Race Report: Challenge Atlantic City Half

On Sunday, I finished my third 70.3 distance race – Challenge Atlantic City. Apologies in advance for this very detailed race report. I have a lot to say about this one.

I registered for this race last October and have been looking forward to it ever since. I heard great things about the full last year and was so happy when they announced there would be a half option in 2015.

Heading into this race, I felt confident, which is out of character for me. That confidence allowed me to actually be excited to race, instead of feeling anxious. I really believed I was going to have a great race. My confidence came from knowing I had done the work, and believing 100% in my coach and my training plan. I was definitely ready to race.

In the week before the race, I thought about some of my race goals, in relation to my previous 70.3s, and came up with the following:

Ironman 70.3 Syracuse

6/22/14

Rev3 Poconos

9/14/14

Challenge Atlantic City Goals

6/28/15

Swim

46:56

46:52

as close to 40:00 as I can get

Bike

3:33:49

3:05:01

sub-3:00

Run

2:18:18

2:09:55

better than 2:09:55

Finish Time

6:47:06

6:10:44

sub-6:00

I didn’t verbalize any of these, but in my mind, this is where I wanted to be.

Pre-Race

Jon and I headed up to Atlantic City on Friday. I picked up my packet and attended the pre-race meeting. The best part of the pre-race meeting was the announcement that the start would be a rolling start, meaning we would jump into the water a few at a time, a few seconds apart, instead of a mass start. I know some triathlon purists hate rolling starts, but with my open water swim anxiety this was welcomed news.

Jon and I had some time to gamble and get dinner and then we headed back to the room. We stayed at the race’s host hotel – Bally’s – and there were a number of issues, including two big items. First, we were given a smoking room, despite asking for non-smoking. We were able to get this switched, but it was a hassle with all of the luggage. Second, the elevators at the hotel were broken, which was a huge headache, especially bringing in all of the luggage from the car, which took several trips. If I ever come back to Atlantic City, I will stay at a different hotel. If you are planning to do the race in 2016, I would recommend looking for a room at Caesar’s, since that is connected to Bally’s, but is a much nicer hotel. The Tropicana would also be another option, although that would be a longer walk to athlete check-in, the expo, and the mandatory pre-race meeting (which all take place at Bally’s). 

In any case, when we got back to our room after dinner, I finally went through my race packet, only to discover that I was given the wrong tattoos. Instead of my race age (35), I was given a “46” tattoo that corresponded with my bib number (1046). It turns out that several people were given the wrong age group tattoos and the race organizers ran out of extras, so we were told to get a Sharpie to write our age on our legs, in lieu of using tattoos. This was one of several logistical hiccups at this race. Luckily, I was able to purchase a Sharpie at the hotel gift shop.

[On a side note, while I’m writing about the tattoo snafu, the athlete guide also lacked a detailed description of where to apply your race number tattoos (other than the age tattoo). This led to several posts on the event’s Facebook page asking questions about tattoo placement. The athlete guide also failed to provide the exact location of the race day shuttle bus pick-up at the casino. A more detailed athlete guide would be helpful for next year. I know this is a second-year race and they are still working some kinks out, but hopefully these things will be improved in future years. The race organizers indicated (quite admirably) that they want honest feedback, so that they can make improvements for next year’s race.]

On Saturday, I woke up early and practiced making my pre-race breakfast in the room, using my new electric kettle. Then I went to Bader Field, where transition was set up, for the practice swim in the Back Bay. We were told the water temp was 78.5 and it felt great. I wore my new Roka swim skin and that felt great as well. I did two loops of the practice course (this wasn’t the race course, but just a small area set up for the practice swim) and I felt like a million bucks. 

At the practice swim.

IMG_3270

I did a short ride and run and then went back to the hotel. Unfortunately, the practice swim was from 7:00-9:00 a.m., but we couldn’t check in our bikes until 11:00, so this meant two trips back and forth from the hotel to the transition area at Bader Field. That’s another thing I hope they change in future years.

I checked in my bike Saturday afternoon. Jon and I gambled a bit more, had a nice dinner, and then I went back to the room to lay out all of my stuff for race morning. I set my alarm for 3:15 a.m. and got into bed.

A terrible storm rolled through Saturday night and transition was pummeled with wind and rain. All of the porta potties blew over and there was, apparently, a lot of debris along the bike course. Bader Field flooded from all of the rain. I wasn’t sure exactly what the impact would be on race morning, but I did anticipate that this could have an effect on the race.

A view of the rain and wind on Saturday night from inside the casino.

