The last two autumns I have run a half-marathon. It gives me something to train for and push myself during the summer months, into the cooler days of September and October. My first half was in Hershey, PA in 2011. Last year, I ran the Atlantic City half. Andrea & Will came down from New York to meet Ellen & me, we made it into a nice weekend, and I had my race. After great training, I developed a shin problem after my last training run, had trouble even walking, but ran the race in a very slow 2:17:38. I wanted to do better.
So I went through the training again, enduring the brutal humidity of the mornings, moving my long runs to the Capital Crescent Trail, and felt pretty good going into the race. I definitely have slowed my pace this past year, my age has caught up to my athletic (hah!) abilities. So Hershey’s crazy time of 2:01:44 was never in play. But I knew I could do better than last year, and was shooting for a 2:10 to 2:15 time.
Ellen and I drove up on Saturday the 12th. Like last year, we took the scenic route, so we drove over the Bay Bridge and up the DelMarVa peninsula, right up to Philadelphia before turning east to Atlantic City. We arrived around noon. We were staying again at Caesers, located just a block from the start/finish line. This year, it also housed the expo, so the first thing I did was pick up my race packet.
The kids arrived shortly thereafter. Ellen had researched that the best place to get sandwiches for lunch was the White House Sub Shop. So that was our first stop. Just a few blocks from the hotel, it is unassuming from the outside. We had to wait for a table, but it was worth it. It’s the perfect classic joint, with pictures on the wall of past celebrity visitors, cramped booths, and waitresses that look like they’ve been there forever. Ellen & Andrea had a meatball sub, Will had a cheesesteak, and I, looking for something light and carb-y, had a turkey sub. You had to order a half sub, a full sub looked like it was 16″ long!
We spent the afternoon gambling. I started out okay in blackjack, but ended up losing for the day. Everyone else played slots, Andrea & Will having a $25 credit to use from their bus trip. Net, they got paid to come from New York!
Ellen had been raving about our dinner location for awhile. She had dined at Dock’s Oyster House while at a conference a few years ago, so she knew how special it was. The rest of us would learn. Again, just a few blocks from the hotel, we walked to dinner. From the outside it didn’t look like much.
But inside, oh my! It’s a small restaurant, but the first sensation coming in was it was packed! Packed with people who seemed very comfortable, were regulars and loved the place. Our waiter, Will, greeted us as if we were friends. He helped the kids pick out oysters, allowed Ellen a sample of the champagne to see if it was dry enough. Before our appetizers came, he came by with an offer. If he took care of dessert, would we mind moving over one table? The way it was presented, of course we would, not an imposition at all. Later, the owner came by to thank us for helping them accommodate a party of 6 that turned into 8. How hard is it to be nice to your guests and show appreciation?
I forget what everyone else had, I had pecan-crusted salmon that was out of this world. The coating was slightly sweet, the salmon fresh and flaky. And then that promised dessert came. What was billed as one dessert, turned into a sampler!
We had ended up talking with the party of 8 next to us. The whole evening felt like dinner with a restaurant full of old friends. Such a great time!
So onto Sunday and race day! I woke up at 5 for my meal: banana, granola bar, applesauce. Easy to digest carbs. Then back to bed. Up again at 7. There was concern about rain, which didn’t end up being a issue. Wind was a certainty, and it did end up being a factor in the race. The conditions when I woke up.
We had noticed on Saturday that the wind was coming from the north. The half marathon course winds its way through Atlantic City for 8 miles, then hits the boardwalk. For 3 miles you run south, no problem, wind at the back. The final 2 miles turn around and head back north, into the wind. Hmmm.
For the first time, I decided to run with a pace group. It seemed like a way to hit my target time. I picked the 9:55/mile group, which is designed for a 2:10 half, although most of the group was running the full marathon. I had met the pace leader at the expo, and she was encouraging so I thought it was worth a shot. We met in line to start the race. While I thought of the pace group for time, I didn’t realize that it would end up being social. We chatted amongst ourselves during the race. I met a guy from Gaithersburg and one from Prince George’s County. One guy had just moved from New Mexico to Atlantic City. We took turns holding the pace group sign for a mile each. The impact of the group was not only hitting the pace goal, but the social aspect made me forget sometimes about where we were in the race, how many miles completed. That was a good distraction. Instead of running by myself and constantly calculating how much further to go, I was chatting with others.
The race heads off of the boardwalk, out through the nearby neighborhood, then to some of the inland casinos, and then back to the the boardwalk. I carried the pace sign for mile 8, giving it up just before we hit the boardwalk. That’s where I saw my cheerleaders!
Only 5 miles more to go at that point! The pace group was at first too slow, then about right, then too fast, then right again. All at that consistent pace! I said goodbye to them at 11 miles as they continued for the full. The last two were tough into the wind. It was probably a full 30mph at that point, but I had enough in the tank to pick up the pace. I ran a 9:47 mile 12, and then ran my fastest mile of all for mile 13, 9:22. I find it an easy race to finish, as you can see the hotels up ahead for a distance. Okay, got to make it to Trump, then to Caesers, finish at Bally. I ran strong and finished feeling good. Time? 2:09:11. Maybe could have run faster, but the pace group helped in many ways, and I was very happy to have beaten 2:10.
Great finish line food! I had a soft pretzel, a banana, Rita’s lemon ice, and a Bud Light. Normally a beer snob, I enjoyed the beer anyway. Reunited with the family at the finish line. The medal for the race not only doubles as a bottle opener, but has a blinky light house. How cool is that! http://instagram.com/p/fcfqOVMN9W/
It was a great weekend, the race went really well, and we all had a great time. Thanks go to Ellen for the dining options, they made the trip! Now, a day to recover, then training starts up again for me to complete my fall 26.2, by running the Philadelphia half next month.