Monday, March 27, 2017

Race Report: Atlantic City 10K and Marathon

This was an opportunity to get New Jersey off of my list of national anthem states as well as for marathons.  The city has had a lot of ups and downs, and more recently, a lot of downs due to the casino industry tanking.  With it being so close to New York City, I was able to take a New Jersey Transit bus direct from Port Authority in Manhattan to the Atlantic City Bus Terminal, a roughly 2 1/2 hour long trip.

Upon arrival at Port Authority, there were lines for every bus, seemingly typical for 6pm on a Friday night.  I was able to get on a bus pretty quickly and settled in for the trip, stopping into Toms River to drop off most of our passengers, before heading to our final stop, a very foggy Atlantic City.

The bus terminal in Atlantic City is right in the center of town, and right next to a strip of outlet shops, and the place I elected to stay at for the night - a house/hostel of sorts I booked through Airbnb was about a mile away.  It was daringly stupid, but I walked under the night sky to my Airbnb, and accessed the house with the directions my host had given me.  It was several rooms, and the room I had had three beds - but lucky me, nobody had booked the hostel for the evening.  After settling in, I headed up the street to the Tropicana Hotel to grab some dinner at Cuba Libre before turning in.

Start of the 5k and 10k on Saturday

Absolutely THRILLED to be running in the rain.

Wet.  But finished.
The next morning was wet and pretty chilly - I headed to Bally's to pick up my bib for the 10K, and then headed downstairs to join the others at the startline who were attempting the 5K or 10K in the cold and pouring rain.  The course was entirely on the boardwalk -- from our start we would head out to a turnaround point in Ventnor City (the 5K runners just short of the unmarked Ventnor City/Atlantic City boundary).  It literally POURED the entire time.  But I got my first race of the day finished, I warmed up back in the casino, before heading back to my Airbnb for a shower and to pack up my stuff.  In the afternoon, I went back to Bally's to grab lunch (Bucca di Beppo, yum!) and walk around the expo.  Later that afternoon, Seth would arrive from Delaware, where he had run his 100th marathon, and I met up with him in his rental car at the porte-cochère of Bally's, where he would drop off fellow runner Alexis, before we would head off to the hotel that he booked for the night in Vineland, NJ.

Wet returns along the oceanside...

The Tropicana is wishing us good luck.
Photo by the Press of Atlantic City
(Viviana Pernot, Staff Photographer)
Turns out, the hotel was further away than he initially thought, but he got it at a pretty reduced rate.  We settled in and found a Yelp-recommended Vietnamese restaurant in an unassuming location inside a nearby mall, before turning in for the night, since we were going to get up a little earlier the next morning to get ourselves to the startline the next day for the race.

On Sunday, we got up early to drive into Atlantic City, parking the car at Bally's, and warming up inside the casino.  It was a brisk morning, but sunny, a far cry from the rainy morning the day before. Nevertheless, the wind still made for a chilly start, but everyone was raring to go, as we all lined up at the startline, and I prepared with the microphone to sing the Star Spangled Banner after some remarks from Atlantic City mayor, Don Guardian.

What a difference one day
makes in weather...
At 8am, we were off - some 2,000 runners running both the half and full marathons.  Runners of both the 13.1 and 26.2 mile distances ran together for the first 11 miles.  We began in the same place as the day before, on the boardwalk at Bally's, where we would run for about 1/4 mile, and then immediately go off of it to the city streets, making a left turn onto Martin Luther King Boulevard. The first three miles of the race have some small hills, mainly because it goes up and down on onramps, offramps, and through a tunnel.  After about a half a mile on this road, we took a slight left onto Bacharach Boulevard, a rather dumpy looking street, which abutted the backside of the Atlantic City Convention Center, before we took our first negligible "hill," an onramp onto the Atlantic City-Brigantine Connector, which ran adjacent to the Beach Thorofare (Intracostal Waterway) before dipping into a tunnel underneath Horace Bryant Park.  We then followed the connector up to Brigantine Boulevard.

