Atlantic City Marathon – Running Strong — Running #LJSTRONG

Atlantic City Marathon

My Marathon Motivation –  Days prior to the race a young child, a friend of ours, lost his battle with cancer.  He would be buried on Sunday, race day.  I can’t imagine the pain of losing a young child.  Linton’s favorite color was red and it was with a heavy heart that I dedicated this race to remember Linton James #LJstrong.

The Atlantic City Marathon ranks as one of my all-time favorite races.

EXPO – Small in size but provided everything needed prior to race morning.  I’ve been to the monster size expos and after a while, you realize that you have seen it all before.  This expo was intimate and ideally located.  I found it easy talk to other runners and the race staff without fighting through a crowd.  The race staff provided daily race briefings, highlighting details of the course, answering questions while they kept the atmosphere entertaining.  The location of the expo provided plenty of parking and on-site places to eat.

RACE DAY LOGISTICS – The start and finish were held on the Boardwalk behind Bally’s casino.  There was plenty of covered parking areas available within walking distance.  I had no trouble finding a place to park, fast in and fast out after the race.  Prior to most races you often have to huddle out in the cold, here, there was plenty of indoor space for almost the entire field to keep warm (on a cold and windy morning), stretch, use the restroom, and get mentally ready to run.  I walked to the corral within 5 minutes of the starting time.

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RACE COURSE –  26.2 miles is a long way…no matter how you look at it.  The Atlantic City course offered diversity.  We ran along the Boardwalk, around the casinos, among some wonderful homes, and we ran within a small-town setting.  The course was always interesting and kept me focused on getting to the next mile marker.  Expertly marked and marshaled, I never wondered “which way do I go.”  I enjoyed the sites and the support from the local volunteers.  Finishing on the Boardwalk with the ocean on one side and the glitter and gold of Atlantic City on the other was awesome!

RACE BLING –  I really liked the 60th-Anniversary edition of the finishers medal.

NOTE: In all transparency, I was provided free entry into the Atlantic City Marathon as a race ambassador.  But my feelings and thoughts about the race have not and will not be influenced.

RACE REPORT:  I did not go into this race with a lofty goal.  After a summer of ultramarathon training for Leadville, I did not believe I had much speed in my legs.  I hoped I could run another sub-four-hour marathon to keep my streak of three sub-fours in a row alive.

I started the race on the heels of the four-hour pace group where I planned to hang out all day.  As we made our way off the Boardwalk and down Martian Luther King Blvd, the pace was perfect.  The day was cold and windy, I was happy to be tucked into the pack getting some relief from the conditions.  At mile two the race course featured a run through a tunnel towards the first of two lollipop loops on each end of the Boardwalk (upper and Lower) that make up the 26.2-mile course.  You haven’t lived until you have run through a tunnel surrounded by the echoing cheers of the marathon crowd.  The next aid station would be near the exit of the tunnel.  As I made my way out of the tunnel I was happy my race day tactics were going “as planned.”

Did I mention you should always have a backup plan?

One of the 26.2 Tips I offer to run your best MARATHON (or any race for the matter.)

At the second aid station, I somehow lost track of the pacer.  In the hustle and bustle of the water exchanges, I got separated from the pack.  To recover, I thought if I ran a steady pace, 9-minutes per mile, that eventually we would link back up and continue on to a sub-four hour finishing time.  Well, that never worked out.  Looking back I ran a bit too fast.  By mile-3 I realized I was on my own.

5k Split Time:  28:33/9:12

The upper lollipop section as I’ll call it featured a number of turns and easy to run sections which in hindsight helped me run a bit faster than sub-four hour pace.  The route weaved between Brigantine Blvd, Huron Ave, Renaissance Point Blvd, Harrah’s Blvd, Maryland Ave, Melrose Ave, New Hampshire Ave. and back onto the Boardwalk at mile 8.  This run along the northern section of the course offered wonderful views of the ocean and Atlantic City.  Accepting that I was on my own I told myself to keep my pace no slower than 9-minutes per mile.  As I made my way out of this section I glanced at my watch to ensure I was on target.

