This was my first marathon of this racing season, which for me always begins in the fall and ends in May or June. I’m sure there are some marathons in the summer, but I wilt like a delicate flower in the heat and prefer to use the summer to break away from traditional road races and explore new challenges. I will post about some of those here.
In any event, I chose Atlantic City for a couple of reasons. I knew it wasn’t going to be a family trip because of soccer season and so I wanted to go somewhere that wasn’t enticing to the kids. It was New Jersey or Connecticut, and the friend I want to visit when I do Connecticut had plans on the Hartford marathon weekend. So Atlantic City it was.
My mom came with me for this trip, which was perfect. She’s always ready for an adventure, and since neither one of gamble or partake in the typical boardwalk activities, it was nice to have someone like-minded along.
We flew into Philadelphia, which is about an hour’s drive from Atlantic City. We had a couple of hours before needing to be in Atlantic City, so we drove over to the Bourse Building, which is right across from the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. The Bourse Building has a great food hall, with lots of different culinary options. I had a great gluten free lunch from Ka’Moon, which serves Egyptian fare. https://philly.eater.com/2018/9/19/17874638/bourse-food-hall-old-city-philadelphia-whats-open.
Mom and I then hopped on a tour bus operated by Philadelphia Sightseeing Tours. We scored a seat on the top of the double-decker bus, right in the front. This proved to be a good way to see some of the city. The tour guide was so-so, but we learned a few things and were able to mark up our tour maps and take note of places we would like to visit when we come back with more time.
After peeking through the glass at the Liberty Bell (we had no time for that line!!) it was time to head to Atlantic City.
We stayed at Atlantic Palace, which was the PERFECT place for this marathon trip. http://www.fantasearesorts.com/resorts/atlantic-palace/ This resort happens to be part of my RCI timeshare deal, and so I was able to just trade in points for a two bedroom, two bathroom suite with a full kitchen. The views were absolutely amazing.
The biggest benefit of this hotel is that the marathon starts and finishes on the boardwalk, probably about ¼ mile from the hotel. It’s such a treat not to have to get in your car and drive to your hotel after running. Helpful tip – there are no grocery stores within walking distance and you do not want to have to move your car out of the hotel’s garage unless you absolutely have to. So, if you end up with a room on the boardwalk that has a kitchen, stop at a store before getting downtown in order to stock up on any food you might want. There was a well-stocked convenience store within walking distance so that I could buy creamer and a banana for the morning, but that was about it if you didn’t want to eat out every meal (which I don’t). Fortunately, there was a Rainforest Café on the boardwalk where I grabbed a gluten free salad with grilled chicken for my pre-marathon dinner. (I may have also had salt and vinegar chips and peanut butter M&Ms from the convenience store – these are some of my go-to foods.)
Packet pick-up was super easy, as it was also in a hotel on the Boardwalk. We parked at our hotel first and walked over, which saved some exorbitant parking fees. The expo was low-key, but they had this neat sand sculpture there when you walked in. I really liked the hooded, long-sleeve tech shirt, and there were some fun sample goodies in the bag.
The following day was race day. Again, it is such a luxury to be able to stay in your hotel room, all nice and toasty warm and with your own facilities, right up until the start of the race. I was super relaxed, having come off a great summer of running with high mileage weeks and challenging terrain, like mountains and the woods at Pineland Farms. I knew this race was flat and fast, and I was not concerned.
The race was flat, but maybe not terribly fast on account of the intense wind. The race route is pretty exposed. You start off on the boardwalk and then go through this odd area of on ramps/off ramps that is a little weird. I was happy when I was done with the initial third of the race. You get back on the boardwalk around mile 8. Watch your footing, because you then run on the boardwalk for about 4 miles and it is easy to get tripped up. After going the length of the boardwalk, you run through an area that is lined with beachfront condos for several miles, stopping at the tip of a peninsula, where you turn around and go back. It was in this area that the wind picked up.
I don’t use pacing teams very often, because I’ve been burned in the past by not running my own race. However, on this occasion, the pacer for the 3:45 group was amazing and I stuck with that group for quite some time. He was with marathonpacing.com and he spoke highly about how prepared the group was for the race and how seriously the owner of the company takes the responsibility of pacing. If the rest of the pacers from this company are like him, I might use them when I see that marathonpacing.com is the pacing group in future races. He was highly experienced and kept an absolutely precise pace. Sticking with him until about mile 16 accomplished two things – it kept me from going out too fast, which is something I have to work hard to control, and we were able to draft a bit as a group, thereby saving energy.
My game plan was to just stay at a steady pace (which for me is somewhere around 8:15 min/mile) from mile 16 until about mile 23, which is about when you get back on the boardwalk. I figured if I was feeling good, then I’d open it up there. As luck would have it, I felt great and ended strong. Again – word of caution – watch your footing during these last few miles on the boardwalk. On a positive note, it’s a straight, flat course to the finish and there is plenty of activity on the boardwalk to keep your mind off the pain.
There appeared to be ample food and drink at the end. I had my favorites back at the hotel and so did not partake.
That afternoon, my mom and I were going to take Ocean Drive all the way to Cape May. We went for a while and although it was pretty, we didn’t make it all the way. One of the bridges was out and we decided we had seen enough of that particular type of scenery and went looking for something different.
We ended up at Batsto Village. This is a nationally recognized historic site with a sawmill, gristmill, general store, blacksmith, wheelwright, and other historic buildings on site. We had just missed the annual Country Living Fair, which was held earlier in the day. That bummed us out because there were crafts, music, food, exhibitions, and special tours. That said, the Park Rangers were still on site and two of them stopped and walked around with us to answer questions. There was also a QR code system set up and we were able to scan the code with our phones and link to YouTube videos that gave us great information about the buildings we were seeing. If historical villages are your thing, it is worth checking out the website to see if marathon weekend coincides with the fair when you are going. http://www.batstovillage.org/ We got to see acres and acres of blueberry fields on the drive over too, which was cool. I thought we had a lot of blueberry field in Maine – no comparison!
We stopped by the Absecon Lighthouse before heading to the airport the next morning. It is the tallest lighthouse in NJ and is right there on your way out of Atlantic City. It was too early in the day to be open when we went, but the signs around the grounds were well done and informative.
This was a well-supported, well-organized race. The course design allowed you to see people the entire way without it being too crowded. I recommend Atlantic City as a solid choice if you are looking to complete a marathon in N.J.
“If you want to become the best runner you can be, start now. Don’t spend the rest of your life wondering if you can do it.” – Priscilla Welch