Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Rock'n'Roll Las Vegas - 24 Hour Reflections

OK...  worked on this post on my iPad while flying home from Las Vegas (keep that in mind when finding weird typing errors :))

The Rock'n'Roll Las Vegas Marathon and Half-Marathon combined to send 44,000 runners down the Las Vegas strip.  If there is one city that can manage that load of humanity it has to be Las Vegas; however, managing that many people within a critical one to two hour window was definite a challenge.  The scenario is this:

4:00p - 4:15p: 6,000 marathoners are released in 9 corral bunches to the west side of the Las Vegas through industrial areas and Larry Flints "fun house".
4:05p: The sunsets
5:30p - 6:30p: A bulk of the marathoners return to the start of the race where they turn north on Las Vegas Blvd to finish the second half of the route
5:30p - 6:30p: 38,000 half-marathoners are released through 40 corrals straight north on the Las Vegas Blvd.

See a problem?

As a full marathon participant it was a huge shock to go from a nice roomy street to total chaos.  I managed to chase down the 3:55 pace group just prior to the turn onto The Strip but as we turned I immediately lost them.  I believe that when I joined the mass of humanity I was probably with the 2:20 half marathon pace group, nearly two minutes per mile slower than my current pace.

To keep the marathoners segregated they set small cones 8 - 10 feet from the sidewalk and there were cyclists riding the line asking half participants to stay in the three to four lanes of road allotted to them.  As you can imagine, they were grossly unsuccessful.  For one thing, the aid stations and port-a-potties required people to cross into the full participants, but that's ok because the aid stations couldn't keep up with the demand.  There were aid stations on the half participants side of the street but it is unrealistic for them to only use those aid stations.

On Twitter there is a ton of discussion on what went wrong.  My thought boils down to this: 44,000 is way too many participants.  But you say this: there are other races that have more than 44k runners and they don't have these issues.  Correct, but they don't mix half and full participants.  However, I don't think that was the issue.  I have run the KC marathon and the half & full start together (granted it's a MUCH smaller event). The issue was having the full start 1.5 hours before the half and expect them to merge together.  Typically they start together but split somewhere on the route.

Unless you are a fast runner (sub-3 hour marathoner), you got caught.  If you were running a sub-1:45 half, you were ahead of the chaos.  I guess I would like to see them do a better job of starting the half-participants with pacing of the full participants.  Although there is another problem.  Within minutes of turning onto The Strip, I literally ran into half-participants.  She was wearing all black and it wasn't very will lit at the time but the problem was she was WALKING.  So within a tenth of the mile she was already walking.  This leads me to believe that people who planned to walk the half-marathon decided to cheat up to a much earlier corral to give them more time to finish or simply so they didn't have to wait over an hour for thier corral to start.

My solution?  I mentioned before, reduce the size of the participants
Fewer participants should equal more room.  I saw on twitter that the average race registration was $165, which means $7.26 million dollars of revenues.  Raise registration costs if you would like to recoup some of that.  People will pay it. An extra 20 or 30 dollars is pretty small compared to the money spent out there.

If the whole draw of this race is to run it at night down the Las Vegas strip then I didn’t get to fully appreciate it because it wasn’t until Treasure Island that I was able to get back in a groove and enjoy the scenery, which really is past all the glitzy scenery.

Better Education
In the emails they mentioned that there would be a full and half lane, as well as cyclists separating the two.  However, there was no follow up.  Not once before the full or half did they mention this.  There were plenty of opportunities during the pre-race countdown to convey this information.  As my brother-in-law, Jake, mentioned during packet pickup when each runners attention was under full control of the packet pickup volunteer they could have discussed this.

3 Events: Full, Half, Walk
Ok, maybe not an official walk category but to provide direction to people who plan to walk the distance or need to walk for an extended time (not everyone plans to walk but things can go wrong and need to).  Maybe a lane similar to that of the marathoners.  Walkers all the way to the right, marathoners on the left and half-marathoners in the middle. Along these lines, I would not recommend starting the two distances at the same time because then you will definitely infuriate the marathoners trying to BQ.  This will only work if you have separate courses or a fully blocked marathon lane.

