Meet Me in the Middle – Challenge Atlantic City Aquabike Half Race Report

My recent, nonchalant approach to races prevailed leading into this one too, but it slapped me in the face this time around. I did the obligatory skim of the athlete guide a couple of times, but nothing out of the ordinary jumped out at me so I figured all would be the norm out on the course.

I was having trouble taking an aquabike seriously so chatted with my coach and came up with a plan to RACE this. This was my first aquabike and I didn’t know just how fun skipping the run could be!

The week leading up to the race was bad, like mono bad. (Do even adults get that?!) I would sleep for nine hours, feel like a zombie, suck down cups of espresso and go back to bed for three+ hours. WHAT?! The doc said a virus was going around and I needed to listen to my body, REST and drink coconut water. I dislike coconut water, but discovered this gem of a drink. So good! Where do I buy this stuff in bulk?! Thankfully I started feeling better as the weekend approached because we needed to head to Atlantic City.

Friday.

We went directly to Caesar’s for packet pick up and the race expo. The hotel was charging an arm and a leg ($40) for parking so we parked a block away in an outdoor lot for $10. Everything seemed pretty straight forward until the athlete briefing and the infamous “no water bottles on the bike course” announcement. Yup, you read that right. There were going to be large Gatorade-like coolers of water where athletes could stop, get off their bikes and re-fill bottles. This had us frantically re-thinking nutrition strategies for the bike course less than 48 hours out from the race. I tried to remain calm as Jon was racing the full and this was clearly a much bigger deal for him. Thankfully Delmo jumped to action and had the water bottle issue resolved within the hour. Phew!

From the race briefing we headed to the athlete dinner – it was impressive! All the carbs in all the forms – pasta, potatoes (two ways), rolls and DESSERTS, plus salad, fish, chicken, etc. We sat with some nice folks from Team RWB and talked about, big surprise here, Ironman. This year I wasn’t left out – I am an Ironman and have my own stories to contribute. YES.

Saturday. Doomsday.

We bricked and ate. More carbs in the forms of pancakes and awesome french toast at a tiny AC diner. Our morning went pretty smoothly: I loved my new swim skin, Jon loved his new wetsuit (ROKA rocks!). We racked our bikes and wrapped them up tight in light of the impending rain. (My husband is a genius and I felt slightly better about leaving my bike with it secured in layers of plastic wrap and duct tape.)

Sad about leaving my bike in these conditions.
Sad about leaving my bike in these conditions.

Fast forward a few hours – looming rain turned into a quasi-hurricane. I sat in our hotel room forlornly staring out the window, whimpering prayers for my beloved bike. In the meantime, we ordered $50 worth of pasta and garlic bread (thank you, family-style restaurants) to fuel us for our endeavors the next day.

Race Morning. Doomsday, Part 2. (aka Nonchalant attitude kicks me in the face.)

This is where old Jaime’s minute-by-minute planning would have come in handy.

I attempted to wing things and it failed. The overnight rain had turned the race site parking lots into a swamp. A no joke swamp. Cars were getting stuck and there was an gigantic back up. The parking attendants also seemed to have zero clue what they were doing.

We were starting to run late and I was getting panicky. We hurried from the car to rip the layers of protective duct tape and plastic wrap off of our bikes, and get our transitions set up. This was all going OK until we lost each other.

It turns out Jon was standing ten feet away from me outside of transition. In a rush to gather all my things and dash to where he was standing I somehow lost my 910xt … not many minutes before the race start. We re-traced my steps between transition and where Jon was standing countless times. No watch. Frustration and anger weren’t going to do us any good, so time for a mental reset and go time. Wetsuit on, chocolate Gu down the hatch, wish my husband a wonderful race and swim time! Time to take this racing by feel thingn to a whole new level.

RACE.

