New Jersey | Windy Atlantic City

Coming off a great race in Delaware, it was time to head just a few hours away to Atlantic City, NJ. When I was planning out races for NJ, there were a lot of options that seemed like a lot of fun but since this worked out for the back to back I jumped on the opportunity. I had never been to Atlantic City and the only story I knew of it was when my parents left my brother and me at my grandmother’s in Queens, NY to go for a kid-less weekend in Atlantic City. Shortly after they arrived, my mom said she wanted to go back and that’s what they did. Other than that I knew nothing really about the area. I got cleaned up at hotel and made our way out of Dover: NJ bound!

Race: Atlantic City Marathon
Location: Atlantic City, NJ
Date: 10/21/2018
Finishing Time: 4:27:25

It was about a 2.5 hour drive to Atlantic City so we decided to stop for lunch at a local brewery in Delaware. There were quite a few along the route but we decided on Brick Works Brewing and Eats, mostly because it was the closest option and we both were hungry! With the nice weather (and having Bella with us) we sat outside on their patio. The food was delicious and beer was on point as well. One of our favorite items was the brisket and blue cheese spring rolls. The only issue we had during lunch had nothing to do with food or service. There were a ton of wasps and bees that wanted to share our lunch. Kaela killed at least 10 during our time there (Yes, Kaela killed them. You know I don’t mess around with bugs!)

With the Delaware Bay as the dividing barrier from a direct route to NJ, after lunch we headed north towards Wilmington, DE, then took a southeast turn down to the NJ coast. We stayed off the turnpike to save a few bucks, which also gave us a scenic route of a few small towns. This route made me rethink everything I had previously thought when people said they lived in NJ. I felt like I was just back in the Midwest with quaint little towns. That being said, we did hit a little bit of traffic on the back roads but since we weren’t in any rush we didn’t mind the joy ride at all.

A few weeks earlier someone had recommended that we stop by Hidden Sands Brewing as it was directly on our route, so of course we made a stop for a flight. There was some sort of NJ law that required the bartender to give us a “tour” in order for us to sit and drink since it was our first time. They had a giant wall mural with a “how beer is made” tutorial and then around the corner you could see their tanks and materials. Tour complete.

It was a pretty large facility with multiple levels each with their own bar. We sat at the lower bar as stairs really weren’t going to be my friend after the race. We talked with some local patrons and the bartender about where we were from and what we were doing in the area. They were astounded that I had just run a marathon, was having a beer and was getting ready to run another the next day. “Wait, you mean everyone doesn’t do this?” After a flight of their classics, we decided that I needed to get back to hydrating with not beer and we needed to finish the trip to get checked in to our hotel.

We were staying at the Sheraton which was a race hotel so they had a room block with some extra amenities, the most of important of which was late check out. We checked in and made our way to our upper floor room (upgraded!) and were instantly hit in the face with the smell of cigarette smoke (back to reality).  After being in the room for less than 60 seconds Kaela and I both agreed that this would not work. We grabbed our bags and headed back down to the lobby to plead our case about the room. They had some excellent customer service and after an apology they had us moved to a new room and we were on our way.

Packet pickup was taking place at Bally’s casino but the specific location inside the casino wasn’t clear in any of the pre-race instructions that I had received. We decided we would figure it out when we got there and we started to make the walk towards the strip. Our hotel was about a 1/2 mile from the beach so it was easy to get around on foot rather than trying to find another place to park the car. There was an outlet mall just off the strip that we walked by but other than those few blocks, Atlantic City didn’t seem like a pretty place to just be walking around. It brought to life what I think Las Vegas would look like if they didn’t clean it up each night.

When we arrived at the casino, I wasn’t sure if Kaela could go in with Bella but with her on Kaela’s chest we just walked right in and hoped no would really pay attention. We had asked a few people if they knew where the expo was taking place but it seemed they didn’t even know a marathon expo was happening. There wasn’t any signage directing us so we played a guessing game until we saw a few other people that looked like runners and followed them to an elevator. As we exited the elevator I could see the super long check in line. We had to get my bib from them before heading in to get any other items from the expo.