Running toward the Marina District
Oh hey, Borgata.
Here's where I ran into friends a frequent marathon pacers, Ken and Calix Fattmann, who were pacing the 5:00 and 4:55 pace groups, respectively.  Notably, Calix is 15 years old, with (at the time) 50 marathons under his belt, and 178 half marathons completed, too.  I ran alongside them for some time, as we made our way back onto a stretch of highway, following Huron Avenue to a circular counterclockwise leftward uphill, making our way up to Renaissance Point Boulevard, the road that skirts the property of the famed Borgata Casino, shimmering and golden reflecting the morning sun.  We were now in the Marina District of Atlantic City, an isolated area of casinos that started in the 1980's, offering a separate, but just as luxurious set of entertainment options away from the hustle and bustle of the boardwalk.  Not only is the Borgata there, but also the Golden Nugget and the Harrah's flagship casino.  There were also "Turtle Crossing" signs along the road - but no turtles to be seen.  Somewhere as we came around near Harrah's I ended up losing my NYC Marathon gloves that I had tied the fingers together (my hands were overheating and starting to sweat) and looped around my fanny pack.
A view of the eastern stretch of the Boardwalk, from the Marina District

Turtle Crossing signs, behind the Borgata.  (Photo by Seth Kramer)
Maryland Ave, DO AC water tower.
We came around to Brigantine Boulevard and encountered the strongest wind up to this point of the race, practically blowing us sideways as we passed the Golden Nugget.  We quickly passed by the marina before taking Maryland Avenue for the next 0.6 miles, passing by the "DO AC" water tower.  We rounded the short corner around Absecon Boulevard before heading eastward (generally) along Melrose Avenue, and then a gaggle of folks cheering us on at the corner of Melrose and New Hampshire Avenues. Here, we'd take an out-and-back to the end of New Hampshire Avenue, just short of Atlantic City's famous Neptune statue.  We'd head back down New Hampshire Avenue, taking it back toward the boardwalk by way of Atlantic Avenue and New Jersey Avenue.  It was at about mile 8 of the race, when we returned to the boardwalk, and I met the effervescent Derek, wearing some flashy spandex!

Bagpipes along the New Hampshire Ave out-and-back

King Neptune, presiding over New Hampshire Avenue.

Approaching the Boardwalk from New Jersey Avenue.
Derek, and his flashy spandex!
Back along the Boardwalk.
From then on, it's essentially super flat the entire remainder of the race, with only the minor rise and fall when we came on and off the boardwalk.  We'd pass practically all of the main boardwalk hotels/casinos: the newly reopened Showboat Atlantic City, the recently made dormant Trump Taj Mahal, the Resorts Casino, and of course, Ballys... our startline.  Boy was it tough seeing people finishing their race as we passed the finish mat at Bally's.  The half marathoners would continue on for another three miles, making a turnaround just after mile 11 to return to the finish line.

Lucy the Elephant!
However, us marathoners continued along the boardwalk for another mile before we were led off onto Atlantic Avenue from Cornwall Street, where we'd go on a 3-mile long out-and-back, with a short section on the boardwalk, which we did twice; this section runs through the three other cities on Absecon Island - Ventnor, Margate, and Longport. It was a little confusing at times, when seeing the much faster marathoners pass me on their second loop around... and it could end up getting a little boring, too, other than the famous Lucy the Elephant statue in Margate City (literally, a six-story elephant made of wood and tin sheeting) that has graced this stretch of the avenue for 135 years.  And notably, this weekend it was super windy, so there can be a nasty windtunnel effect on some stretches of this part of the course, which happened quite a few times, especially near the turnaround point at Longport.  It was nice though, to be able to see familiar faces over the two loops, with other folks who knew there were still many more miles ahead of us to go - those included both Calix and Ken, shortly after the turnarounds; Derek in his dynamic spandex; as well as this guy dressed in a hot dog costume, who I'd loudly exclaim "hawt dawg!" to everytime I'd see him, and give him a high five.  I ended up finding him at the end, too.

Atlantic City's famous Steel Pier.

Recently closed Trump Taj Mahal.  Good job, there, with all the job losses, #45.


Coming across the line!
(Photo: Seth Kramer)
Miles 23 to the finish were back on the boardwalk to return to Bally's. Notably, the boardwalk has a little more spring to it, so it feels a WHOLE lot better on your knees after running so much distance than on asphalt. I was kicking it into high gear as I got back onto the boardwalk, making my way to the finish line, and ensuring the both Calix and Ken were behind me, finishing in 4:54:08!

