Thursday, Jan. 28, 2016 | 7:58 p.m.
It sounds impossible, a superhuman challenge that defies logic. The odds against her are overwhelming. Yet 55-year-old Las Vegas cancer survivor and grandmother Helene Neville is convinced that she has the stamina and willpower to run nonstop back and forth on the Las Vegas Strip without sleep for 135 miles in less than 40 hours.
The extraordinary undertaking, just two months after she left a hospital after undergoing a fourth operation for brain cancer, begins tonight when she will bulk up on Italian food at Buca di Beppo on East Flamingo.
Then at 7 a.m. Friday, Helene will set out from the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign on Las Vegas Boulevard. Helene will run to the Welcome to Fabulous Downtown Las Vegas sign by the Slotzilla zip line on Fremont Street. Then she will jog back and forth nonstop on that lap circuit 10 times to hit the 135-mile mark and claim a Guinness World Record.
Why 135 miles? That figure represents the number of days Helene was on the road last summer running across the top of America from New Brunswick, Maine, to the coast of Ocean Shores, Wash. It was the final leg of four runs around the four sides of America — 9,600 miles in 334 non-consecutive days over five years — one of which she sat out due to cancer treatments.
It set the record for the first time a woman, grandmother, nurse and cancer survivor had run the perimeter of the United States. “It’s all about inspiring others to rethink the impossible,” she declared.
This will be her first attempt since then to run more than 100 miles at once and will require incredible strength, courage and endurance to complete. I talked with Helene on Wednesday about her undertaking:
I describe this as superhuman. How do you keep running when you should be fast asleep in a comfortable bed?
I don’t know. That’s probably going to be the most difficult part, but if you’ve ever worked night shifts at hospitals like I have as a nurse, you’re up for a couple of days. I think the adrenaline will keep me going, and you know what? The Las Vegas Strip is neon bright, so it will feel like morning the entire time.
During your four runs around the perimeter of America, you did 25 to 30 miles a day. You never ran 135 miles all at once, did you?
Never. The most I ever ran was 100 miles in Washington state late August to make up for the time lost when it was tough to run through the Northwest fires. I did the 100 miles in 25.5 hours straight, through.
How did you break through the wall of fatigue?
I honestly don’t know. I just kept going and going. It was so isolated out there, and I loved it. I had to make up the miles because I had to be in Ocean Shores, Wash., to finish the run Sept. 5 for Labor Day Weekend. I thought that I would do a century run and see if I could do it. I succeeded with a lot of support out there.
Two people tagged teamed on and off throughout the night. Other than around 3 a.m. to maybe 6 a.m., I didn’t have support because they were exhausted and just watching me. It’s funny thinking back because they were exhausted, but I was the one running!
What’s your support system for the Strip run Friday?
I have a great support system. I have a person coming in from Iowa, a running friend, and a gal who I met on my run through Montana. She was my house host and helped me around that area. She’s flying in to help during the weekend.
So there will be runners on either side of you for part of the journey?
No, they’re not runners. They’re just coming out to make sure I’m still breathing and delivering food and fluids to me. There are local runners who are going to come down and maybe do one loop of almost 14 miles.
Have you done one loop for practice?
Yes. I did it two weeks ago to get the measurements down for certainty. It was great except for the time where you have to go up and around by Bally’s — you know where that escalator is. There are two spots, one on either side, where there are steps, and there is literally no sidewalk. Depending on the traffic or the volume, I may run against it rather than with it.
How do you plan to eat for a run like this? Five marathons back-to-back without stopping for a break?
I go to Buca on Thursday night, carb overload on pasta. I’m going to eat steak and salad and probably lots of carbs. I like pasta. I’m going to cook a bunch of steaks and hard-boiled eggs, deviled eggs, peanut butter sandwiches. I try to get all the things I need — vitamins, minerals, proteins — through a natural diet.
Do you eat at all during the 135-mile run?
Oh, yeah, I’m going to have to eat a lot. Probably every loop, I’ll consume something, then maybe every 35 to 40 miles or so. I’m going to try to eat a steak.
What about water? How much water are you going to consume?
Real Water, the company that sponsors me, is bringing seven cases of liter-sized bottles to the start line, so that’s a lot. I drink a lot. I’ll have a liter every three miles.
Sorry if this is a rude question, but do you take any time out? Do you give yourself any time out to hit the john?
Oh, yeah, I’m going to have to do that. I’m actually making a slight detour to stop in at “Sexxy” at Westgate Las Vegas during the night just to do a photo. I’m going to stop at Marvelous Mark in that Bourbon Room space at the Venetian. I’m going to run in there.
I just can’t lay down. I have to be vertical to make it an official record. If anybody wanted to go break it, all they have to do is run my course and go faster than whatever it’s going to take me. It’s a first. You just keep inventing firsts — that’s what life is about. Find a first, and just do it.
Helene, what’s your mental state, then your physical state having come out of surgery just a few weeks ago?
Mentally, I feel like I’m ready. I can do it. I’m pretty driven, I have so much passion, and I know what I want. It’s really why I do it, why I’m successful. The why with this one is really to just give back and thank people.
