There was a point this past year when signing up for races where I thought to myself “having two Half Ironman and one Olympic distance race within three weeks of each other is probably a bad idea.” In some respects, this concern was fully realized for this race and the reasons for it as I’ll go into below. On the other hand, I had high fitness leading into the race and still performed well knowing I wasn’t at my peak. I had some things go right and others go not well at all. In the end, I was quite disappointed with my run split as my body and mind just couldn’t get to the level I needed it to go to on this day. A long training season, several back to back races, heat and humidity I wasn’t used to, and traveling to this race were likely causes of a race that didn’t go as I’d hoped. Still, I finished the race in 5:42:46 which looking back, is still a good time considering how I felt. My splits are below and this is my 2017 Ironman Atlantic City 70.3 Race Report.
Read on for more.
Journey To Atlantic City
Several months ago, my friend Kevin and I decided we were going to do this race instead of Reach the Beach. We met at a Park and Ride right off the highway and began the long trek south. Kevin made pretty good time and we stopped in Connecticut at a Subway for lunch. We got to the hotel which was an hour away from the race venue around 4 pm. The bikes were wheeled to our room for safe keeping to several “wow, nice bike man” comments. After dropping our bags, watching a movie, we decided to head to Red Robin for dinner.
It was likely an extremely poor decision to eat:
- A hamburger
- Double order of French Fries
- An Oreo Milkshake
See, the theory went something like this. We had 36 hours to race day, we were starving, spent most of the day in the car, and I wanted something of substance. I’m usually not super careful what I eat two days before a race so didn’t think much of it. After dinner, we went back to our room, watched another movie and passed out.
Saturday (Day Before)
Saturday was check-in day. Since our hotel was about an hour away from the race venue, we decided to wake up when we woke up. No alarms were set. Still, as two parents with kids, our “sleeping in” was only around 6:30 am. After a “free” breakfast at the hotel, we rolled out to the race venue at Bader Field. Turns out, this was a very good location for transition and Ironman Village. There was more than ample parking, plenty of space for transition AND the race registration and check in. You get so spoiled at some of the smaller races where registration and transition are in the same location. Many Ironman branded races don’t have this where registration & Ironman Village are in totally different locations sometimes miles apart from transition.
After a quick series of paperwork checks, I received my race packet, swag bag, and timing chip. My initial impressions was that there seemed to be a LOT of sponsor logos but the volunteers were great. It just felt like a sponsor logo was everywhere you looked. It was also a bit odd that the race organizers were pushing their own mobile app instead of the Ironman branded one for athlete tracking. I knew this race was formerly a Challenge race and later became an Ironman licensed race. This wasn’t a problem, but just seemed like there was an abundance of sponsors.
From here, all we had to do was go back to the car right around the corner, put the number on the bike, drop the bike in transition and we were done for the day. After saying goodnight to my bike in transition, we took a look where all the entrance and exits would be from transition, viewed the swim course, and went to go get lunch at a Subway across from our hotel. One thing I noted in the recon was the swim entrance and exit was tight. Like “where are all the people going to go” tight. I was also curious how people would warm up on race day. Turns out the answer was “you wouldn’t.”
For dinner, I brought a huge container of pasta with meatballs. We literally kicked our feet up right after lunch and watched several movies from our hotel room beds (don’t judge). I’m not sure about Kevin, but I’ve never been given the luxury of spending half of the day before a race with my feet up. This was either going to go great or hurt me the next day. Over the course of the day, we checked to make sure our transition bags were all set for the morning. After dinner and what was probably the fourth movie of the day, we passed out with the alarms set for 3 a.m.