After waiting for a moment we realized we were in the 1/2 marathon line and that the marathon line only had 2 people waiting. We quickly switched lines and were heading into the expo in no time. I didn’t need to pick up any additional gels as I grabbed everything I needed in Dover, so I just needed to get my shirt and we were done. We made our way to the shirt table and overheard a volunteer apologizing that they were out of shirts. I was excited for this shirt as it was the 60th year of the race and they were giving marathon runners a really nice tech material hoodie. When we made our way to the front of line the volunteer apologized to me as well and said that we could grab any size I wanted now and that they would be mailing the race shirts after the race.

Fun side story: they did eventually get me the shirt, but they first sent me a 1/2 marathon shirt that I had to ship back after they mailed me a label with my marathon hoodie. I’m sure they were not pleased with the issue with the shirts but I think they handled it the best way that they could.

We left the casino and headed towards the beach to give Kaela an idea of how we would walk to the start in the morning and the direction of the course. We walked the boardwalk for a little bit and headed down on the sand so Bella could run around and go crazy before heading back to the hotel for dinner and to clean up. Now an interesting side story. On our way back there was a lot of just weird stuff. First a guy walking towards us stopped as we approached and just asked me if I wanted to buy some weed, because apparently that’s how you sell drugs in Atlantic City—like a door to door salesman. Then a few blocks up there was some shouting and arguing happening outside of gas station that we quickly tried to pass by. With each block I did not like the idea of Kaela walking around by herself while I ran the next day.

Back in our room, it was time for dinner. It was another late dinner night but I had been snacking on Cheerios and bagels all day making sure I was getting in as many carbs as possible. Dinner was the rest of my pasta from Dover (so good) with a little cranberry juice to wash it down. After showering I spent some time stretching and using my roller to try and reduce the stiffness in my legs to help me get a good night sleep. I set up my items for the next day and laid down to relax.

My relaxing apparently turned into me just crashing instantly. This second night of pretty good sleep had me feeling refreshed in the morning. My legs were sore but overall my body felt rested. The race start wasn’t until 8am so that meant I didn’t need the typical 3-4am alarm clock interrupting my sleep. I enjoyed my microwaved bagel (no toaster in room) and Honey Stinger while listening to my playlist and going over the course. There wasn’t much to the course but I wanted to make sure I was familiar with it so I could break it down in pieces when my body started to hate me, because I knew it wasn’t a matter of “if” but “when.”

I could feel how heavy my legs were while I was getting ready and I started to get in my head about tackling this. I had to keep my mind positive as there was still a lot of the day left. As we left the hotel and made our way to the start the weather was pretty chilly. Luckily I had proper layers with my jacket and fleece beanie to keep me warm on my way to the start. The walk took a little longer than expected with my slower than normal pace for the 1/2 mile.

Upon arrival, Kaela took my photo and I gave her my jacket. I kept my beanie as it was still pretty breezy. I ended up in the corral just a few minutes prior to the start. I said a prayer for focus in the race, knowing that it was going to hurt but I know my mind is strong enough to push through.

And we’re off!

The goal for the race was to run under 4:30 and my race tattoo was still mostly intact from the day before in Delaware so I was able to keep an eye on my progress easily. In the first few steps I could feel the strain and stiffness throughout my entire body; this was going to be an adventure. We started on the boardwalk so we had to keep our steps high not to snag a foot on the nails sticking out beneath us. Kaela was set up shortly after the start snapping away. Her location would allow her to see me there and again at mile 9. The course started with a large weaving loop and finished with an extended out and back so as a spectator the options were limited. Instead of her having to deal with driving around the course we opted for that spot.

We made a left turn off the boardwalk onto a street and instantly the wind hit us in the face. I tried my best to find folks running a similar pacing as me to help block the wind but everyone around me seemed to be all over the place (I’m blaming them not my tired legs, it couldn’t have possibly been me). After a slight left turn we made our way to the first mile and then a hill.

WAIT A SECOND, I thought this course was flat?

It was a steep incline that acted as an on-ramp for the highway to the left, but we headed to the right towards a tunnel. The climb let me feel how sore my hamstrings and calves were and then as we coasted down to the tunnel my quads and feet felt the brunt of it. Around this point I noticed I was around the 4:20 pace group so I decided to hang out with them as long as I could to maybe put up another great time or at the very least get under 4:30. I introduced myself to the pacer, Steve, and got to talking with others in the group to pass the time in a not so scenic part of the route. The half and the full marathon started together so there were quite a few people in the pack.

