The Atlantic City April Fool’s Half was my big race for the spring this year, since I only race one or two halfs a year – Lucky Half #13! Training had been okay: pace-wise, fine, but mentally tougher than usual, but that is a whole other post. Alas, RACE WEEKEND was here…. but was busier than planned: I work at a university, and our open house has been the first Saturday in April for the last 9 years that I’ve worked here, so I planned my half around that assumption. Year 10? Nope. Open house was the Saturday before my race this year, which meant instead of relaxing and limiting my steps, I’d be on my feet all day long the day prior. This was disappointing, but in all honestly, I wasn’t going into this half thinking it would be a PR or anything like that, so I let it go. I kept my water and snacks with me all day, and at least tried to get that part right!
Then, after the open house, my niece’s 2nd birthday party had been rescheduled twice… so I ended up there, as well, instead of home with my feet up. Kind of a comedy of pre-race errors, but life is life, right?
What’s better? A crappy forecast. Saturday had been absolutely gorgeous – 80 up by me, but apparently a beautiful 60 degrees down in Atlantic City, which is about 2 hours south. Perfect race weather, of course. Sunday, race day? Nope. Rain, wind, and back down to 40 degrees. My best friend and I were commiserating ALL week long, and just hoping it wouldn’t be a complete downpour and misery.
With that preface, we woke up Sunday morning to a cold misty morning, so onward we went. My little Mini Cooper was stuffed to the brim with outfit options: all the sweatshirts and raincoats and socks and who knows what else! We live about two hours north of AC, so we were up at 3 and out the door by 4:15AM to arrive in plenty of time for race-day packet pickup between 6-7am. I am an early bird, being late to things makes me nervous – so there we were.
The ride down was smooth sailing, that misty rain continuing the entire way. When we stepped out of the car in the parking deck (YAY Free parking in the casino!), it was cooler than at home, of course. The parking and packet pick up were super easy (but there were NO signs pointing us to where they were set up, really weird). I loved being inside the casino the whole time: lots of bathrooms and warm dry places to hang out. With the cool weather outside, definitely a bonus.
When we first arrived, they had set up the finisher balloon thingy, but by the time we started, it had been taken down. Why? Oh, because the winds were insane. As it turns out, 30MPH winds were going to be a “thing” as well. Yay!
The race got started pretty promptly. It was a nice sized crowd, not too big to need corrals but also not teeny weeny where I’d be afraid to be completely alone the entire time. I was happy to see some brave souls in some costumes along the way as well! That, to a back of the packer like me, meant that not everyone was going to be a speed demon, and there would be other slowskis like me.
Upon starting, my bff stuck with me, but immediately had to use the restroom! Soooo we ducked into Bally’s at 0.5 miles on the boardwalk. I purposely stopped my Garmin to see the difference between my official time and actual running time, which ended up being about three minutes difference by the time we figured out where the restroom was and got our already-a-little-wet capris back up! We got back in the race by walkers, but quickly caught back up to where we’d been. How did we know? Well, there was an awesome pirate couple where we’d left off! We ended up staying near them for the first half of the race. My BFF, who is quicker than I am, stuck with me the entire first half of the race. She absolutely could have gone faster, but was nervous! None the less, I enjoyed the company.
The course itself was actually shorter on the boardwalk than I had expected. I felt like the race map made the boardwalk seem longer and the road sections look shorter, visually.
The course itself was lovely. You’ll see at the end my Garmin recorded a lovely gain of 2 – that’s my kind of race!! I was a little shaky on the boardwalk since it was a little uneven at some places, and I don’t lift my feet as high as I should (shuffler), but I got used to it. It was an out and back, so I enjoyed seeing the fasties coming back as we neared the middle of the race. I was also so grateful for the brave souls who came out to cheer, and the bands and volunteers along the way! It must have been absolutely miserable for them.
On the way out, we were already kind of wet but not too cold. We didn’t really know it yet, except when it would really gust up, but the wind was at our backs. On the boards, the big buildings kind of blocked some of the whipping wind. At about mile 5ish we started to see the first folks coming back at us (#backofthepacklife), and they all looked like they were crying/wincing. My BFF and I thought – no way it can be that bad, they’re just working really hard! Then as more and more people came through on the way back, they all had the same miserable look: pain, wind-tears, working hard. It was then that we realized that the wind would be no joke in the second half.
Just before the halfway mark, my BFF took off and finally started running a pace more representative of her fitness/ability. We slapped hands and she said “YOU FEEL IT AS SOON AS YOU TURN AROUND.” Yep. No joke. The wind was in your face, constant and strong. It blew the misty rain into your face and made it feel like you were running dragging weights. I was incredibly thankful I’d chosen a raincoat and a hat. My raincoat was very wet but I wasn’t, and my hat allowed me to tuck my chin in and have the rain not hit my eyes/face directly.
The second half of the race was a struggle mostly because of the wind. I was picking people off left and right, as folks started walking around mile 7ish, so that felt good. People I’d been looking at the backs of were now people I was passing as they were getting gassed, and I was able to keep moving.
However, the pace I felt like I was moving was not my actual pace.
I felt good, in that my legs were going, and I really felt like I was putting in a harder effort than I had the first half, where my splits were in the mid-12s mostly (minus a mile 4 portopotty break) – BUT my second half splits were all at least a minute slower. Thank you, wind.
Sadly, this is one of only TWO half marathons that I’ve run at a slower average pace than my training runs. I am usually really good at pushing on race day, leaving it all out there, and finishing with better paces than I train at. Not today. This was disappointing to me, but I know that the weather was a big factor. The only other time this happened to me was an unseasonably hot day in April (like 80) in, I think, 2014. So, I am well aware that this is less my fitness and more weather. None the less, it does make me want to maybe think about a Fall half or at least redeem myself next spring.
My final time was 2:53 officially – my Garmin time with the bathroom stop at 0.5 was three minutes faster. NBD either way. My BFF crushed the second half and finished 15 minutes ahead of me, after running the entire first half WITH me. #Beastmode for sure!
In all honesty, I wasn’t miserably cold and wet the entire race, even though it turns out I was quite cold and quite wet – as long as I kept moving, my temp stayed up nicely and I’d dressed perfectly for the day. Once I stopped moving and got my super cute medal, I realized how wet and cold I actually was, and promptly got my buns to bag check and into a casino bathroom to change.
Overall, the weather sucked but I’d completely do this race again. My apologies for the lack of course photos, as my phone was plastic-baggied for the entire race. The course was lovely, it was a nice size race, with a good spread of abilities, and as a back of the packer, I was not completely alone at any point: I could always at least see another runner in front of me! The aid stations were plentiful, and very well-stocked even at the back, and there were port-a-potties quite often. Waiting to start the race and the end of the race were AWESOME, because of the warm casinos, clean bathrooms, and ample bars.
Added bonuses: the race shirt is incredibly soft and cute, and the medal is larger than I expected! Also, this race was affordable! About $65 when I signed up and they were running specials all the way up to nearly race day for good prices as well.
The only detriment is that AC is 2 hours away from me, so we essentially drove 4 hours in a day, to run for 3 hours. I think next time we’d make a weekend of it and stay over Saturday night, which would be a FAR better wake-up time on race day, as well as a fun little night out with a nice dinner or something like that. I’ll definitely be back for another round in a few years.
Oh, and then I went home and fell asleep at 6PM for 12 glorious hours of sleep before work Monday.