IMG_3280

Race Morning

Since I wasn’t sure about the shuttle pick-up location, I decided to drive to Bader Field. The field was in poor condition because of the flooding, but at least the rain had stopped for us to get set up in transition. I filled my tires with air, filled my bottles, laid out my bike and run gear, and had a small snack.

Swim

They announced that with the rain the prior night, the water temp had plummeted to 74.1 and the race would be wetsuit legal. In other words, totally different conditions than my practice swim the day before in my swim skin in much warmer water. I was not happy, but what can you do? (I know that as a weaker swimmer, I should have been thrilled, but I’m convinced my wetsuit doesn’t fit me right. It’s not comfortable at all and really pulls on my chest and neck.)

In any case, I really wanted to try to have a good swim at this race. Usually, my goal is just to get through the swim to get to the fun stuff, but this time I really wanted to try to think about having strong arms and keeping my head down, and try for a good time.

The race started a bit late because of the storms. This was totally understandable and I have to give credit to the race organizers for keeping us informed throughout the morning about the adjusted start times and what was causing the delay (they allowed us extra time in transition, which was nice, too). Once they announced we were starting the rolling swim start, I tried to line up toward the front of the line, thinking that meant less people to pass on the bike.

I jumped into the water and started swimming okay, but as usual, a few seconds in, I started to feel like I couldn’t really breathe. I fought the urge to stop and tread water and just thought through some of Alyssa’s open water swim tips in my head. It was really hard, but after a few minutes I did start to feel better. No stops during this swim is a big step forward for me. Alyssa somehow always knows what is going on in my head and what I need to do to overcome any negative feelings and this proved true yet again.

I did notice that the current was pushing me off course as I approached the first set of turn buoys. This was really disheartening, since I really was focused on my improving my time, but I told myself going into the race that I wasn’t going to be upset when little things went wrong and I tried to put the extra distance out of my mind.

I got a bit tripped up – literally – on the ropes holding down the turn buoy as I tried to make my turn. So mortifying! I’m sure the people behind me were thinking I was a disaster, but I eventually got over them and kept on my way.

On the long straightaway, the group broke up a bit, which was great for me. During that section, I felt like I was able to really focus on swimming and not watching out for other competitors.

Despite having completed a 2 mile swim just over a month ago, I started thinking 1.2 miles was feeling really long, which is never a good sign, but I kept plugging away.

At the next set of turn buoys, I got stuck in the ropes AGAIN (OMG!) and then was fighting some bad some current to make it to the swim exit. That last little bit felt like it was taking FOREVER and I was definitely drinking some water from the chop coming up as I breathed.

When I finally got out of the water, I looked down at my Garmin and it said 44 – something. My heart sank. I was SUPER bummed. I had really wanted to be closer to 40 minutes. After the fact, I discovered that a lot of the swim times were slow because of the current and I actually was 14/39 in my age group for the swim. This is great for me, since prior to this year, I have always been at the very back of the pack for the swim. But, I didn’t know that at the time and the disappointing swim time really stuck with me throughout the day. I guess the lesson here is that you never know what time is a “good time” on any given course and shouldn’t get too focused purely on the numbers.

Swim Stats: 44:42 (2:19/100 m), 14/39 AG

Bike

I definitely underestimated the difficulty of this course. It’s a flat course, which I thought meant “easy,” but in truth, that meant pedaling the ENTIRE time. No coasting, no free speed on the downhills. Just pedal, pedal, pedal. I was aero almost the entire time and that caused a lot a physical pain for me (the story of my bike saddle woes is a story for another day). I don’t have much to say about the bike, really. Some people have said they really liked the bike course, but I found it a bit bland, if I’m being honest. There wasn’t much in terms of scenery, as compared with the previous two 70.3 distance races I have completed (Syracuse and Poconos). LOTS of people got flats because of the storm debris along the side of the road. Thank goodness for my flat-resistant tires!

The big issue I had was that the course was over 58 miles long, which was SUPER disappointing because I had really wanted to try to go sub-3:00 on the bike. There seems to be some dispute about what the issue was here – whether the race organizers knew the course was long and never disclosed it, or whether we were misdirected on course – but the bottom line is that neither of those are acceptable excuses. The IM Chattanooga bike course is long, but as an athlete, you know that going into the race. Here, we were all just wondering what the heck was going on as our Garmins showed more and more mileage adding up. My Garmin ended up recording a 3:09:57 for 58.17 miles (18.4 mph pace).

