Vegas, Baby – 2017

Last month my dear friends J., B. and I ran the 2017 Rock n’Roll Half Marathon in Las Vegas.

This was my second year running in this series. The half marathon is really novel since the Las Vegas Strip gets shut down for the runners, and it’s run at night. We were planning to run two races over the course of the weekend, a 5k on Saturday and half marathon on Sunday.

We arrived Friday and checked into the Bellagio. The floral displays featured peacocks.

Housekeeping obliged by giving us extra amenities. There is something about the smell of these toiletries that I love. Ditto the floral displays, especially the fall-ish scent that must be pumped in.

Most of these tiny tubes came home in my suitcase.

Friday night featured a runners’ reception at Hyde, which is one of the clubs in the Bellagio. It’s eye level with the fountains and part of the club is open air, so the view is unbeatable. The top picture is one of the many displays that we saw. I never get sick of watching those fountains.

On Saturday morning, we hit up Giada for brunch. This was one of our favorite restaurants from prior trips, and it did not disappoint. I got my money’s worth of bottomless mimosas and we all went nuts for the fresh burrata, blue cheese and olives that we had as appetizers.

Saturday afternoon consisted of picking up our race packets at the expo, a bit of shopping and getting ready for Saturday night’s race, which is a 5k that takes place near the SLS Hotel. Security was tighter this year than last, but the race went smoothly. There was a Goo Goo Dolls concert afterwards that we could have stayed to watch, but none of us were really in the mood to stand around in the cold night air while sweaty.

Plus – we had 10 PM tickets to Absinthe, a funky circus-type show that combines feats of strength, burlesque, insult comedy, tap dancing and roller skating. We’d seen the show once before but decided it was worth a second trip since the first time was so wow-ing, and we also wanted to see if the political jokes sprinkled throughout by the MC were Trump-esque. Many were. The show did not disappoint the second time around, and we all agreed it was as good or better than ever.

The show finished so late that most restaurants were no longer serving dinner, which was a bummer since we were now all pretty hungry. We ended up in an Asian noodle bar in the Bellagio, which hit the spot.

One thing that was unusual for me on this trip was that I gambled. This was the first time I’d gambled in a few years, and once again I learned that while I love to spend money, I like to have something to show for it. Gambling doesn’t fit that bill. Nevertheless, I gave it a shot and put $20 into a National Lampoon’s Vacation slot machine. I promptly lost $1.10 and cashed out.

The next day, a Betty White machine caught my eye and I tried again. This time, success! I turned $20 into $22.65, so I called myself a winner and walked away.

Full disclosure: My friend B. and I stumbled upon the 10 cent voucher at the top, so I technically can’t count this as a money I won. Still, I made up for my $1.10 loss the day before and then some. I’m not quitting my day job yet, though.

Sunday’s brunch was at Bardot Brasserie, a restaurant in the Aria Resort. Given that the half marathon was scheduled for a few hours after brunch ended, I didn’t make the same mistake I did last year when I went whole hog at the Bellagio’s buffet.

We did, however, spend $5 to buy a small serving (large pat?) of what was described on the menu as “The World’s Best Butter.”

Carb loading at its finest.

Sunday’s race had a new starting line this year due to the recent mass shooting. I have to admit I was nervous at the start, when approximately 40,000 runners were corralled into a small area. The security was tight and police presence was everywhere. My predominant thought was that this was one of the first major events since the shooting and the need to get it right was strong, so I felt that every reasonable measure had (probably) been taken by the Las Vegas PD. I also knew that once the race started, everyone would be stretched out along the course so much that the crowd would no longer be concentrated.

Another thing about this race: I was totally, completely under-trained. This is embarrassing to admit, but I had some serious magical thinking leading up to the race and I couldn’t seem to do what I needed to do to prepare. The longest run that I had done in the two months before the race was about 7 miles, which is a far cry from 13.1.

As I stood at the starting line, I told myself that I would divide the race into thirds and run the first third, run/walk the second and walk the final third if needed. I wasn’t exactly happy that I needed to make this plan, but that’s where I found myself.

