Saturday, September 26, 2015

There is no Finish Line - The Biggest Loser RunWalk Half Marathon Las Vegas 2015

When signing up for a half marathon, there are all kinds of motivations. There are the intrinsic ones (the joy of the activity itself, the sense of accomplishment) or the extrinsic ones (the medal, getting kudos from friends or family). It turns out the people who race for the intrinsic reasons are the ones that are more likely to go the distance.

Take weight loss as a motivation. You may train for a marathon because running and walking is a great way to burn calories and lose weight. But if the end goal is the race or to get to a certain number on the scale, then the moment you cross the finish line or hit that number, the journey is over. You have to find another reason to sustain the lifestyle. On the other hand, if the reason you train is to increase your overall health or to meet amazing people, there's a lot more motivation to keep going, maybe even enter another race... or two... or a hundred and seven.

The Biggest Loser RunWalk held its inaugural event in Las Vegas on September 20, 2015. The event served as a reunion of sorts, bringing over a dozen of the show's past contestants, most from Season 16 "Glory Days". Season 16 seemed to have a lot more impact on us because every single contestant knew that they used to be so much better than they were when the show started. What would you give for the chance to be back at the peak shape of your life?

We got to the Circus Circus hotel about 11 AM Saturday the 19th. Temperatures were already in the high 80's and race day temps weren't getting any cooler. With another seven races in the next few months, the heat and the altitude, we meant take this one easy and enjoy it. The expo was a decent size for the 1500 or so participants, enough to get any essential accessories, a bondiband, TBL race clothes by Green Layer (including some new colors!) and even pick up TBL nutritionist Dr. Cheryl Forberg's books

With Season 16 contestants Sonya and Woody

Our wonderful friend and super TBL staff Christina. Thanks for hooking us up with VIP this weekend!

Most of the star power was at the stage where the entire afternoon line up was the former contestants telling their stories. With the short stay and us needing to get checked into the hotel, I was only able to catch two talks at the end.

Toma Dobrosalvjevic of Season 16 talked about how we felt out of his league on the show. He was surround by former NFL stars, Olympic gold medalists and here he was, just trying to keep up. Later he found out Scott Mitchell, former Detroit Lions quarterback, was using Toma as his standard. "Everything you do, I have to do an then some, because what you're doing is working!".  Toma ended up winning that season, losing over 171 pounds (over 52% of his body weight).

Dan Evans closed the speaker series and no matter how many races I've attended, he always seems to come up with something I hadn't heard. He and Jackie were expecting to go home the first week... and the second...maybe even the third. But they lost the most weight for each of the first three weeks. It took them a while to believe, but once they did, their outlook on the show, and life changed.

I did take some time between the expo and the VIP dinner to hit the black jack table and walk through the Midway. I hadn't been there in over 20 years since my parents brought us for vacations. Susan relaxed under the free circus acts. The first half of my bank roll lasted me barely long enough to meet Susan at Vince Neil's Tatuado for the VIP dinner. 

Those of you who've been to TBL races know the VIP package is an excellent addition to your weekend! We did our best to chat with all the former contestants and get autographs on our bibs. As usual, we had some healthy options for dinner (though we noticed most of us passed on the dessert). 

Season 16 contestants Gina, Jackie and Lori

Season 16's Blake

Dinner was followed by karaoke. Woody Carter had some amazing renditions of "If I Could Just Hold You Again" and "With You I'm Born Again", followed by his family (three generations of great singers!). Dan Evans and Jackie Pierson also took the stage but I couldn't remember what songs they sang since I was recovering from a dehydrated version of "Piano Man".  I can now cross off "perform on stage in Vegas" from my bucket list (and thankfully, I didn't see anyone taking video). I left for a 10:15 PM bedtime for the 5:45 AM wake up call.

Race morning, Sunday, September 20th:
The 7 AM start time saw high 60's temps with a light, dry wind. It actually felt a little chilly to start which was perfect for us. I caught up with Zimri, a young man who I met at the black jack table the night before who was running the half. He was actually working to qualify for worlds in the half IronMan distance for the Paralympics.

The runners went off in waves at 7 and the walkers started at 7:15. Lori and Gina were doing the half with us. As always, Dan sent us off with the national anthem. We started under the lights of the Circus Circus entrance.

As the walkers started, I recognized Larry from Florida. He took 2nd overall in TBL Panama City Beach, one place ahead of me and beating me by a healthy margin. "Taking it easy" sort of went out the window at that point and I wanted to see how well I could keep up. We paced each other in the mid to low 11 minute/mile pace all the way to the halfway point. 

