I am so excited to write my first fitness related post! I have so many ideas for fitness articles, and inspired by the Half-Crazy Mama (who has an awesome blog reviewing all of her races), I first want to share my review of the AmeriHealth NJ Atlantic City Half Marathon.
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Since this is my first running post, I think I should back up a little. Fitness has always been an important part of my adult life. I was a college athlete, playing women’s rugby at American University. In my first years of teaching, I developed a love for running by assistant coaching a Varsity Cross Country team. Which to this day is one of the highlights of my professional career.
Fast-forward a few years to when my daughter turned one and I decided to make fitness a priority in my life. For the past four years, I’ve consistently worked out 2-5 times a week. I consider myself a runner as that is my main activity, but I do cross-train and enjoy weight lifting, bike riding, barre and strength training.
I love signing up for organized running races because I like having a goal when I train. I also think the culture of racing is fun as the events always have a good vibe, loud music and free food! For us, races have morphed into a fun, family activity. Little man will race when there is a fun-run or 1 mile course. Hubby and baby girl are always good spectators, and again, free food.
In the Northeast, the best time to race is during the spring and fall. I try to do two or three races each season. I have done 5Ks, 10Ks, 4 mile and 5 mile races. I’m always looking for new races although I have a few annual favorites. Last May, I ran my first big race, the Long Island Half-Marathon.
Running my first half was a great experience. I showed myself that despite working, I could carve out time to train. I wasn’t aiming for a specific time, I just wanted to make it thorough the 13.1 miles. It really wasn’t that bad! And I promise to share more on that soon, especially in a few weeks as folks start to sign up and train for spring races.
Honestly, if I can do a half marathon, anyone can!
After my first half, I quickly started looking into signing up for a fall race. I had this great idea to look for a race NOT in my hometown so that me and my family could make a little weekend away out of it.
You might be sensing a theme here – I love to travel!
Since my family loves visiting Atlantic City, I checked online and yes, there was a half-marathon there scheduled for October. I quickly signed up (and luckily roped my cousin into signing up with me).
AmeriHealth NJ Atlantic City Half Marathon Recap
My family had planned to drive down the Saturday before the race and stay until Monday. It was a good point in the fall to have a weekend away and the kids were super excited to go. They know Atlantic City – they love the indoor pools, the boardwalk, the Rainforest Café and trips in general. But of course the best-laid plans were thwarted by little man’s baseball playoffs being scheduled for that weekend!
So I ended up driving down by myself and meeting my cousin and his family in Atlantic City. We arrived on Saturday night, and all stayed together in a room at Bally’s Hotel and Casino. Staying at Bally’s was expensive (even with the race discount), and the room was dated, at least the ones in the “Bally’s Tower.” But the convenience of staying right at the start and finish line was worth it.
Race weekend consisted of a 5K and 10K on Saturday, and a half and full marathon on Sunday. If you ran a race on both days, you were eligible for the Neptune Challenge and three medals in total. Definitely something to consider for next year! I think I could jog out a 5K the day before a half!
Big race events like this usually have an Expo the day before and this race was no exception. The Expo was small, a few gear and local vendors, and was held Friday night and Saturday at a ballroom on the sixth floor of Bally’s. Participants in the race were also entitled to discounted self-parking at Bally’s (at a rate of $5 as opposed to $10 or $25) and a 15% discount on restaurant food at Bally’s or the neighboring Caesar’s hotel and casino. Those were nice perks!
At the Expo, I picked up our race numbers, long sleeve t-shirts and other shwag. Saturday night we all went out for a pre-race pasta meal at Angelo’s Fairmount Tavern (which is my favorite restaurant in Atlantic City, possibly the world). I was carbo-loaded, but disciplined me didn’t even drink or gamble in AC!
The race started Sunday morning at 8am. The half and full marathon courses were the same for the first 11 miles, at which point the half-marathoners turned around and headed back down the Boardwalk to the finish line at Bally’s. The marathoners kept going further down to the end of the Boardwalk and through Ventor and Margate Cities, ultimately finishing at the same spot as the other races.
Last weekend was very cold and extremely windy, so we stayed inside Bally’s casino until about 7:50. By the time we headed out, got into the corral, it was time for the National Anthem and an on-time start. I’m a big fan of races that start promptly and it was great to be able to wait inside before the race.
The first 8 miles of the race had you snaking through the streets of northwest Atlantic City. We ran behind the Borgata and past the Harrah’s and Golden Nugget casinos, which are located in the marina section. We ran parallel to the Abescon Inlet and past the King Neptune statue.
Right at the 8-mile mark, we racers ascended up onto the Boardwalk right by the now-closed Showboat Casino. The remaining five miles were a long out and back which had runners going south into Ventor City, turning around at the 11 –mile mark, and making their way 2.1 miles back to the finish line at Bally’s.
When I signed up for this race, I honestly thought it would be an easier half, as the entire race is on a barrier island, aka flat. I thought running by the water, and along the Boardwalk would be a lot of fun and nostalgic, as AC has always been a fun getaway spot for me, even as a kid. I figured the last 5 miles, running by the ocean would be really fun.
It was definitely not what I anticipated.
There were some short hills in the first 5 miles as you were running on and off highways. Right before the two mile mark there was a tunnel that was about 3 to 4 tenths of a mile in length. Running through that knocked out my RunKeeper GPS (but thankfully not my Pandora music) and subsequently I had trouble pacing. Although it’s worth noting that there were several pacers running with easy to see signs (to pace the marathoners). I passed the 4:30 marathon pacer and stayed ahead of him the entire time, so that was my best gauge. There were also timing clocks at every even mile, so that was helpful as well.
The part of this race that I found most challenging- mentally challenging- was those last 5 miles on the boardwalk. Because the end was an out and back, at mile 9, I ran past the finish line. At this point, there were runners already finishing! And I had another 40 minutes to go! To me that was such a drag.
But in the end, I was very happy with my time. I really wanted to better what I ran in my first half marathon- and I did by over a minute. I was tired after the race, and my thighs were sore, but the recovery was not too bad.
I need to work more on my pacing as I ran 6 miles under 10 minutes but then the 12th mile clocked in at 10:47 (my GPS did get messed up saying I ran mile 3 at 5:36, which clearly I did not but some of the data from the race is valid which I am glad I have).
This fall, I am hoping to get in one or two more races before it gets icy and snowy. I am looking forward to continuing to run, but also to cross train. I’m already thinking about what big race to do in the spring, and definitely open to suggestions! Half-marathons are addicting!
The Atlantic City Marathon was named the best race in New Jersey by Trip Advisor. Here is a link to their list of best marathons by state.
Read more about Atlantic City in this post, 48 Hours In… Atlantic City