Someone asked about my running and I told them about my 50 states goal, so they then asked when my last race was. I didn’t want to seem braggy but I also didn’t want to lie. I let them know it was yesterday. With this Steve’s ears perked up. He had just run the Baltimore marathon the day before, getting his own east coast back to back weekend. We had some good conversations about races and mileage as we tackled a few rolling hills with on and off ramps for roads wrapping around the “downtown” area of Atlantic City. The shaded areas were cool but when we were in the sun it felt like I was baking. I switched from my beanie to my possum bandana to keep the hair back.

Kaela and Bella had a photo session on the beach
Kaela is definitely learning to grab some great shots!

We wrapped through some neighborhoods and before I knew it we were at the 10k marker. We hit a turnaround that would take us back to the boardwalk where we would spend a good part of the race. The wind gusts were picking up but with the larger crowd it was still manageable. The course was mostly closed to traffic but with the hotels and houses all around people were still driving around. There was one lady that was trying to inch across the road basically splitting the runners to go around her. I slapped her front fender out of aggravation as I approached, yelling at her to just wait.

Just before mile 8 we made it back to the boardwalk and would be on it for almost 5 straight miles. I was starting to feel some hot spots on the thighs and I was looking forward to seeing Kaela at mile 9 for glide and also some motivation.

Mile 9
Mile 9.25
Mile 9.5
I didn’t see her. Did I miss her? Is she okay?

Thoughts were racing through my head just like in Georgia. I passed by the start and knew she wouldn’t have been further down the course than this and I started to worry. I had thoughts of stopping to use someone’s phone to call her or even just start looking for her. I had to make myself believe that she was okay and that she wouldn’t want me to stress or worry but to keep running (her words from the Georgia situation). With this worry in my head it gave me more motivation to run as fast as I could so I could see her again since the next opportunity would be at the finish.

Running on the boardwalk was beautiful with the beach on our left, but it was interesting having to watch each step carefully. Every so often someone would hit a nail and you would hear the follow-up stumble to catch their balance. Shortly after mile 11, the half marathoners had to turn around and head back to the finish. It was a poor course design for the turn; they had just recently passed the finish then had to turn around in a pretty tight area.

With a good portion of the group gone, the winds felt a lot stronger. Our pack had remained relatively consistent as we were staying in stride with Steve. He was a great pacer but being a much faster runner than the 4:20 that he was pacing, he was definitely pushing the group for the first portion of the race making us a little fast. We made it off the boardwalk by taking a right and then a left shortly after on Atlantic Ave. This would be the 2nd of 3 sections for the “extended out and back” I referred to earlier.

Once we made the turn, the wind really started to kick in. The breeze was blowing directly in our faces, pushing us back at some points. Later I looked up the weather and saw that the gusts were over 40mph. Just before hitting the halfway mat, we saw the leaders making their way back in with about 4 miles left in the race just cruising. That is always an interesting point in the race when you see how effortless they look as they coast to the finish and you still have half the race left to run.

First half – 2:09:57

I was moving pretty well but didn’t see a chance for a negative split again, which also meant that I was not going to get under 4:20. I told myself that I would stay with Steve and the group as long as I could. The wind was brutal but we pushed through it and every time there was a break in the gust we took advantage of it picking up the pace ever so slightly. I hadn’t mentioned it yet but the aid stations were amazing throughout the race. Lively, helpful volunteers made each experience so great!

Towards the end of Atlantic Ave, we moved onto a thin area of land and the wind was swirling in all directions. There were a surprising number of spectators cheering us on as we approached the turnaround at mile 16. We circled a cone and headed back out the same way we came in.

Steve started to gain a little ground on me and I kept him in my sights as we made it to the short loop north of Atlantic Ave (section #3 for those keeping count). The wind was blowing and the sun was shining and neither of those helped me hold the pace and keep up with him. A few people that were in our group were grumbling about how the pacer wasn’t holding the pace, but I think at that point we were just a little exhausted and would have found a reason to complain about anything.