Running on a Boardwalk surface is unlike running on streets or trails.  The wooden surface offers a unique feel and the setting along the waterfront offered plenty of distractions.  For 5-miles we ran south on the Atlantic City Boardwalk with casinos, shopping, and monuments on one side and the wide-open expanse of the Atlantic Ocean on the other.  I thought I would be bored while running 5-miles due south, but the setting here kept me entertained the entire way.  If I wasn’t admiring the buildings, I was people watching taking in the collection of welcoming spectators who were braving the cold as they cheered us on.  At the halfway point of the Boardwalk, the lead pack of the half marathon crowd came racing past me.  It was fun watching them run for the win.

10k Split Time:  56:34/9:07 

At mile 13 we took a right-hand turn off the Boardwalk onto Washington Ave. and then a left onto Atlantic Ave. where we would run 3-miles out to the end of Atlantic to a 180-degree turnaround point.  After the turn, we started back along Atlantic Ave. for roughly 2-miles (miles 16 and 17), it was at this point that I caught a glimpse of the four-hour pacer making his way to the turnaround point.  I estimated that I had pulled away by a mile and a half.  Convinced I had no worse than a sub-four finish in the bag, as long as I kept up my end of the bargain, I continued to motor on.  After turns on Monroe Ave, Amherst Ave, Jerome Ave, Huntington Ave, back on to Amherst, Atlantic and the Boardwalk the unthinkable happened.  Along this stretch, making my way through the south loop, I caught and passed the 3:55 group.

Where once I was happy with a four-hour finish, where once I wanted to stay in contact with the four-hour group now I wanted to keep the 3:55 pacer behind me and if I could to pull away.  Passing the 3:55 pace group I now wondered if I could keep up a 7-mile “up-tempo” run to the finish.

Mile 17 – 8:28, Mile 18 – 8:33, Mile – 19 8:39

19 Mile Split Time:  2:49:58/8:56

The wall 8:46, Mile 21 – 8:42, Mile – 22 8:45,

My plan had always been that if I had anything left, if I had any gas left in the tank that I wanted to put the hammer down on the Boardwalk.  The final miles on the Boardwalk seemed like the perfect opportunity to make up some time.  On the comforting surface once again I found that my legs were getting very tired, they were happy to run slower but I could not get them into an upper gear.  The run up the Boardwalk began to feel like a yo-yo of endurance running.  My leg turnover would slow down, I’d glance at my watch and will my legs into a faster pace.  This faster pace would hold on for a while and I would taper off, another glance at my watch and another round of mind over tied quads.  This back and forth attack went on for two miles.  I was happy to click off mile splits between 8:37 and 9:03 .

The last mile got tough, I could see the top of the Bally’s casino and hotel but as hard as I ran it seemed to get closer.  I believed in my heart I had a good finishing time in front of me but I had not looked at the overall elapsed time function of my watch to see where I actually stood.

As my legs drew stiff, and my lungs began to burn I thought for a second it would be okay to cruise to a decent finish.  Countering this point was one important thought.  Little Linton James fought so hard, his family was in so much pain, I could not give in, I had no right to give into temporary discomfort.  I know in the big picture a PR at a marathon means nothing, but if I could finish strong, if I could finish this race #LJstrong maybe I could honor him and his life.

The run to a PR was on.

Finish Time: 3:52:28

The first person I called was my wife.  Hearing her voice on the other end of our cell phone connection I told her I had finished, I told her I had scored a PR and I told her through waining breaths that I had thought about LJ all day.  I started to cry.  I hope I carried his name in an honorable way, I hope I inspired just one person to look at life differently and maybe one person will fight just a little harder in life’s battles because of Linton James and because I ran #LJstrong for 26.2 miles.

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