Aid Stations
I was thinking along the race that I should have tried to remember when the water versus water/cytomax versus water/cytomax/Gu stations were.  However, why try to make us remember and just make it available at each aid station. 
In addition, please include better signage at the aid station (water then cytomax then Gu, etc).  One thing to help would be some how to indicate how long the aid station was so people wouldn't bombard the first few tables and overwhelming the volunteers.

How would you feel if you completed your first (or 50th) half and not received a medal at the end?  Then walked over to get nourishment to found no water or sparse food options.  What about taking 15 minutes to walk between the two because a photo shoot is going on?  This should be an easy fix but it is going to require taking up more of Mandalay Bay's parking area.  Please include 10-foot tall signs to indicate where things are located too. The main issue with the medals is simply that after September 30, you did not have to inform the race officials if you were switching from the full to half.  You just lined up in the half start.  They must have not anticipated that many people switching events.  Then there are the problem of bandits.

Crowd Control
Logistically they need to figure out a better way to get people out of the post-race area.  The only way out was through Mandalay Bay and that took nearly an hour.  People were getting sick for various reasons and emergency personnel called in to attend to them.  We aren't talking 44,000 people here but 100,000+ throughout the night.  The Fire Marshall would have had a field day with this.  The only consolation for us was that we only had to go one more hotel to get "home"; however, others still needed to get a taxi/bus back to their hotel.  One last item:  most restaurants closed up shop at 11pm.  Ravenous runners had to dine on gift shop fare to get their fix.  So this issue is directed at the hotels and not the race.

Final Thoughts
People have mentioned that they won't plan to do this race again because of the organization issues, even some avoiding Rock'n'Roll altogether.  Some joking that RnR has never put on a race before, so it's not a shocker.  The thing is this is new.  No one has done a race like this before at this level of size and complexity (well, that I'm aware of... Chicago and New York don't have to deal with these logistics and they are the only two races with this capacity.)

Just like many things, it's not always a good idea to purchase the first model of a vehicle, even on a redesign.  The same goes for electronics.  Things happen and bugs need to be worked out.  Rock'n'Roll captured data from 44,000 people (and their spectators).  They should be able to design a course that manages this merge much more effectively.

This is by no means my race report but my 24 hour reflection on the event.  I was bored on 3.5 hours of flight.  I don't want you to come across that I'm some snobby marathoner that didn't appreciate having to dodge half-marathoners.  They had to contend with the same issues as the full.  That being said, I wasn't there to PR or BQ.  Had I been trying to do that on this flat course, I would have definitely been miffed and very frustrated.  One of the people on twitter was on pace to BQ until she got to mile 16 and simply couldn't keep up the pace because of the humanity, missing the mark by 25 minutes.  I truly feel bad for her and anyone else in her situation.

Aimee added to her story via twitter:

I fought it as hard as I could until mile 16 or so. The cussing & shoving was a bit extreme. I've never run an event where runners were so mean to one another.  Generally, everyone is very encouraging because we love the same sport. I merged w/ 13.1s that were walking & texting, on phone, 4-5 wide & had NO IDEA 13.1s to the right. The 18inch cones to mark were all kicked over. The people on bikes - not sure of their role but they were a fail. 26.2-ers couldn't run tangents because our lane swung so wide. I've talked to several 26.2-ers that took a DNF because it was so mismanaged. Shame on @RunRocknRoll. #RnRLVFail.
Aimee brings up a great point about the course and tangents.  I decided during my run that if half-participants were in my lane then I entered the half lane to cut the corners whenever I could.  I believe my run distance was 26.4, so I only added .2 miles.  Considering all the turns in the first 13.1, that's pretty good.

OK, that's all I have for now. but my race report will be coming soon.


  1. If you are reading this blog post in deciding to run this race, I recommend reading this blog post first: http://runningwithcharlene.blogspot.com/2011/12/race-report-rnrlv-aka-flopatnight.html

    First time event or not, this is inexcusable.

