A flat and fast course along the boardwalk failed to yield Aaron a PR, but he still came away with another sub-4 hour time.
Another PR Attempt in New Jersey
With only 5 weeks between the The 2019 Kauai Marathon in Hawaii and this race, not much was done to adjust my previous training. I focused on trying to get in one type of speed / tempo workout during the week, along with a long run of 12 miles or more. Having been since June since I attempted a marathon PR, I was ready to give it another shot to beat my current PR time of 3:43:56 from the The 2019 Carlsbad Marathon in Carlsbad, California.
There would be pacing groups during this race, so my plan was to hang with the 3:40 pacer for as long as I could. I went out way too fast in my last marathon PR attempt and paid for it at the end (2019 Whitefish Point Marathon in Paradise, MI), so it was my hope that a pacer would keep me on target for a PR of nearly 4 minutes.
However I made a significant mistake during the week of the race. At home I had a large tree cut down that had died close to my house. I told the logging crew that all they had to do was fell the tree (get it on the ground), and I would take care of cutting the rest up and moving it to my wood shed. Have I mentioned that the tree was on a significant hill?
So despite going easy running-wise the week leading up the race, I spent much of my evenings cutting and hauling wood by hand up a hill to where my wood shed was located. This would prove to be a vital mistake when it came to achieving my PR time.
A Mostly-Flat Course
The race is run right along the coast of Atlantic City. Beginning right on the main section of the boardwalk, the race takes you north west along some of the side inland roads, before returning you to the boardwalk where you run south, turning into several community sections, and then back onto the boardwalk for the last several miles returning you to where you started.
Several reviews online stated the course is “pancake” flat. This is not the case. Yes, MOST of the course is flat, but there are a few portions towards the beginning that take you up a few highway ramps that are a bit of a challenge. My Garmin noted a total elevation gain of around 200 ft by the race’ end. Not hilly at all, but not completely pancake flat.
Solo Trip and Packet Pickup in a Casino
The worst part about this race was I had to make the trip alone. Originally the whole family had planned to attend, but with Caitlin having a volleyball game on Sunday, she chose to remain home with family (which I was proud of her dedication). Her sister Corinne chose to stay home as well to help out. That meant this trip would be a getaway for Christie and me! We packed up and were all set to leave when we found out the family scheduled to watch the girls had come down very sick. That meant Christie would have to stay home and I would have to make the trip alone.
This meant a lonely 5-hour drive to Atlantic City on my own the day before the race. I managed to survive the traffic around Philadelphia and arrived to downtown Atlantic City that early Saturday afternoon for packet pickup. Speaking truthfully Atlantic City was not my cup of tea. I’m not big on gambling and casinos, and that is pretty much all the city is.
Packet pickup was held at Bally’s Casino’s Grand Ballroom. Parking was easy (there were several lots and garages around…thought the area doesn’t seem that nice to walk in), and I breezed my way through the slot machines and card tables towards the expo area. Again I am not a fan of gambling, so I immediately got my bib and exited the building. I will say the swag they gave you (a hooded long sleeve shirt) is one of my favorites from any race I have run.
While the downtown area was not very appealing, the area where I would be staying to the north was very nice. The Air BnB condo we had booked was in a lovely little complex right by the ocean. It was very quiet, peaceful, and I loved staying there. Not to mention it was only a short walk to the beach. Even though I was there myself and missing my family, I made a solo walk down the beach and was really amazed by the vastness of it. I always thought Myrtle Beach was one of the wider beaches, but this one was most impressive.
Race Day Morning
With a race start time of 8 a.m. (quite later than the last few marathons during the summer), I was able to “sleep in” until 5 a.m. before having my usual pre-race breakfast (whole wheat bagel with almond butter, banana, and coffee). By the time I got dressed, ready, and made the 10 minute drive over to the race start area, I had 40 or so minutes to go before go time. Parking, just as the day before, was very easy as there were many paid lots to choose from (despite some being in shifty areas). I only had to walk a 1/2 mile to the boardwalk and I found myself right in the middle of the pre-race festivities.
