I’m sorry to report that, on the night of the Rock ’n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon, the smell of the Las Vegas Strip, at pavement level, was of raw sewage. Either that, or 43,999 people were expressing digestive freedom very near me. This was how my first half-marathon started: intimately.
It was extremely crowded, the kind of crowded that usually calls for a panic attack. But I decided at the start that I would push through the pain, perfumes, discarded tutus, bouncing asses and flying elbows, Elvises and showgirls without panicking. I had panicked the day before when I realized I hadn’t trained for this little affair. Little did I know that the hardest part of the run would not be pain management, but crowd management.
Forty-four thousand people—more than the population of Kingman, Ariz.—were squeezed together to run the closed-off Strip on the night of Dec. 4. It seemed like a good idea—wait. Really? For the first 2,000 miles or so, I couldn’t help wondering what they were thinking as I tried to stop bumping into the erratically paced man in a kilt in front of me and avoid getting trampled by two newlyweds behind me, the ones whose 10-minute-old marriage had them bursting with energy (#getaroom).
Thank God for the volunteers at mile 8 who set up a “Free Beer” stand—a sloshy cup of PBR filled me with sporty carbs and the will to love my neighbors. All 43,999 of them.
It’s good for tourism, I told myself when a girl in a pink tutu cut sideways to get around some slowpokes, checked me like hockey player and sent me up the curb, nearly spilling my beer. It’s good for the economy.
After that, it got dangerous. At the end of the race—I made it!—thousands of smelly, exhausted and freezing (it was 38 degrees and threatening to rain) runners staggered from the finish area into Mandalay Bay, converging in a corridor between the Events Center and StripSteak. Shoulder to shoulder, chest to back, we came to a mob standstill, unable to get out.
People die in compressed crowds. This is what I was thinking moments after finishing my first half-marathon. I’m thinking I will die, but not from the pain in my lungs and legs. I’m remembering the Walmart shopper who died in a Black Friday stampede, and the two dozen people who died at a concert in Chicago once, and all the people who are crushed at religious pilgrimages and soccer games. Now my panic set in. Probably because a woman near me puked, and a man was laid out on the floor getting medical help.
Others stayed calm, despite several more vomiting into trash cans. Nearly an hour later, we were still inside, having made little progress toward our cars, rooms or trams.
Finally, my exhausted friends and I ducked into an employees-only hallway, passed workers grooming plates for StripSteak, and escaped through their exit into the garage. I was more grateful for that breath of exhaust-tinged night air than for any in my 12th mile. A few other runners followed us, but to be honest, we didn’t look back until the next day, when I spoke to Mandalay Bay’s public affairs representative.
Here’s the story: No one planned for a sudden downpour, which caused runners to flood inside unexpectedly. “No one was injured in the crowd,” Mandalay Bay’s Yvette Monet assured me. “[But] there’s room for improvement, and we are taking a look at what we could possibly do to avoid such an incident in the future.” She promised me that Mandalay Bay, like Las Vegas generally, and like 44,000 crazy runners, can still handle a crowd. In fact, we love a crowd. Really. We do. It’s good for the economy.