  2. I was there watching at mile 16 and it looked like a total ZOO for 3 hours! I have never seen so many people. There are many things they could have done differently that would have made a huge difference and I think the starting of the half and full at the same time would have made a huge difference.
    I have run a Rock N Roll before and I too was very disappointed with how the finish was handled. Yes, 44K people is a lot to manage, but you knew they were all coming...
    On a happy note, so awesome to meet you and so cool to see you run!

  3. This sounds like a complete disaster and I agree, first time or not this is inexcusable.

    Question - why would they have the fulls start first and do a loop, only to catch up and merge with the halfs? Seems like it would make more sense to have everyone start at once up the strip, then have the fulls continue on for their extra loop. Merging 44k runners is asking for trouble. Well, congrats on your finish! (And finishing early enough to get a medal!)

  4. As a 13.1 runner who was supposed to be in corral 17, I ended up in 15 because my friend & I just couldn't push back through the swarms of runners anymore to even FIND 17. It was insane at the starting line. It was poorly lit, there were fences that runners were crawling over/under/through in order to even get into the corral area. We had no idea until we started the marathon was in the left lane, half was in the right. The water stations with the cytomax were a castrophy IMO mostly because I don't take cytomax and wanted to make sure I was getting water. Where's the water? Is this water? Etc.... Otherwise I had a fun race, enjoyed the strip as much as possible and actually did well considering the zig-zagging. I was shoved by another runner around mile 8 (I think? It's a blur if it happened before seeing Becca & my brother or after) and I have no clue why because it was a two handed full on SHOVE while I was running. The finish line is what I'm most disappointed in though. It was such a back-up that I had to WALK over the finish line. Excellent reflection! I'm working on a podcast recap, there's just so much to cover.

  5. Wow! I had thought of doing the LV RnR as my first full, but have now completely decided against it due to feedback such as this. I ran the St. Louis RnR half and it was better managed that this one, but a few of the same issues (and you didn't mention the use of Cytomax vs. other sports drink options...I know they were probably a sponsor, but the stuff doesn't taste good). I've decided to do Chicago instead.

    Maybe if I wait a couple of years they will figure things out in Vegas. I still like the idea of running the Strip, but not through this type of mess. It is tough enough running that far on your own.

  6. @Becca... It was AWESOME finally meeting you and a bonus meeting Jeff. Can't believe I haven't been following him on twitter.

    @Indigo... Fortunately I didn't have the problems with the corral but my sister-in-law did. I'm sorry you get shoved and glad you didn't get injured. That is so scary. Please feel free to post a link to your podcast here when you've completed it. (not that I get a lot of traffic on this site :)).

    @Travis... Yes! When running the first 13.1 I kept skipping the Cytomax because I had never tried it before but then realized they didn't have Gatorade or Powerade and I was going to need some electrolytes. I'll be honest, while I've only been running/triathloning for two years, I've never heard of this stuff.

  7. @Jill... Sorry, can't believe I would miss YOUR comment. :) I think the draw is running the strip after dusk, so they'd have marathoners out there pretty late. I'm sure it will have to be some version of this though. I'm really curious what they come up with.

  8. Wow, this sounds absolutely terrible, especially for the price tag. I read your link to another blogger's experience, and will probably avoided RnR in the future. Clearly they were inept to handle the race.

  9. Great post. I had little to no issues myself, but am horrified by what I've been reading. I think they should have checked people's bibs before letting them into corrals (ensuring they were in the right one)...only given medals to people with chips on their shoe (so no bandits got medals) and putting a real BARRIER in the lanes. The cones were all kicked over, and the ones that weren't had little, teeny signs. And I agree about packet pickup---explaining this to each runner, which they meet, as you have to pick your own, would have been great.

  10. Thanks Scotty! Here's the recap of the half http://bit.ly/tL1Hmx

  11. @Mark The PR back pedaling on their Facebook page has been rather humorous. And FINALLY, we have an apologize from the CEO of the event: http://www.facebook.com/RnRLasVegas?sk=app_139229522811253

    @SugarMagnolia70 Real Barriers would have solved a lot of problems. Wish I could have met you out there!

    @Kim Thanks for posting it. Can't wait to listen!