We hit a straight away with homes and condos on each side with runners coming back at us. Looking at my Strava activity, it was only a one mile stretch but it sure felt like 3. Everything hurt but I was trying to hold a steady pace and to my surprise my legs were still willing to turn over even if it wasn’t the same pace that I started with. We made a left turn to begin our few block loop and it was another surprise.

Up hill.
Directly into the wind.
Sun hitting me square in the back.
“SERIOUSLY?!?” I said as I turned the corner.

This was a real challenge point for me in the race. I was feeling so worn out but at the same time proud for how long I pushed. I kept a smile on my face and just kept moving. We wrapped through a few neighborhood streets and then back on the 1 mile stretch that seemed a lot shorter on the way back. A few turns later we were back on Atlantic Ave. around mile 21 heading to the finish. I mixed in a few short walk breaks at aid stations to make sure I was getting plenty of nutrition and then got back to a steady pace. I made the right toward the boardwalk and realized that I was just 5k from the finish. I made a goal to myself not to walk at all in this last 5k and to finish the race strong. This was my last race of the year, so might as well go hard after it, right?

I was passing people that were taking extended walking breaks and with each person I gained a little motivation. I know what it feels like to be that person walking when someone runs by you at that stage of the race, sucking out any remaining energy. But when you are doing the passing that energy you acquire from them is greatly appreciated (haha).

The wind was still strong but slightly at my back which was helpful other than the handful of times it picked up some sand to slap me in the face. I had to focus on keeping my legs high to avoid the nails as I did on the way out. The boardwalk was open to the public so I had to maneuver around people hanging out. It was good for spectator support though from the people that were just sitting on benches on boardwalk cheering us on. Around mile 23.5 my beanie fell from my race belt. I had a flashback to the contact case the day before in Delaware and thought about just leaving it. Luckily in that moment a person behind me noticed and picked it up for me. I thanked them and chatted for a moment but then I took off at my own pace when I realized that they were fading.

I made it to the wide open area of the boardwalk and had to spend some effort going back and forth to avoid pedestrians, strollers, golf carts and anything else that was moving in a random pattern. The only thing on my mind at this point was seeing Kaela so I could have the stress and worry lifted off my mind about her safety.

In the distance I could see the finish chute and with each step the crowd got louder and louder. As I approached the finish, I saw Kaela on my left and instantly the emotions came over me. I crossed the finish with a shout of accomplishment with a huge smile on my face and luckily between Kaela and the race photographers they were able to capture the moment.

4:27:25

I was exhausted. Physically and emotionally, I had nothing left.

Kaela met me at the end of the chute, moving a fence in her way, to greet me with congratulations. She explained the situation of being behind on the mile 9 spot and how she knew I was going to be worrying but hopefully I would still run my goal. She said I must have missed her by just a few minutes because since I was running ahead of the 4:30 schedule she showed up based on that pace. I gave her a big hug and through tears let her know how happy I was that she was okay.

We walked our way over to the after party which was actually really great! I usually don’t have time after races to hang out but since we were splitting the ride back home I took advantage of it. They had a clam chowder station which hit the spot to warm up my body, some local beer and a bunch of other free goodies. We hung around for a little bit and then took a seat for me to eat some of the food I had grabbed. It was short lived though as I started to get the chills and could not stop shivering because of the breeze and temps. I stumbled to the beach for a finisher’s photo and we made our way back to the hotel.

Overall I had a great time at this race. Atlantic City itself was a little bit sketchy but the race was a lot of fun. The course doesn’t have a lot of “sights” but it’s hard to beat running in the sunshine and next to the beach, even if we did have 40 mph winds. The volunteers were great and I would recommend this race for anyone looking to knock out NJ. The half marathon course seems weird so maybe not for that distance as you don’t get to see what I think were the best portions of the course.

Well, the 2nd back to back for 2018 is in the books and it was the last race of the year. 2018 was a busy year traveling for races but hey, it takes a lot to get around the country. I met a lot of really cool people all over the country and that really has been one my favorite parts of this entire journey. Next stop is running with some longhorns (not really) in Ft. Worth, Texas.

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