First view of the beach from the Boardwalk.
The long loop we had to do twice, running through three adjacent cities.
On our second loop of the boardwalk.  Mile 23!
Making my way back into AC and to the finish.
This is how you celebrate your finish.
With the Hot Dog guy.

Bling 'n' finish selfie.
All in all, it was a good race, despite the cold and the wind.  And uniquely, despite all that wind, there were several butterflies making appearances during the race - I saw them multiple times while along the boardwalk! Yes, there were some strange loops and course areas, but it helped that there were lots of water stops along the course.  There were a decent amount of port-a-potties on the half course, but it peters out on the marathon course, mainly because of the out-and-back. Very few port-a-potties were located on the boardwalk, though.  Occasionally,   crowd support could be found along the roads and on the boardwalk. It is off season though, so it's not as crowded as it *could* be. Note that it can be a bit more crowded toward the finish line, and there are a decent amount of folks not paying attention to the fact that a race is going on.
Butterflies on the boardwalk...
With AC Race Series Race Director Genia Bittner
Staking out my headstand spot...
The statue's hands are GINORMOUS.
#victoryheadstand ACCOMPLISHED.
Bling haul!
If you're looking for a good New Jersey race, this one's a good one, especially in a city with so much history with the gambling and entertainment industry.  It's the third oldest marathon in America, this year celebrating it's 58th year. However, it's a smaller field, than other New Jersey races - just over 1000 half marathon finishers and about 620 marathon finishers. Remember, October is a HUGE race month, so there's a lot of races competing for runners out there.  But all in all, I had a great time, and not only did I get to check off New Jersey as a marathon state, I also got an anthem in!
Official race photo, crossing the finish.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Race Report: 2016 Rock 'n' Roll St. Louis Half Marathon

At the Baltimore airport, I met up with Donna and Kim, who were also waiting to board the Southwest Airlines flight to St. Louis.  We had just finished the Baltimore Running Festival that morning - Donna and I running the full, and Kim the half.  Kim had an earlier boarding number, so upon arriving on the plane she staked out three seats next to each other for the three of us to sit together on the just under two hour flight.  We arrived in St. Louis extremely exhausted, and took the shuttle to the parking lot where Kim's car was kept for the weekend. Kim took us back to her house in Florissant, where we, as best as we could, turned in for the night, in between eating some delicious St. Louis-style pizza (OMG, who knew that there was such a thing... it's a thin crust pizza that uses a processed white cheese called Provel, and it was so good!) and preparing signs for the race the next morning.

Donna and Kim had decided to not partake in the race, but instead make it a cheering day on Sunday, as it was a really big race for a couple of our friends.  Jann and Mike Carlson have been hard at work running half marathons in all fifty states, and they planned it out well in advance to make the Rock 'n' Roll St. Louis Half Marathon and Missouri their 50th state.  I had informed them that I was doing the Baltimore Marathon, so I wasn't going to be able to make their finish... but as per usual, I deceived them, and I decided to make the trip, too, and they had no clue I was going to be there! Additionally, a few months before this weekend, I also reached out to the event manager for the race and was successfully able to get the opportunity to sing the national anthem at the start of the race.

So that I did, and early on Sunday morning, the three of us made our way to the start line, I going straight to the Solutions tent to retrieve my bib, and then make my way to the start area to "hide out" while Donna and Kim kept the Carlsons distracted.  In fact, the Carlsons had actually made their way to the start line for some photos and had every opportunity to discover me hiding there, but I stayed out of their line of sight!  It wasn't until I was introduced and I sang the first few notes of the national anthem that they realized I was there.  I succeeded in keeping my big secret from them!  My friend Dana stuck around near the start to take my phone and take video of my performance:

Me with 50th state finisher, Jann!
After singing the national anthem, we headed toward the corral I was told everyone was congregating, and found Jann with tears in her eyes, completely surprised that I had come to St. Louis to be there for her and Mike's monumental running milestone.  Together, the group of us crossed the start line, and I ran the first 1.5 miles with them, complete with my UE Boom speaker, which I brought with me to entertain fellow runners during the race as an unofficial "party rocker" like I had done for several races in 2015.

I last raced the Rock 'n' Roll St. Louis Half Marathon in 2014, when at the time, I was terrified of running it so soon after my first marathon - only a week after Chicago. I actually did quite well, running a 2:05 half, enough to be only a couple minutes off of my PR at the time, which was surprising.  But that became the start of my craziness, eventually running several more half marathons, including my first "double" half marathon weekend in November 2014, and finishing that first year of distance running out with 14 half marathons and my first full marathon.