Once I started, it took more than the first mile to settle in to a comfortable rhythm. That worried me. I thought I might not even be able to continuously run the first 4 miles, but once I completed miles 2 and 3, I started to get into the groove.

Mile 4 then passed and I told myself that I would go to mile 5 and then take a running gel for some energy. That milestone came pretty quickly and about that time I settled into a pack of runners for the next mile or so, and I decided that I would go to mile 6.5 so that I could say I ran halfway.

At mile 6.5, I felt really good so I kept going through miles 7, 8 and 9. Shortly after mile 10, I felt like I was not going to be able to run all the way to the end, so I took a walk break and picked up running again. I alternated running and walking for the last 3 miles and finished the course with one of my worst half marathon times, but an overall sense that I did waaaaaaay better than I thought I would.

Weirdly, it was motivating to see how well I’d done under sub-par circumstances and it inspired me to set a new goal and train appropriately for it. This was the best case scenario; if the race had been a disaster I think I would have been completely defeated.

By the time the three of us had finished the race and showered, it was already 10 PM and we were hungry. We had dinner at Yellowtail, which is a sushi restaurant in the Bellagio. B. called it an early night since she had a flight an the ungodly hour of 7 AM. J. and I finished dinner and then had a nightcap (or two).

Monday was our scheduled day of departure, but not before J. and I hit the Bellagio spa. For a hotel spa, it’s really good. My only quibbles would be that they tend to try to upcharge with service add-ons and there is a communal waiting area for men and women. While I’m a first order feminist and all about equality, there is something about seeing a hairy guy in a too-short robe that just does not jive with the Zen spa vibe. Give me a women’s only area any day.

The trip home was uneventful. Too boring to write much else about it.

Overall, this was a perfect getaway with friends. I can’t wait to go back next year and hopefully set a PR on the course.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Las Vegas Trip Report, Part 4

Final installment, I swear!

(Part three is here).

The last thing we did during our Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas racecation weekend was visit the Spa at the Bellagio.

We didn’t book appointments before we arrived and were fortunate to secure them, although for a while it looked like we might not. Next time, I would book my appointments far in advance, especially for the busy hours of 9-11 AM.

In the end, the three of us were able to have facials and massages.

The Spa at the Bellagio is huge.

When they were checking us in and leading us back to the waiting area, I could see a list on a clipboard of all the people who had appointments at 9 AM, and it was a full page.

The robes, slippers and lockers were pretty standard. In the changing area, there was fresh carrot juice (I did not try; B. liked it and J. said it was gross), lemon and ginger water, tea, coffee and bottled water.

The waiting area for massages had about 15 people in it while we were there, and I did not like the fact that men and women were in the same area. There were some guys who did not seem to have their robes secured very well, and these were not the kind of guys you would want to see with their robes undone.

Fortunately, this part of the visit was brief and we could silently roll our eyes at each other while avoiding direct views of the unpleasantry.

I had booked a standard facial but changed to an anti-aging one when I got back to the room. The products were from a professional Elizabeth Arden line. I thought they were fine.

What was really amazing was the lip balm that they applied at the end. Over the course of the weekend, my lips went from dry to parched to raisin-like to peel-y. The combination of dry desert air and dehydration, plus licking my lips constantly during the race even though I know I should not do this was too much. Once the facial was done, I inquired about the balm and learned it was this brand.

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From what I can tell, What’s Your Virtue gloss is such a small company that they don’t have a website, but there is an outdated blog from 2014 I found. How the Bellagio chose this brand is a mystery, but I bought the clear gloss and I absolutely love it. This turned my dry lips around in less than 24 hours. The price was $12.

The second appointment I had was a 50 minute massage. Especially after a race, I would prefer a deep tissue massage to work out the knots, but hotel spas are – IMHO – notoriously light on the pressure. The technician I had was somewhere in the middle, so I was ok with that.

There seemed to be quite a few people who had already checked out of the hotel and had their luggage with them when we got back to the locker room. This is a reasonable strategy if you have an afternoon or evening flight (one I have used many times), because you can shower and get ready to go home after your appointment at the spa. For reference, the Spa at the Bellagio had many private rainfall showers, shampoo/conditioner/shower gel, oversized towels, and the standard things (combs, hair dryers, hair products, aerosol deodorant) that you would need. If you had an abundance of free time, you could also use hot tubs, steam showers and a sauna in the women’s only locker area. We did not have an abundance of time so we did not.