The one-lane course on the frontage road was wide enough for most of the race, even with the double turnarounds.

Once we picked up the wristbands behind the Mandalay Bay, I decided to take advantage of the net downhill on the back half. Two or three speed bursts later and I opened up a good lead. I didn't see Larry for the rest of the race. I finished in what would be my third best half marathon time ever, just under 2:25, and first in the walk division. The official timer actually moved me to the run division because he didn't believe I'd actually walked the whole way (fortunately, Christina knew our speeds from previous races). Larry came in just over 2:31. Considering he had a race the weekend before and was flying back across the country for another race the next weekend, it was a great effort. Competition like that is hard to come by. I hope to see him again.

Susan turned in her best time since early this year. She's been working hard at strength and stretching to overcome plantar fasciitis and I think she's turned the corner just in time for our heavy fall race season. She won her age group and came out of the day feeling strong and ready for more.

We went back to the hotel room, showered and checked out before heading back to the finish line. We cheered in the half marathoners until the last one came in at just under the 5 hour cut off. Probably the coolest thing about the weekend was seeing the former contestants form up around the last finisher and running in with her. We've seen back of the pack folks feel frustrated and discouraged, but in a race like this, that kind of group gesture goes a long way in keeping your spirits up. Finishing last still means you've finished. And knowing that people waited for you and cheered for you, regardless of your time, might even give you the motivation to come back for another race. This is the spirit of The Biggest Loser RunWalk.

I heard a lot of people saying how much fun they had over the weekend, many of them being first time 5K or half marathoners. Quite a few of them were planning their next race. They've discovered what we found out years ago. 

There is no finish line. The finish of the first race is just a start of the rest of your life.

How's THAT for motivation?


The inaugural The Biggest Loser RunWalk Las Vegas weekend drew over 1000 finishers, making it the second biggest TBL event we've attended. 391 finished the half marathon (335 in the run division, 56 in the walk division), 649 in the 5K (411 run and 238 walk). There was also a 1 mile fun run for the kids (not timed). The half course was changed several times in the last week as the city and various property requirements changed. We started under the glitzy entrance to the casino, wound our way west on Circus Circus Drive to South Industrial and turned south, continuing on Frank Sinatra Drive. Just past the 5 mile mark, the course doubled back to the Mandalay Bay arch where participants were given a yellow wristband to signify that they'd made the first loop. We turned back south, then north through the check point back to Circus Circus drive. We wound through the RV parking lot and around East Sahara and South Las Vegas to complete the loop course. With an elevation gain/loss of less than 140 feet, this course was about as flat as you can get.

There were some hiccups on the course for the lead pack as the lead cyclist missed a turn and created a longer course for a few dozen runners. After that confusion was cleared up and the rest of the participants found the right route, it looked like the course was a bit short. Comparing our Garmin route to the course map, it looks like the turn at mile 5 and the loops in the RV park may have been placed just a few dozen meters off, resulting in a 12.7 - 12.8 mile course. Given the mid to high 80's temps, perhaps it was not a bad thing to get done a little bit early.

Support with aid stations was excellent as always for TBL races. RWB also had a Gu and Red Vine station about mile 8. With the frontage road on the west side of the strip next to the highway, there was even a good amount of shade. Jackie herself was in a car sweeping the later parts of the half marathon giving out ice and orange slices. Even with the heat, there were no medical transports. I heard of only one half marathoner who had to hop into the sag wagon due to a blister.

With only 3 Premier Destination races left on the calendar for 2015, we were wondering if there would be more going on next year. Director Jackie Evans is still working out the details, but may need to pare back their busy schedule. With close to 30 events this year, I can't blame her.  But with TBL hitting quite a few states we have not visited for half marathons, we hope to see them back on our schedule in 2016.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Riding Off Into the Sunrise - Run for C.H.U.M. Half Marathon 2015

This race wasn't supposed to happen actually. We usually have a long break between July and October when we recover from any aggravations or start working on specific training like speed or core strength. But Susan is getting close to being A-List Preferred on Southwest which carries some really nice perks. Combine that with the long Labor Day weekend, a few friends in the Michigan area that we haven't seen in a long time and it was off to the Midwest we go! Of course, we can't travel to a state without checking if we've crossed it off our half marathon list. 