Even though it was me out there with my feet out there on the road those four months, the people don’t have to be there to be with me. The people of Las Vegas truly did support me on the run and when I had to go back to the hospital.
Physically, I’m strong, even though I took almost one month off because of the surgery, from November to December. Other than two appearances at an event, I was in bed or on the couch.
The surgery was grueling, for some reason. It was very, very painful, but I bounced back quickly, and I’m in good physical shape. I would probably say I’m at my top physical shape.
Any worries at all?
The only thing that worries me is the weather. I love the heat, and I’m a baby when it comes to cold weather. It’s supposed to be mid-60s during the day, which is fabulous. At night, it just depends. It is so unpredictable here.
I’m prepared. We have my Isuzu Trooper driving around with people taking turns. I have a lot of gear following me. I know it’s basically just one run, but I will go through a lot of shoes and outfits.
How many pairs of shoes?
I’m going to bring four and switch them out about every 25 miles.
What’s the worst part of running on the Strip?
The Strip is awesome because there are so many distractions to keep you going. The worst part is the cement. That’s pretty hard on you. It’s not like running on highway asphalt, where it gets soft. The Strip is just solid concrete up and down.
That will be the worst for shock absorption, but again it’s why you do things that keep you going. I just want to prove that anything people say is impossible can be done. Just get out there and give it a go and see what happens.
There’s no doubt in your mind that you’re going to succeed at this, right?
There’s no doubt, and I’d even like to succeed in under 38 hours. So I’m not only thinking that I’m going to succeed, I’m also going to get it done before Saturday at 10 p.m.
How long do you think you’ll sleep afterward?
When you’re up that long, it’s going to take a couple of days to recover on and off. I’ll be so high with the success and feeling elated hopefully that it will be … well, I don’t know because I’ll have one beer and pass right out.
How long did the practice loop take you?
At my pace, it took four hours. It was about 14 miles. One would never think it’s that far, but literally from that Mandalay Bay sign to the Fremont Las Vegas Boulevard sign, it’s very nearly close to 7 miles one way. I thought it was only 4 miles.
So you have 10 loops to make. Is that how you clock it off in your mind?
Yes, and I’ll have to do a selfie each lap time stamped unless people are at the signs to write down what time and mile to make it legal. For the Guinness Book of World Records, there is a lot of documentation that has to take place, so that’s why we have so many people throughout the night.
The D Las Vegas has donated one room, so we will stage from there, then the people will … I’ll be calling or tweeting, “Come to the sign to check me off!” I’m excited. From the perimeter of the continental U.S. to the perimeter of the Las Vegas Strip, I love that!
What’s the one major thing you’re worried about?
I think just the night chill. That’s it. I’ll be well prepared for dodging traffic. I’ll have to run defensively, but I just ran almost 10,000 miles against traffic, so I know what to look for. I would have to say the weather, the cold. I’m just such a baby when it comes to the cold.
Does Metro police give you any kind of an escort?
No. That’s why I have to stay on the sidewalk. Unless I got permits and coned lanes, and that was an astronomical cost, so it’s just me running up and down the sidewalks basically as a pedestrian.
Will people get out of the way for you?
Yeah, I’m sure they will. They’ll be hearing about it.
Are you going to wear your U.S. flag tracksuit?
I’ll probably wear it at the start, and I’m going to definitely wear it at the finish. There’s a gal singing at the 100-mile mark, another singing the national anthem at the start, then a third girl singing at the finish. They’re all local singers who volunteered to come down and help me.
And Jennifer Romas is turning out the girls from her show “Sexxy” to run one of the laps with you?
We’re coordinating that, so sometime Friday night they’re going to do something. Then at the finish, she’ll come over with them to run the last leg or the last mile with me.
So the start is 7 a.m. Friday. If you do it in 35 hours, that takes you to what time Saturday?
It depends how often I have to stop, but if I’m really feeling good, then I can do 6 miles an hour. It depends. Otherwise, it’s about 4 miles an hour, that’s probably pretty average. It would take me to 9 p.m. Saturday. I know that I’m going under 40 hours. Originally when I planned this, I was thinking 48 hours, but I don’t want to stay awake a second night.
Have you ever stayed awake this long before? As a nurse on duty or running?
Yeah, just for 20 hours overnight with nursing duties. I’ve stayed awake for one full day running, the longest maybe 28 hours.
How do you get a second wind as you fight the need for sleep, yawning and eyes closing?
I will be delirious, no doubt. I will be in a state of running while sleepwalking. Somebody wrote on Facebook, “Hey, you could do this in your sleep,” and I wrote back and said, “I might be.”
Hopefully, I’ll get a second wind. I think that I will. You go to a different zone. It’s hard to describe. I’m going to keep pushing for all the cancer patients and anybody who just needs to be inspired. I’m going to do this for them and also for everybody in Las Vegas. I just love this community.
Everybody is a winner here, so I’m going to be a winner by Saturday night.
We’ll be rooting for you.
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On March 5, Helene will host the National Nurses Half Marathon here during her Healthy Nurse Conference. Then her next run … will be for political office in Carson City. “I will physically run from Las Vegas up to the Nevada capital to throw my hat in the ring as a state representative,” she summed up.
Robin Leach of “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous” fame has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past 15 years giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.
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