Sadly, then it was time to go to the airport.

We did.

The flight home was uneventful.

My final thoughts: I had a blast. J. and B. are super fun travel companions. The three of us had actually already been to Las Vegas for a long weekend over Memorial Day, so this was a familiar trip. I liked the fact that we could offset some of the calories with running. The two trips were different, though, so I am not sure if one was better than the other.

How does the Rock ‘n’ Roll half marathon compare to other races? As I said previously, the course is flat and fast. This is great. The night start is unique, as is running on the Strip. I have only done two Rock ‘n’ Roll races (the other was Dublin in 2015), and overall I think I like the organization of Run Disney races better (signage, water stops, corral placement). Having said that, I’ve done worse races, too. I would do this again. If you can swing it, I’d also strongly recommend adding the VIP package, even if just for the eagle eye view of the finish line at the post-race party.

How about the medals? These were solid, heavy and quite interesting. I forgot to mention earlier that since we did both the 5k and the half marathon, we got a third medal for completing a “Remix Challenge.” Some 5k medals are flimsy, but even this one was substantial. The half and Remix medals had spinning elements. (See below).

Would I change anything? This is a hard one to answer.

  • I definitely would have done a better job with pre-race fueling.
  • We didn’t get to try as many excellent restaurants as the first visit (including Mr. Chow and Giada’s) since we had the pre-race party one night and room service another.
  • We didn’t get any pool time (although that was mostly temperature related; it was in the low 70s and we could have gone to the pool but decided not to).
  • On the plus side, I burned off a lot of calories and didn’t feel quite so gluttonous on my way out of town despite having an excellent cookie/brownie/cupcake/cannoli from Carlo’s Bakery, and there were the Meb sightings and Snoop Dogg.

So there’s that.

And this guy came home with us:

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Las Vegas Trip Report, Part 3

(Part 2 is here if you need to catch up).

Our longest event of the weekend – the Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas half marathon – didn’t start until the evening, so when my friends J., B. and I woke up on Sunday morning, we decided to get some pre-race fuel via the Bellagio’s breakfast buffet.

Ugh. Mistake.

This would be a good time to point out that I rarely, rarely eat at any type of buffet situation. When food is unlimited, I tend to eat unlimited quantities, so this is not good and the best strategy is for me to avoid it entirely.

And yet, knowing this information, I boldly strolled into the breakfast buffet and proceeded to consume roughly 14 zillion calories.

At one point I used a slice of cheese pizza like a piece of toast and topped it with part of an omelet to make an open-faced sandwich.

The cheese display was also heavily pilfered.

Ditto the sushi bar, despite having just eaten a much superior sushi dinner only 12 hours earlier.

Double ugh.

The one thing I will contend is that I definitely got my $33 worth of breakfast foods, not that this should be a point of pride.

After that mess, we wandered back to our room to rest and digest.

By 2 PM, we had to head to the starting line.

Even though the race wasn’t beginning for a few hours, there was a pre-race concert at 3 PM that we wanted to see.

This guy:

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Yep. Snoop Dogg.

The starting line for this race is near Mandalay Bay. There were 22,000+ runners in the half marathon, so the starting area was quite crowded.

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Our VIP race package gave us access to a special area in front of the concert stage with tables, chairs, private bathrooms (still portable ones but barely anyone was using them, so it wasn’t as gross as usual at the start of a race), and refreshments.

img_0973This is what the area looked like:

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I was still overly full from our breakfast – even though it was hours earlier at this point – so I did not want any of the food or drinks they had in the VIP tent. The spread was impressive, though. There were several things that looked reasonable to eat before a race (trail mix), but also a massive bowl of hummus, which just seemed like a terrible decision before embarking on a two hour run.

There was also alcohol available, and I was surprised to see several people partaking. Again, this would have made my already bad decision making that day worse. I stuck to water.

Soon it was time for the concert.