Bike Stats: 3:10:33 (18.26 mph for 58 miles, although I think the course was even longer than that), 9/39 AG

Run

With the saddle issues on the bike, I was honestly not sure I would be able to run. I figured I would give it a go and do the best I could. I racked my bike and decided that with the cooler temperatures, I wouldn’t carry my own fluids for the half marathon.

From transition, we had a short run to get on the boardwalk, where the majority of the run would take place, amongst oblivious tourists. When I got out on the boardwalk and the sun came out, it did start to feel a bit warmer than I had anticipated. Since I did not carry any fluids with me, I knew I was going to have to make sure I was drinking a lot at the aid stations. I also kept wondering whether I would see Jon. Since the race started late and the bike was long, I was running over an hour behind when I told him I thought I would be starting the run. I thought maybe he went to the finish to wait for me and I wouldn’t see him along the course. I think both of those thoughts distracted me from the actual run, because although I didn’t feel like I was running fast, my Garmin was showing fast miles ticking off one after the other. Up until about mile 8, I was actually on pace for a sub 2:00 half, much to my surprise and delight!

To keep the run on the boardwalk, they had us running back and forth on some sections several times, which made the run feel REALLY long. While I liked running on the boardwalk, I didn’t like running back and forth like this. There was also a section (around 9.5) where there was no one directing us at all to a turn-around point marked with tape on the boardwalk. Thankfully, I was running next to a guy who said he had seen the tape earlier in the run, so he knew we were going the right way. I hope next year they have someone directing traffic a bit better there. I can imagine someone cutting that portion of the course (intentionally or unintentionally) and it could easily be remedied by placing a volunteer at the turn and better signage leading up to that turnaround (so that folks know they are correctly following the course).

Along the boardwalk, the tourists were a mess. They would walk right in front of you without even looking – and not just kids, adults, too. At the beginning this was a bit charming, but as time went on, it became less so. 

I did end up seeing Jon several times, which was one nice thing about running back and forth so many times, and he said my pace was great. I knew I was slowing down toward the end, but I really tried to keep pushing to stay as close to 2:00 as I could.

Jon snapped this pic of me running along the boardwalk.

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I crossed the line in 2:02 and change, THRILLED with my run time. I got my race medal (the race medals are GORGEOUS) and an ice cold towel, which was AMAZING!

Crossing the finish line.

CAAD0599

Run Stats: 2:02:16 (9:20 min/mile), 7/39 AG

Finish: 6:03:42, 8/39 AG

Ironman 70.3 Syracuse

6/22/14

Rev3 Poconos

9/14/14

Challenge Atlantic City 

6/28/15

Swim

46:56

46:52

44:42

Bike

3:33:49

3:05:01

3:10:33 (*58+ miles)

Run

2:18:18

2:09:55

2:02:16

Finish Time

6:47:06

6:10:44

6:03:42

I’m super happy with my day. I cannot thank Alyssa enough for getting me here. Even one year ago, I could never have imagined finishing 8/39 in my age group at a 70.3. We work our asses off on Team HPB, but that’s what makes someone like me – a back of the packer – transform into an athlete who can run a 2:02 half marathon after four hours of swim/bike. I would have never imagined I could do that. “Work works,” as they say!

Thank you MooMotion for my beautiful kit. Jon said it was great for spotting me in the crowd throughout the day. I also want to thank the awesome volunteers and law enforcement personnel who took care of us on race day, Oiselle, Bobo’s Oat Bars for fueling all of my training, and Machine M3 for helping me with my strength this year. 

As for the race itself, I’m not sure I will be back. I really wanted to love this race, since I want to support non-WTC brands, it’s within driving distance from my home, and Atlantic City provides entertainment options outside of the race (which makes it a nice trip for my husband, too). But, I didn’t like the bike or run courses and frankly, all of the little logistical issues really added up for me. I have also heard reports of other issues that didn’t affect my race, but impacted others, such as aid stations packing up before all athletes had finished the full, no finish line food for aqua-bike participants, an insufficient number of finisher’s medals, etc. There were no contingency plans for parking in Bader Field and it was basically a mud pit after the storms went through. We were able to get our car out, but lots of folks got stuck. I certainly don’t expect perfection, but several of these things could have been planned for and I hope they will be addressed for next year. The race organizers have repeatedly indicated that they want to improve the race and I have no reason to doubt that is genuine.

In any case, I had a great race and enjoyed an extra day in Atlantic City with my husband, which was a nice treat for us. The long weekend getaway was a much needed break.

Now, it’s back to work. I am off to Team HPB tri camp tomorrow!

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8 thoughts on “Race Report: Challenge Atlantic City Half

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