We drove from our hotel in Lansing about a half hour to the Dansville schools for bib pick up right at the 5:30 open. We had time to talk to Bonnie DePue, the center Director about the program. She was surprised to see people coming in from California so she was happy to give us a quick tour. 

Chum was actually the name of one of Bonnie's first therapy horses. From the C.H.U.M. pamphlet, learning how to ride a horse: "may challenge the body physically in balance, coordination and fine and gross motor skills as well. It is a sensory rich environment where all the senses are impacted. The riding lesson inherently works on attention span, task sequencing, problem solving, academia, self esteem and self concept." Clients include toddlers, seniors, disabled veterans and recreational riders. Later, Bonnie renamed the center Children & Horses United in Movement or C.H.U.M.

Susan with Daisy and Jack. At least I think that's them, they were too shy to say their names.

Bonnie brings Apollo to take a pre-race picture.

We had dinner at Bravo! Cucina off 127 and Lake Lansing with Susan's cousin and her two kids. This was the last weekend before the start of school in Michigan, so the kids spent a lot of time at the aquatic center before it closed for the season. With our 8 AM start and some warm temperatures this time of year in the Midwest, we hit the sack early.

The start line was well organized and parking at the schools was plentiful for the small crowd. It was just about 70 degrees at the 8 AM start and with a bunch of races coming up in the next 10 weeks, this was a 'just finish' race. We hit a good window in between summer downpours too. I remember Wisconsin weather did that a lot.

Bonnie delivered a 'runner's prayer' before the start. I didn't catch the whole thing, but it was a really nice touch. Looking through previous year's results, I noticed that participant's home cities aren't listed, maybe because there are very few who come from outside the county. The invocation gave the race a definite local feel.

Susan wore her Half Fanatics tank top. No one she talked to had any idea what it meant, so I'm guessing this is the official Half Fanatics picture.

The course was a really nice loop, well marked and had some beautiful rural scenery. About 2/3rds of it was on paved two lane roads in good condition and the rest was packed dirt road. There was even quite a bit of shade. The volunteer to participant ratio was probably close to 1:1 when you count the course monitors and aid stations. They had water and Gatorade at every station, Gu at mile 7 and lots of bright green vest on the volunteers so you knew where you were going.

Mile 1 on Mason Street
Some welcome shade at mile 3.

Yeah. That sign has nothing to worry about.

Passing by the C.H.U.M. Stable just before mile 4. The ATV's and volunteers were awesome.  
Coming out of the second stretch of dirt trail at mile 11 on the last turn toward the finish line.

The aid stations had a spirit contest. The folks at Station 5 (mile 11.5 or so) won and deservedly so. They were out the longest and were still cheering their hearts out. 
 The field for the half was actually quite a bit faster than we were used to seeing. The winner came in just over 76 minutes and other than a handful of the 75ish participants, most came in around 2:30. We know enough to make sure we race our own pace. Susan said she was thinking about part of the runner's prayer at the beginning as she was making coming down the last mile.

"We are all struggling equally. Lord, let me win, not by coming in ahead of my friends, but by being myself. Let it be an inner win, a battle won over me. I may, and may I say at the end, 'I have fought a good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.'"

We had a noon checkout at the hotel, so we grabbed just a bit of the post-race hot breakfast (pancakes and syrup, scrambled eggs, bananas and bagels with cream cheese) before heading out. While I don't know how many out of towners would seek out this race, we'd definitely recommend it for locals and anyone swinging through Michigan who is looking to support a great cause. The fact that it falls on Labor Day Monday for the last three years makes for possible 3 race/3 state weekends if planned correctly.

Post-race/post-shower lunch was at Max & Erma's in the same shopping center we had dinner the night before. Nothing like a frozen strawberry lemonade with pretzel sticks and queso after a good day on the course.

I SAY this race was never supposed to happen, but when I think about it, the whole weekend was a great time to catch up with people we hadn't seen in years. The fact that the race turned out to be such a good experience means maybe it was meant to be.

Half marathon number 92 and state number 24 is in the books. Next up is another inaugural race: The Biggest Loser RunWalk Half in Las Vegas. We're on track to hit our 100th half marathon before the end of the year.


To find out more about C.H.U.M., check out their website at They are a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization currently raising money to add space for vocational training and treatments. It's a very affordable registration fee ($35 a month in advance and only $45 on race day). Both Susan and I donated every dollar we carried in our emergency race pack to thank the volunteers for doing such an amazing job supporting every last participant.