We are pleased to feature this race report from Tim Byrne, who completed his first half-marathon at the Atlantic City Half Marathon, on October 13, 2013. Tim joined No Limits at the end of the summer, and his ultimate goal is to complete Ironman Lake Placid in 2015. Next season, he’ll complete his first half-iron distance triathlon, and a full marathon as part of his Ironman journey.
In high school and college the longest endurance-related workout I had to do was a 1 mile warm up at track practice. I never competed in anything longer than 800m, and that was only because the worst kid on the 4×800 relay team did not show up to the meet that day; and for me, the 800m was way too long. My best event was the 200. The Atlantic City half marathon (my first 13.1) was an important step in my progression, from my first 5K in March 2013 to IMLP 2015, and I had to work my butt off to make it happen.
I came down with a slight cold approximately 1 week before the race, but Maria said it was equivalent to starting my tapering a few days earlier than originally planned. It was the right call – the morning of the race I was filled with energy, combining the 7+ days of tapering with the proper nutrition plan I had been given. However, what was not according to our plan was the sustained 25mph winds from the lingering Nor’easter. I knew something was strange when I was awoken the morning of the race not by my alarm clock, but by the sound of my screen door blowing off its rails.
I was happy to have survived with my sanity from tapering the week before – I was completely restless. I remember reading articles on how tapering effects endurance athletes and my first thought was: “That is insane, I will have rest days or a single 30 minute workout FOR THE WHOLE DAY, that sounds like heaven.” As it turns out, I could have been a case study for some of the papers referenced. As surprised as I was with keeping my sanity, I am equally surprised I wasn’t murdered by people who have to be around me for prolonged periods of time on a regular basis.
Race morning, I completed my warm up, took all my bathroom breaks, and was completely hydrated. The temperature was in the low 60s but the wind made it a bit chilly – which was fine with me; I sweat more than any human should, so mentally I preferred the windy conditions to 90+ degrees and high humidity. Standing in my corral I looked down at my watch to make sure my GPS was enabled (for the 3 millionth time) and noticed my HR was @ 100bpm. My resting HR is between 48 and 52. Just a tiny bit anxious.
For the first 2 miles I felt completely invincible, like I was on a conveyor belt. I was finally allowed to ‘let the horses run’, and my body happily obliged. Furthermore, after all the training I had put in, I was half excited and half curious to see what kind of times I could put down.
The course went down the boardwalk, onto MLK, across the width of Atlantic City to the Brigantine-AC connector tunnel. (For an overview of the full course, click here.) Going over the overpass I realized about half way up: “This is kind of like a hill?”, which was confirmed by my elevated HR, but the incline was followed by running through the tunnel, which turned out to be the only part of the course with no wind. A few times I looked at my watch and saw my pace was around 7:40; I knew no matter how well I felt, this was far too quick for me, and I would regret it later if I didn’t pull back.
I have driven through the tunnel hundreds of times and I have never realized the incline at the end of it. For a South-Jerseyan (and I am completely opening myself up to ridicule here, I know), the first 5k of this course could almost be considered hilly. Luckily, Maria had included a few bridge (South-Jerseyan for ‘hill’) running workouts, so my HR was able to recovery pretty quickly.
The course then looped around a few streets, again returning to almost the same overpass (ANOTHER INCLINE!!!) and continuing onto Renaissance Point Boulevard, which circles the 3 marina district casinos. This was about 3.1 miles in, and it’s where the wind really started to pick up. The exposure to it was so great that at one point I remember my left foot being blown into my right shin, almost causing me to fall.
At the 10k mark, my second 5k was approximately 2 minutes slower than my first, which I thought was acceptable given the wind and the nature of the course. At this point we were running by Gardner’s Basin on our way to the boardwalk by way of Revel, the entire time subjected to some degree of the wind (more often than not, a large degree of it). I had a gel at this point, which I had practiced during my long runs, and timed it so I could wash it down with water from an aid station.
Coming up onto the boardwalk the wind was at our backs, but it surprisingly did not have the dramatic effect I figured it would. Looking back on it I think it is a combination of my very high expectations (I figured the wind would literally carry me, or at least help me as much as it had hurt me whilst running against it; both false), and the fact that my legs were shot & my HR had been more elevated than Maria’s advice (again, due to running into the wind). However, since I live in Ventnor (a city which shares the boardwalk with AC), I was now on home turf. I ran these boards for all my long runs, all of my tempo runs, and most of my aerobic/easy runs, therefore I knew the distances between buildings and had a very good feel for where I was, which was both a blessing and a curse.
On the boardwalk I passed the start/finish line, which signified approximately 4 miles left. I saw the lead-of-the-pack, 5-minute milers in the finish area eating pretzels and relaxing, which gave me a shot of energy and an irrational annoyance that they were done already. I saw the clock read “1:20:XX” and thought to myself ‘average 10 minute miles and you are golden’ – my goal was sub 2:00.
The half marathon turn was on Baton Rouge Ave in Ventnor. If you are at all familiar with the boardwalk, this is 1 block South of Vassar Square condominiums. From the turnaround back to the finish line at Bally’s, the wind was directly in my face. All 25 mph of it. To be honest I really don’t remember much from these last 2 miles, I think my brain has blocked it out as a traumatic memory. I remember high-fiving a volunteer at an aid station, and climbing into zone 5/anaerobic territory with around 1 mile to go. I started kicking about .25 miles out, which allowed me to pass a few people I had been pacing off of, and crossed the finish line in 1:58:05.
I would recommend the race itself. The half course takes you through some really cool parts of Atlantic City, as well as other parts you normally wouldn’t go. The volunteers were great, and the aid stations were packed. The pre-race expo had great merchandise and a lot of great talks/lectures. The post-race amenities were also top notch.
I am very happy I reached my goal in that weather; however, I am left wondering what I am REALLY capable of in better conditions. I also have a new goal for my run portion in May during my first half-iron tri: beat 1:58:05.
1) I actively/consciously pulled back my pace at the beginning of the race, but I have to do so even more. This was far better than my previous attempts, where I would literally sprint and then die in any race over 5k, but I could have used more gas in the tank in the final 2 miles.
2) The post-race endorphin ‘glow’ is real
3) Don’t overestimate or underestimate any distance; do the work, ask questions about the pacing plan, and execute.
4) Having said (3) above, adjustments are possible, especially when given uncontrollable conditions. Be smart with them, though – think long term, don’t start sprinting because you feel great at the halfway mark.
All the thanks in the world goes to Maria – without her guidance I would not have had the mental or physical confidence/ability to complete this distance, let alone with any goal time. I cannot wait for my next adventure with No Limits Endurance – the Ocean Drive Marathon in March 2014.
Congratulations to Tim on his first half-marathon! And, you should see his heart rate file! Wowsa – this man is TOUGH! He’s got the innate ability to tolerate and conquer pain. We like that 🙂