The weather was really nice that morning…low 50s, breezy, and partly cloudy. The sky was really pretty and treated all of us runners to a beautiful sunrise to start the morning. Marathoners and half-marathoners would begin the race together so we all gathered into the main corral. With 800 marathon runners and many more half-marathoners, the race was a good size, but not overwhelming.
My only complaint about the race start was that it was position right on the boardwalk in front of a few of the casinos which constantly played loud advertisements from their speakers. Apparently the National Anthem was sung, but the speakers of the casinos were turned up so loud, that many of us not realize it until it was almost over. That made me sad and believe that should be addressed in future editions of the race. Luckily we were able to hear the starting gun and made our way down the boardwalk to begin the first mile of 26.2.
I found myself running with the 3:40 pacer (his name was Ken) at the beginning of the race and hoped to stay with the group the whole time. The pace felt good and quick, and I hoped I could maintain it. I knew if I got past mile 20 with the pace group, the final 6 would be doable.
We spent the first half of the race running with several half-marathoners looking to get a time around 1:50. Good conversation was had, and I learned that pacer Ken was running his 40th marathon (or something close to it) THIS YEAR! Sheesh…and I thought I was pushing it with 10 or so in 2019. He gave words of encouragement of running together as a team and all working together to support one another during the race. He was full of positivity and a great pacer to be around.
The first half of the marathon was uneventful. Crowd support was sparse aside from at the aid stations, but with the camaraderie of the pacing group, that wasn’t a major factor to be considered. As we made our way back onto the boardwalk portion and said goodbye to the half-marathoners at their turn-around point, the course took us a bit inland along one of the main roads. At mile 17 / 18 I began to feel my pace slipping a bit. I was falling behind the pacing group slightly, and despite fueling properly and having great weather to run in, my energy level was dropping.
By mile 20 the pacing group was well ahead and I accepted the fact that there would be no PR in this race. I started to feel even more tired as my pace had really slowed down and I was even starting to mix in a few walk breaks. Mile 23 put me back onto the boardwalk and with 3 miles to go it now had started to rain. With the rain coming down and the chilly wind starting to kick in, I was grateful that this weather had held off until the last few miles of the race.
Ironically it gave me a bit of an energy boost and helped me realize that if I kicked the pace up a bit for the last couple miles, I will still be able to salvage a time under 4 hours. I started cursing and found myself neck and neck with another runner decked out in Maryland flag attire from head to toe. We talked with one another right up until crossing the finish line, giving me a time of 3:58:35. Well above my PR, but still under the 4 hour mark threshold.
I made my way through the finisher’s line, grabbed my medal, some standard post race food, and began the walk back to my truck. With no where around to really change, I dried off the best I could, wrapped myself in a towel, and began the 5 hour drive home in the rain from Atlantic City, NJ back to Winchester, VA with the heat blasting in my truck. I received a message that Caitlin’s volleyball team had won their game (yay!), and I met up with the family at the local Denny’s in Winchester for the post-race celebratory meal once I had made it back home.
Post Race Reflections and Lessons Learned
Atlantic City was personally not my favorite place to visit (my sole opinion), but the marathon itself was a good one to run and cross New Jersey off the state list. It was well organized, and aside from that gaffe at the beginning of not hearing the National Anthem, everything else was well put together. The course is mostly flat and a great choice if you are looking for a race to qualify for Boston.
My take-away from this race was I realized that any bit of extra work or mental stress during a week leading up to the race can affect you big time. If I had not spent most of the week cutting and hauling wood…and if Christie might of been able to come with me…I might have gotten that PR I was shooting for. You win some, you lose some, and I was happy to finish my 9th marathon of the year injury free.
Official Race Results
Overall: 184 out of 806
Male: 145 out of 514
Male 30-39: 49 out of 132
Photos from Race Day
This race is part of Aaron’s 50 Marathons in 50 States Challenge:
Click on a state to see a recap of that marathon.