A pretty standard swim. The overnight storm changed the swim to wetsuit-legal so I paddled along a what felt like a pretty decent pace. There was confusion on the way back to the dock as to whether or not athletes had to go around a final buoy; I went around it to be safe. I got to one of the three ramps to get out of the water and “ONE AT A TIME!” was promptly screamed in my face. Apparently only one person was allowed to get out of the water on the ramp at a time; this would have been beneficial to know ahead of time. I sat in the water while two individuals attempted to figure out how to mount this ramp. Swim: 34:58 for 4/30 gender, 11/59 OA.

We got pelted by rain for the first 15 or so minutes of the bike, but once you got past the carpeted swamp that served as the exit from Bader Field it was a fast course. The roads were torn up in a lot of places and the roadsides were littered with athletes attempting to fix flats. I continued to pray to the bike Gods and whisper sweet words of encouragement to my trusty steed in hopes we could avoid what befell me at Ironman Maryland last year.  I was flying past people and it was awesome! I didn’t have a bike computer so counted on the course to tell me where I was mileage-wise. We hit an aid station around mile 15 and I kept waiting for the next one, but nothing until around mile 40 which left me woefully without water for an extended period of time. The athlete guide stated that there would be an aid station every 10-15 miles, but in revisiting the guide, the course map has only one, tiny aid station that athletes would hit twice. Again, oh well, I survived.

Leaving Bader field for a quick 58 miles.
Leaving Bader field for a quick 58 miles.

Challenge really treated their aquabike athletes as part of the race which was awesome! We had a cool arch to ride through at the  end of the race and finishers medal, shirt and towel upon crossing the line. One hiccup here: the post race food that was promised to aquabikers never showed up. I subsisted on a Gatorade and one protein bar that I had in our car for the remainder of the afternoon while I waited for Jon to come in off the bike from his 112 mile odyssey.

The Rest (from a spectator’s perspective).

Upon finishing I was promptly asked if I could volunteer. I agreed under the condition that I would be departing as soon as Jon was onto the run. I couldn’t figure out where my services where needed most – full athletes needed directing to the changing tents, but there was an unmanned aid station sitting out on the run course. I opted for a little of both eventually dedicating my time the aid station. I was informed that we could just fill cups up and leave them there for the full athletes; this doesn’t cut it in my book. Not only do those extra steps hurt when you’re running a marathon after completing 114.4+ miles, but the energy of volunteers at an aid station make a race in my opinion. I would recommend Challenge try to rope in additional volunteers for future years and provide those volunteers with a small bit of training.

Jon came into transition hot with a killer bike split and I made my way over to continue cheering runners on the boardwalk.

The boardwalk. Ugh. I walked out of our hotel (Trump Taj Mahal) onto the boardwalk and could not tell there was a race going on. My stomach sank. Either I had the wrong boardwalk or this was bad. For the majority of the run there was no dedicated space for runners; they had to dodge families, pets, push carts and goodness knows what else while running a marathon. I rang my cowbell with all my might to try to raise awareness for the feat that was being undertaken; most tourists that I talked to were surprised and impressed to hear what was going on. It would be great if there were signs advertising and promoting the race along with some cones to alert people enjoying the boardwalk that there was an event going on.

Final Thoughts.

I would consider doing a half at Challenge Atlantic City, but not the full unless some serious improvements were made. There is a lot of potential here:

– A finish line beer truck for athletes?! Awesome! It was unfortunate that I couldn’t find it until I returned to the finish line at midnight to cheer the final racers in. Publicize this! Make the finish line a party. The boardwalk is open container!

– I had one-on-one timely interactions with Vigo leading up to the race. Impressive.

BUT, without changes to the run to make it more of a course and less of a free-for-all, and adding aid stations and additional volunteers I don’t plan to return to AC.

Personally I learned that I need to find the middle ground between ad-hoc race prep and my super type-A detail oriented self. I’m also proud that I didn’t let the watch loss ruin my day; this is a big deal for me mentally. I enjoyed being out there and pushing the envelope by feel. The small gains in each new experience are what keep me coming back for more. Always improving, always learning and learning to challenge myself in new ways.

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