in Vegas...then we showed up with identical blue Asics arm warmers--completely by coincidence.

By the first mile in we both knew this would not be a PR effort.  In fact, Jen spent the rest of the trip joking that she paced me to a personal worst (by 10+ minutes).  But even though it was my slowest ever HM, it was also my most fun.  We both felt like garbage, so we plodded along like we were just jogging a training run.  It was fun chatting, snapping photos, and playing tourist.  It's not every day that one gets to travel up and down the Las Vegas Strip without having to deal with stairs.

Here we are just seconds after crossing the finish line (2:25:08).  We were tickled to see the official photogs capture that moment.  My camera was in hand for pretty much the entire race.  I've never before run a race just for fun and no concern of finish time.  It was such a refreshing experience.  I would have missed out on something wonderful if I'd "raced."

Just minutes after finishing, ourselves, we found Erica.  We also had caught up with her on the course around the halfway point (we stopped maybe 2 miles in when I had to pee really bad, so she got ahead of us at this point).

There were at least 5 of us from RA who had finishing times within about 5 minutes of one-another.  Had we known this would be the case I think we'd have tried to all start in the same corral and finish as a group.

Eryn managed her <2 hour goal and a new HM PR.  By the time I stopped at McDonald's in the Luxor food court (for my second bacon/egg/cheese biscuit, hash browns, and coffee of the trip--not by choice, I wanted a burger, but they weren't yet serving lunch) and got back up to the room Eryn had already showered and was heading down to meet Kristen at House of Blues for lunch.  I bailed...my lungs had had enough of the smoke and I wanted some time to rest them.  In hind sight, I'm not sure that sitting in our "non-smoking" room made much difference.  Since the inside of the Luxor is entirely open to the smoking areas there is only a hotel door separating our room from the smoke.

At 3PM I met a few RA gals and a couple of hubbies in the lobby to take a taxi to the vow renewal ceremony of 2 of our running friends.  We arrived early, so wandered down a few doors to a wonderful Cuban bar (Florida Cafe -- attached to a HoJo.  Next time in Vegas I want to eat there...it smelled amazing and was likely a LOT more authentic than most of the $$ places further down the strip) for a drink before the wedding.  The bar had the best Mojito I have EVER tasted...and their prices were about half that of drinks on the southern end of the Strip.

They even took our photo and printed 5x7s that they sold for $15 (and included postcards with a tiny photo of us for free) -- nice little memento and the kid who took the photo is aspiring to be a photographer, himself, so we didn't mind helping.  Michelle (in the front) took a photo of the photo.  DH took our flatbed scanner to work...eventually I will scan this in.

After finishing our drinks we wandered back to the wedding chapel to watch Elvis remarry our friends.  It was cheesy...but sweet.  Crystal and Eddie are still so in love after 8.5 years.  It was a beautiful thing to share with them.  There were tears shed.  I've been to a lot of weddings, but this one was the most memorable and honest.

Since we still had a couple of hours to kill before our dinner reservation at Firefly* we headed back to the Cuban bar.  While we had our drinks they served us complimentary fried plantains with a tasty garlic sauce.  Yum!

About an hour before our dinner reservation time we loaded-up in 2 taxis to head to the Fremont Street area.  We found a wedding gift for the bride and groom (a Las Vegas frame, photo album, and a postcard "wedding card" that we passed around in the restaurant prior to gifting the happy couple), watched people fly overhead on the new zipline, and headed over to the restaurant for an amazing meal with about 30 of us.  Firefly* may be my favorite restaurant in the whole world and their prices are reasonable for Vegas and the quality of the food.  Everyone really seemed to love the place and their tapas meals.  The service was perfect for such a large group.

Firefly* overlooks the T intersection of Fremont and Main streets in "old Vegas."  Rumor has it that the Plaza Hotel will soon be shutting down.  I hope that does not spell the end for this Firefly* location.  The view of the Fremont Street Experience is one of the most fabulous parts of Las Vegas, IMO.

After dinner we headed back to the strip for our farewell drinks back at the Aurora Bar in the Luxor.  Many were flying back home on Monday morning, so this was our last chance for the entire group to be together.  It was a bittersweet farewell.

Interestingly, I don't remember much about this gathering.  I had all of 1.5 beers (Blue Moon was 2 for 1) served by none-other than "Bitch Tits," again, but exhaustion had started to make everything sort of meld together in my brain by this point.  I think I was also sort of in denial that we had begun the downward slide towards the end of the fun.

Monday morning the remaining stragglers met up at the Bellagio for brunch buffet.  Wowsers...totally worth every cent of the $17 price, especially since they started rolling-out lunch by the time we left (I think we were seated around 10:30).  I had quite a few of my favorite things...bacon, calamari (in a marinara sauce), pickled herring, teriyaki skirt steak, key lime pie tarts, crepes...everything was amazing.  Somehow I managed to not overstuff myself (I'm not sure how this was possible, but I never ate to the point of nausea even once.  I think my lung issues were preventing me from overstuffing my belly and reducing my lung function further).

After brunch a group of us wandered around on the Strip.  In part on a pilgrimage to find Coca-Cola.  The 3 hotels furthest south only seemed to carry Pepsi products.  That Coke Zero might have been the best-tasting drink of the entire trip...seriously!