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Snoop Dogg played the crowd well. At one point, he looked out at the audience and said,

What’s that y’all like to drink while you’re running? What is it? Gatorade?

Crowd screams back: “Gin and Juice!”

He begins singing that song. Crowd goes nuts.

And guess who was dancing and singing along next to us at the show? Meb Keflezighi.

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I was in the Green starting wave, which was the second group. The Blue starters began the race at 4:30 PM, Green at 5, and the Yellow wave was at 5:30 PM.

Like the 5k the night before, there were assigned corrals but they seemed like mere suggestions. People were randomly crowded into the space, so there was zero separation by anticipated speed or finish time. This meant that speedier runners were stuck behind slower runners or walkers in many cases. I did not like this part of the race set-up.

The half marathon course is flat and fast.

Runners head away from the Strip for about a half mile at the start and then do a U-turn, running past the iconic “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign and then down the entire length of the Strip, which is closed to traffic for the race.

Ok, that was super cool. Later I spoke with a woman who was part of the planning team and she told me that getting the Strip closed to traffic is a big, big deal. It only happens twice a year, once for this race and again on New Year’s Eve.

I don’t know if I perceived this correctly or not, but it also seemed that much of the Strip portion was ever so gently downhill.

For the first few miles, I had to bob and weave to make room but still managed to keep a reasonable pace.

My 5k split was 29:45, which is 9:35 per mile.

At Mile 3, there was a run-through wedding area. Supposedly 200 couples got married during the race.

I did not.

My 10k split was 58:53, which is 9:29 per mile.

I secretly had a goal in my head that I wanted to get a two hour finish. I have been working with a trainer over the summer and generally done a lot of better things for my health and body, so I was excited to see what I could do.

Except the wheels came off the bus at this point.

Miles 7-10 were in a strange part of town. It was very dark and difficult to see. After the bright lights and distractions of the Strip, this took significant effort to keep momentum going.

I chugged along and we passed the Fremont Street area.

I was getting very tired, realized I had improperly fueled (Breakfast buffet! You ruined me), and walked for two minutes in Mile 10 near an extremely sketchy “hostel.”

My 10 mile time was 1:37, or 9:42 per mile.

At this point, I was demoralized. I realized I would not make it in two hours. I didn’t have enough gas in the tank to pull out three sub-8 minute miles.

Once I finished my walk break, I felt a lot better.

At least until Mile 12.

I thought I’d missed the sign for Mile 12. When I finally found it, my watch said I’d completed 12.47 miles.

This was very surprising to me, because my watch had seemed pretty accurate to the mile markers up to this point.

I was further defeated and decided to walk for two more minutes. When I started running, I felt moderately better and saw the finish line. In the end, I think mile marker 12 was misplaced and I was further than the course said.

I put a bit more effort into the finish, but my final time was a disappointing 2:09:39, or 9:54 per mile.

My overall finish was 4164/22048, and 1609/13755 for women.

Now, let me also be clear that I know I am crying over spilled milk. I was healthy. I completed the race. My finish was respectable. I get to run whereas others cannot.

I get all that, but what I am saying is that I had a personal goal in mind and felt like I’d let myself down. My time for this race was almost exactly – to the second – the same as my finish for the Tinker Bell half marathon in May. I guess I am consistent.

I got over it my disappointment pretty quickly, in fact by the time I had exited the finisher shoot.

My friends weren’t quite finished yet, so I headed to the VIP after-party, which was held at the Linq hotel.

Besides the party, there was one final VIP package perk: all runners received a very soft red fleece Rock ‘n’ Roll logo blanket. I was cold and sweaty at this point, so that blanket was everything to me.

The party was never crowded at any point while I was there. While there was an indoor area with food (pizza, sandwiches) and drinks (free beer and wine, plus some liquor, but $5 for soda or Gatorade – which was weird and wrong), the outdoor area overlooked the finish line and is where I spent my time.

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My hair looks terrible but I am happy to be done.

A slightly better shot of the finish line from above:

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J. and B. soon arrived and we had some food and wine (me). Being cold, wet and tired at a party is not all that fun, though, so we didn’t stay late.