Sunrise, with the Gateway Arch just after the startline

Heading up 14th Street to Delmar Boulevard
Passing by the historic home of ragtime composer Scott Joplin,
where he composed "The Entertainer"
Running by the City Museum
The course layout was not much different than it was in 2014, with differences in the turns early on near the St. Louis Cardinals' Busch Stadium (instead of turning onto Walnut Street from Broadway and heading up N. 7th Street to Locust Street, then taking that westward to 19th Street, up to Delmar Blvd - which was the route in 2014 - we continued on Broadway northward, and then turned left onto Olive St, which we took westward to 14th Street up to Delmar Blvd, and then later on after the 3 mile mark, removing the dogleg onto Samuel Shepard Drive) and near the end (where instead of heading straight north from Russell Blvd onto Mississippi Avenue, we continued onto Russell Blvd one block to 18th Street, and took that curved road up to Mississippi Avenue).

Running westward as the 10K runners are heading back downtown to their finish

Early on, I knew this was going to be a very "take it easy" kind of race, since I was pretty tired still from the marathon I had ran the day before. My splits stayed above 11 minutes a mile after the first mile, which was fine by me, as long as I got a chance to just enjoy the day.  In the end, it's all about crossing that finish line.

Check it out, it's the Fabulous Fox Theatre!

Up the half mile long hill at Laclede Avenue, as the arch comes into view
Being sassy next to a gay
bar in Tower Grove (like you do...)
Highlights during the race included running by Scott Joplin's boyhood home and past the Fabulous Fox Theatre, and memorably though difficultly climbing the nasty hill at Laclede Avenue.  Donna and Kim, with the signs we had so painstakingly put together the night before, were positioned twice along the course, too!  As we went under I-64, and headed up Grand Avenue into the Tower Grove neighborhood of St. Louis, I ran into an a cappella friend, Emily, easily crushing her 19th lifetime half marathon (and 11th this year!) on her 26th birthday.  Somehow, I think seeing my constant running and travelling posts on Facebook may have rubbed off on her... just a tiny bit.

Also running through Tower Grove, I came upon some fellow Black Sheep Run friends, including Christina, deep into a Facebook Live video (yaasssss for video-bombing, as I strutted through St. Louis' gayborhood!) and De Moe and John, who decided to play a game of towel whipping with each other... which I politely declined to participate in and decidedly sprinted away from!  We continued on through Shaw and Compton Heights, seeing some magnificent large houses, all while strolling along the way.

Towel whipping Black Sheep friends! 

Running along Magnolia Avenue in Shaw alongside Tower Grove Park

Just a smattering of the beautiful homes through tony Compton Heights

I drink during races.  :-p
The race was easily one of my slowest half marathons, clocking in at 2:56:21, but it didn't matter to me - it was warm out there, and damn it, I ran a full marathon the day before!  I had fun, taking a full can of beer from spectators along the course, and posing for pictures with others holding some awesome posters! I awaited Jann and Mike at the end of the race, cheering them in as they finished their 50th state.  The day wasn't without its emotion - Jann was pretty dehydrated by the time they got to the finish and had to spend some time in the medical tent cooling down.  But as soon as they were able to, I proudly got my headstand photo with these two awesome celebrants near the finish line. stay behind me.

After having a beer with my Black Sheep Run friends who stuck around the finish line festival, I headed over to Bailey's Range to have a much needed burger and alcoholic shake, followed by a trip to Hooters, as this was a fitting finish venue to celebrate the Carlsons.  Mike LOVES Hooters, and in their travels all around the US, they've attempted to visit Hooters or Hooters equivalents in all fifty states!

The trees definitely make this shot.  10.5 miles in...
LOL.  Dedicated to Donna.

Downtown STL back in view....

Crossing the 12th St Railyard of the Union Pacific Railroad.

Union Station
The afternoon passed quickly, and after showers and repacking my bag at Kim's house, Kim took Donna and I back to the airport for our flights back to New York... and another 39.3 mile weekend was complete!

Victory Headstand #1, with the 50 State finishers, Jann and Mike!

Victory Headstand #2... because you HAVE to have the arch in the shot when in St. Louis...

Bling and bibs