Okay, first of all, I definitely don’t want to equate all races in Las Vegas to the 5K I participated in. There were, shall we say, logistical issues, and the manner in which they were solved, while safe, were not the most aesthetically pleasing.

I mean, not all races are going to be 7 laps around an abandoned adventure park, right? There can’t be that many of those in Las Vegas, can there?

So, after staying up after midnight to see the Penn & Teller show, and losing an hour from Daylight Saving Time, I woke up at 6:30am, which felt like almost no sleep at all. I ate half a protein bar to sustain myself and got dressed in my running clothes: FiveFingers shoes, no socks, my favoite shorts, underwear, sports bra, the t-shirt I use for hiking and a headband. I drank some water from the tap in the hotel bathroom and then I headed off for my “warm up” by which I mean the walk down to the start of the race.

It was at least half a mile from my hotel room to the start of the race at the other end of the conference center at the MGM Grand. Although, at that early hour of the morning, the place was almost deserted and a little eerie. The halls that had been swimming with people the day before were now just mine, except for the line of people at one of the Starbucks (I think there’s like four of them in every casino).

And my heels were letting me know that traipsing around Las Vegas the day before in boots that had somehow gotten un-broken-in had consequences. With every step, the blister on my left heel let me know that I would not be running today if I couldn’t get it a cushion – or at least, I wouldn’t be running happy.

When I got to the registration desk, I had a moment of panic thinking that I wouldn’t be running at all. Somehow, I had managed to sign up for the walk instead of the run (or they had a computer glitch, that’s possible, right?). So I explained that I wanted to run and a nice man dressed up like Elvis (with an askew wig) helped me out and got me a timing band. Then, for the real challenge, I asked him if he could get me a bandage, and, despite having a line of people waiting to check in, he went looking.

He found someone who thought they had something in their car, so I waited at the edge of warm up area until she came back with a bandage that I lovingly applied to my poor heel. I could still feel it a little bit, but the pain was greatly reduced and I felt comfortable running.

The official warm ups were led by a professional Elvis impersonator, who walked us through a variety of Elvis-themed moves designed to embarrass, I mean, limber us up. After that, we gathered behind the timing gate, and tried to listen to instructions. Unfortunately, the speakers were pointed away from that area, so the instructions were muffled until someone turned them around. Then we learned that it’s rude to pass an old man on a bicycle, so for the first lap, the fastest runners were to stay behind him to make sure everyone stayed on course.

I was not one of the fastest runners – no danger at all of me passing the man (who was the very Elvis  who had checked me in). I tried to keep in mind the principles of Chi running, and running my own race. I forced myself not to try and keep up with people running faster than me, even when I got passed and felt like I should be able to run faster.

There was one woman in a pink shirt that passed me on the first lap, and I vowed that I would catch her before the end of the race.

Because we could not run off the grounds of the MGM Grand, we ran around the old Grand Adventure park that was built during the era when Vegas tried to be family friendly (before, as we were told, they realized that children can’t gamble). We started on a portion of drive, went down into the abandoned park and ran along the wall that separated it from the street, turning at the corner before angling on a slight incline back in the midst of the grounds. We passed piles of dirt and construction cones. We ran over covered cables.

We collected playing cards on each lap, and I thought that getting an ace for my first was a sign of good fortune to come.

It wasn’t.

My final best hand was two pair, sevens and aces. The winning hand when I finished was four queens, and that wasn’t even the final high hand.

But I ran my own race, even if I didn’t win. I kept steady, focused on being conscious of my breathing and whether I was letting it get out of hand. I gradually pushed myself to go faster, keeping my form and not letting my strides go wild. And on the second to last lap, I caught sight of the woman in the pink shirt on the long straight section of the loop.

Faster and faster, I ignored how hard it was to breathe as I tried to reel her in. I pushed, and got closer. It was the last lap, and she disappeared around the corner off of the straightaway. I struggled to catch her as the course zig-zagged up and around a tent that blocked the view of the card table. All the way to the card table, I chased her, I knew I could run her down in the last little stretch between the finish line and the card table, I just knew it.

And I did.

Of course, it helped that she started walking as soon as she got her card. I resented her a little bit for not letting me catch and pass her in a more epic fashion.

But I finished under 31 minutes (30:45.42), with a 9:54 minute mile average pace. And I was still in the chute when the woman in pink crossed the line, so I gave her a high five. After all, she finished.

It wasn’t my fastest 5K, but it was a lot closer than I thought it would be. And it was a race that I ran without ever having ITB issues, which was another win for me. My first race in almost 2 years, and I have to admit… It felt good. Like winning a jackpot.

Okay, not really.

But probably a better investment than playing the slots – $30 in exchange for a t-shirt, a bag, a water bottle and an excellent morning runner’s high.

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