Once back in the hotel, we quickly showered and had a celebratory drink.

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It was getting super late and this point and we decided to get room service and call it quits.

Snoop Dogg and Martha Stewart’s new show was on TV, so we had a laugh watching it while we ate.

Next up: Review of the Bellagio Spa and their amazing lip balm. The (sad) trip home. Final thoughts on the weekend. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Las Vegas Trip Report, Part 2

(If you missed Part 1, read it here).

So, to catch you up: last weekend I went to Las Vegas for a racecation with two of my fabulous girlfriends.

After our mild debauchery on Friday night (Sub-G Rated by Vegas standards), we were moving somewhat ssslllooooowwwly on Saturday morning.

We ended up heading for brunch at Mon Ami Gabi – a popular faux-French bistro in the Paris hotel – at 11 AM.

We were seated at a well-positioned terrace table and let the caffeine kick in. 

And in. And in.

We waited a long time, maybe 40 minutes, for our order to arrive. The server apologized for the kitchen being slow.

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Frankly, I didn’t mind. It was a beautiful day. I was laughing with my friends. The people watching was excellent.

When the meal arrived, it was mediocre. I was really hungry by then, so I ate anyway.

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We all agreed that the overall experience was disappointing. On a scale of 1-10, we gave it a two.

But then something unexpected happened that totally turned it around. The manager came over to our table and said this:

Ladies, I need this table for a large party. If you would be willing to leave now, I’ll pick up your check.

Who says nothing is free in Vegas?

We were out of there so fast that there were smoke streams.

Brunch experience now elevated to at least an 8.

We decided to do some shopping and walk off the calories. What really caught my eye were the Alexander McQueen “Obsession” print pieces that I saw in several stores.

Wow. These were stunning.

This collection was new to me and I was honestly a bit dizzy thinking about how much I wanted this bag:

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I resisted, but barely.

Here are some of the other McQueen styles that I was longing for:

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The above dress was long-sleeved, sleek and absolutely gorgeous. The charms were all individually sewn onto it. I think the retail was about $6000. This was at Neiman Marcus in the Fashion Show Mall.

This blouse ($1200) was also exquisite:

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I tried to buy a scarf with the print, but it was sold out in the Alexander McQueen boutique. Fortunately (Unfortunately?), I discovered it is available online.

Our final stop was Carlo’s Bakery, which is operated by “Cake Boss” star Buddy Valastro. 

We briefly contemplated bailing since there was a 20+ person queue, but in the end we decided to stay.

And we were so glad we did.

I bought a brownie, a cookie, a cupcake and a cannoli. They were all gone by the time I boarded the flight home.

We headed back to get ready for the 5k race and took the monorail to the SLS Hotel, which is at the far end of the Strip near the Stratosphere. It was slow going to the race. I glanced at my watch and noted that it was almost exactly an hour to get from Point A to Point B.

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas 5k started at 6 PM on Saturday night. There were 8200+ runners.

The course was dark, narrow and crowded. It was a boring out-and-back loop. Part of it was on a track. I felt like I was running in a high school track meet, albeit a really crowded one.

The first half mile was so crowded that I was boxed in, an experience I do not enjoy.

I started bobbing and weaving and was able to occasionally make some space to stretch out.

I wish I would have kept my mile splits but I didn’t. I would estimate that the first mile was around 10 minutes with the crowding.

Once I found some space, a competitive drive kicked in and I put the pedal down. My pre-race cupcake and cannoli fuel seemed to be working for me, so I went with it.

As I neared the finish line, I saw Meb Keflezighi for a second time that weekend. He was giving out high fives at the finish line and I was lucky enough to get one! I was so happy.

My finish time was 27:56, which placed me at 923/8249 overall and 307/5297 for women.

I was ok with that. I immediately forgot that I didn’t like the course and mentally registered for next year’s race.

The finish area was crowded, but I eventually met up with J. and B. We reversed our monorail trip back to the hotel, showered and headed to a sushi dinner at Yellowtail.

I wish I would have taken photos of the meal, but I was too busy eating. Everything.