We also discovered what happens when a bunch of runners with severe sleep deficiency wander around in an already nutty city--we get deliriously silly...slap-happy...punch-drunk!  At one point we stopped to rest our legs (at least one member of our walking party had earned his marathon PR the previous day and was feeling it) and decided that the little door at right was an optical illusion OR a Willy Wonka Oompa-Loompa doorway.  Then Jen walked towards it and did this goofy knees-bent, shrinking walk as she got closer to the door...and we all LOST OUR SHIT, complete with hyperventilation and tears streaming down our faces.  I wonder what the peeps on the other end of that security camera thought of us.  People on the sidewalk definitely gave us some well-deserved suspicious sideways glances.

After a few hours of down-time back in the hotel room the last 7 of us (minus 2 who were crashing early) met at the La Salsa Cantina location across from NYNY for our final dinner in Vegas.  DH and I ate at a different location when we arrived in Vegas a year ago.  I think that one may have had a somewhat larger menu, but the food was equally good at this one.

This meal would be the start of a "traditional" night out in Vegas, complete with the infamous yard o'rita (with at least 6 shots of Patron).

2 of our crew showed up extra early to sit at the bar and watch the Patriots' game.  How is this for service...not only did they switch a TV over to the game, they switched ALL of the TVs over and turned off the music.  3 at our table were Patriots fans, so they were thrilled.  After the game finished Eric and Amy said their goodbyes to the remaining 5 of us.

By the time we left the restaurant the giant margaritas were gone...but the silly drunken antics had yet to start.  A couple of doors down from the restaurant is the m&m store, where a costumed yellow m&m pathetically tried to out-dance Jen.  She showed him (her...it?) up and eventually the m&m left his post.  He couldn't compete.  Here I am sure that we are laughing about this fact.

From the restaurant we debated whether to head North to Harrah's for more bar-hopping, or South towards our hotels.  Eventually South was chosen, but only once we reassured Cherrie's hubby, Jim, that we would follow his adamant "mission" to snag a Crown Royal bottle with Eryn (here is where the trip sort of comes full-circle).

Our next stop was the bar/stand outside Coyote Ugly in NYNY for their "special": $12 shot + 32oz Coor's Light.  3 of us partook of this "deal."  The cuervo shot was good, but the beer...not so much.  Of course, by this point it really didn't matter.

Rather than trying to carry the empty yard glass in one hand and the quart of beer in the other, I dumped the beer into the glass and drank it through a straw.  Yes, I am that classy.  From this point we wandered through Excalibur and Luxor to Jen's room in Mandalay Bay (with a stop between Luxor and MB for Jim to enjoy a quicky massage), where she had 2 free drink tickets for a bar in the middle of the casino floor, which is where where we finished the night.

At the bar in MB I had my last drink of the night, a cosmo, which I proceeded to dump half of on my shoe and the floor.  Martini glasses are a bitch to not spill under the best of circumstances, but especially after 7-8 shots of tequila and a pint of shitty light beer.  I dumped the last half of my beer into someone else's glass so that I could pour what was left of my martini into my yard glass.

Drinking the cosmo now had a new and different challenge, as I could not get at the liquid hiding in the bottom recesses of my glass with the straws.  the only remaining option was to tip it back and hope the lime slices didn't end up on my face.  In the end I was victorious, as I finished my drink with only a few random drops on my shirt and limes still within the drinking vessel, as you can see here.  I have skillz.

We all stumbled back to our rooms after saying our goodbyes to Cherrie and Jim.  Eryn and Jen and I were all to be at the airport together the next morning.

Eryn and I woke, finished our packing, and headed down for McDonald's breakfast on the way to the airport (this would be my THIRD breakfast there during this trip...yuck).

When Eryn had originally booked her trip she was to be on all the same flights as I, but Delta kept screwing around with my itinerary.  At one point we were on NO flights together, then on the same flights to Vegas.  In the end I was on return flights with only a 20 minute layover, but Delta allowed me to change to flights with an hour layover a few days before leaving...phew!  AND this put me on the same return first leg as Jen and only 3 rows apart.  A very nice man gladly switched seats with Jen, so she and I were even able to sit next to one-another for the long flight from Vegas to Detroit.  We had a nice plane (nice, as far as planes go.  A 757, I think) and the woman to my right had just run her first HM, so we chatted a bit and really just enjoyed our last hours of the vacation.

Jen and I had hoped to have at least an hour layover in Detroit to grab one last farewell drink before heading to our gates, but her gate was in a completely different terminal and our flight in was a little late, so we said quick, teary goodbyes.  The reality that my surreal time with my internet friends was over really was tough to swallow.  The trip had been fun beyond everyone's wildest dreams and we are already planning on meeting up again at the 2012 Flying Pig Marathon. That trip should be a bit cheaper for everyone and will be a lot easier for many of us, logistically.  I'm only about 2 hours from Cincinnati by drive to the airport + plane.

Phew.  So that's it.  I could have written twice as much...it's overwhelming all the things we saw and heard and experienced--so much fun should be illegal (and probably IS anyplace other than Vegas).  Thanks for reading the entire write-up.  You deserve a medal as blingy as the ones we received at the finish line.