It’s a bit fuzzy (we were also drinking wine), but we ordered:

  • Shishito peppers (a standing favorite among the three of us; these were excellent)
  • Edamame
  • Yellowtail sashimi with jalapeño (Unanimously voted best dish)
  • Popping spicy crab roll (This was nuts. I could have eaten two more on my own).
  • Mile High Roll
  • Uni Truffle pasta

And guess who we saw eating there? Yep, Meb Keflezighi.

Next up: Half-marathon and VIP post-race party.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Las Vegas Trip Report, Part 1

I returned late Monday night from a long weekend in Las Vegas with my friends J. and B. 

You can read about my trip prep and packing here.

Officially, we were there to run two races that are part of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon series. We chose to do the 5k on Saturday night and the half marathon on Sunday.

Unofficially, we were there to have fun.

J. and B. are Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas vets; this was a first time experience for me and a third for them. They also convinced me to spring for the VIP package, which gave us some nice perks throughout the weekend that I will detail in the trip report posts.

We had an early flight into Las Vegas, and one of the things I love about going there is how quick it is to get from the airport to the hotels on the Strip. With a 10 minute taxi ride, we were at our hotel before 11 AM.

The room wasn’t ready yet, which we expected, so we had lunch on the terrace of Olives, which overlooks the Bellagio fountains. The weather was perfect and we were able to see several fountain displays during the course of a leisurely lunch that included day drinking.

This was a perfect moment.

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The seasonal floral display at the Bellagio was stunning. It was still autumnal and I think they piped in a spicy fragrance to enhance the experience. Throughout the weekend – even in the wee hours of the morning – it was crowded with people taking photos.

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Our room was now ready. I included a few photos in case you are curious about the rooms at the Bellagio. They are nice but the decor is not exactly my style. Everything was well-maintained but it seemed a bit formal and dated.

Two queens in the sleeping area:

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Sitting room (with J. checking her email):

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Two of the bathrooms (the bottom one was a powder room. I am also not showing a third bathroom with a walk-in shower):

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This was a good room for a group of friends to share. We had them bring a roll-away single bed, but we could have easily doubled up in the queens and with the roll-away and sofa in the sitting area (which I discovered was quite comfortable during an extended nap on Sunday), you could probably squeeze in six people. B. is a member of a Bellagio perks program and we got a terrific deal on this room, so it was a no-brainer to pick it.

Next we were off to the Race Expo, which involved taking the monorail to the Las Vegas Convention Center. This process was seamless and we picked up our VIP packets within a few minutes. As far as race expos go, this was pretty standard. I was happy to score two free lip balms and a 70s-style terry cloth headband, so that was cool.

Our entertainment for Friday night was a VIP reception at Hyde, one of the signature clubs at the Bellagio. This was one of the perks of the VIP package. As we were walking in we saw running legend Meb Keflezighi. That was awesome. I subsequently saw him again on Saturday  (twice) and Sunday. I wish some of his running skill would have magically wafted on to me. 

The party had some reasonable food (sliders, cheese display, shrimp cocktail, small salads in mason jars, chocolate fountain) and an open bar.

The crowd seemed to be a mix of people who worked for the Rock ‘n’ Roll organization (all of whom were dressed infinitely better than I was in jeans and a black shirt) and regular runners like us with the VIP package. I thought the best part was the venue; Hyde is an open-air space with a direct view over the fountains. They are eye level and it was an incredible background to see throughout the night.

Oh, and there was entertainment: Ozomatli played. Full disclosure: I had no idea who they were. We stayed a bit after the party ended and Hyde transitioned into full club mode.

Another full disclosure: we had taken liberal advantage of the open bar during the party and decided that we should get a snack at that point, which was quite unnecessary. 

We stopped at a 24 hour restaurant in the hotel and placed an order that was something like this:

  • Spinach and artichoke dip
  • Chips and salsa
  • Mushroom tacos
  • Thai salad (My choice, and in retrospect, a very weird food to eat while drunk)
  • A banana split

On the way back to the room, one of my friends decided that she needed to buy this three foot bear in the gift shop:

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He became a fun presence throughout the rest of the weekend.

P.S. I will get to the running, I promise! Saturday’s events will be up next.