As many of my race reports in the past have indicated I’ve struggled a bit with nutrition during 70.3 races. As I mentioned in my Ironman Maine 70.3 report, I created a spreadsheet to keep track of what was being consumed during the course of my training, logged calories, carbohydrates, sodium, etc. The spreadsheet helped to make sure that I was getting what my body needed when it was needed. I also made sure that all the products on the list were tested during the training season. I kept the exact same setup as Maine as it worked so well which included:
- Two tablets of Nuun in each bottle
- Stinger Waffles
- Stinger Chews
- Nature’s Bakery Fig Bars worked really well
- A bottle with Nuun in between aid stations
When the alarm went off (at full volume), I was instantly awake. All my items were laid out the night before. On went the race number tattoos, team kit, chamois cream, and decided it was time for breakfast. I brought my own oatmeal, banana, maple syrup, Gatorade, and a Starbucks Doubleshot Espresso. This meal travels well and ensures I get exactly what I know works for my system for race day. Kevin ate more applesauce than most consume in a year. Poor guy.
Soon, it was time to hit the car and begin the drive to the race venue. Despite there being minimal traffic, it still took almost an hour to get there. As we neared the exit our GPS wanted us to get off on the Atlantic City Expressway, we noticed exits were already closed as these would be used during the bike leg. We were surprised that they were already closed well over two hours before the race started. The detour signs were on point and was super easy to find the entrance to Bader Field even with the exits closed. There were no issues with parking.
We met up with our friend Mia, who despite not racing in this event, still woke up super early to cheer us on and take photos. In fact, most of the photos here came from her. After chatting for awhile, it was time to go setup transition. Continuing the theme of “many sponsors”, the first thing I hear over the PA system was “Athletes, welcome to the 2017 Ironman Atlantic City 70.3, Presented by Inspira Health Network transition area, sponsored by the Delmo mobile app.” Um…ok? Delmo was the race director/organizer.
It was around this time I started to notice that my body just wasn’t feeling right. My stomach wasn’t upset, but it wasn’t calm. I had a minor headache not due to dehydration, but likely a result of a quick change of barometric pressure from New England to New Jersey. I also felt sluggish with the high humidity. Here’s to hoping this was just the early morning nerves and would subside by race time. I went back to the car to put my transition bag and bike pump away. While Kevin preferred putting his wetsuit on at the car, I decided to head back to transition and attempt to hit the restroom one more time before the race started and putting on my wetsuit.
The restroom line was really long when I got there. I was waiting for at least 15 minutes. Further, the restrooms were in what I thought was an odd location. Why would you put the rest rooms right where everyone needed to convene prior to the swim start? This area would be right were thousands of athletes would attempt to self seed for the swim. I got into the restroom with about 10-15 minutes left before transition closed. That’d be plenty of time to get into my wetsuit and get to swim start. After a liberal application of Trislide, my wetsuit was on and it was over to the swim start I went.
We heard the announcement while in transition that the water temperature was well into the 70’s but below 76 degrees and thus would be wetsuit legal. Adding the wetsuit to salt water, we should be super buoyant. When I got to the swim start it was clear that there was a lot of disorganization. I think part of this disorganization is Ironman hasn’t settled on a standard way to start the swim. Some races are age group mass start, some are first come first serve, others are self seeded time trial by expected finish time. Many athletes were unsure what to do. The swim was supposed to be self-seeded meaning you put yourself into the waves by expected time. Unfortunately, these waves had a huge time range. The first was under 26 minutes. Second was 26 – 35 minutes. Third was 35 – 45. And so on. I thought to myself 26 – 35…that’s a massive range. I had thought it would have made more sense to cut off each wave in 5 minute increments. As I hoped to swim 35 minutes I put myself in the middle of this wave.
As all the athletes huddled into a tiny area, we wondered when and where you could warm up. It should also be mentioned that many triathletes also empty their bladders in the water before their race as they “warm up”. Gross? Yes, but it’s a fact of triathlon. This race did not allow athletes to enter the water until they started the race. I was curious how this would work with 2000+ athletes sitting around with full bladders. After the gun went off at 6:50, 10 athletes at a time walked up to a dock and jumped off every 10 seconds or so. The swim course was shaped a bit like a hockey stick. The course would have you swim right off the docks, then made a left turn, then a right, then a left, , another left, and two rights. It was not a simple box as other Ironman races I’ve done.
We made very, very slow progress getting to the start. It wasn’t long before the first competitors started coming out of the water. Geez. They are done their swim and I’m still in this massive line still waiting to enter the water and start my race. At first I was perplexed. I was in the second wave. My swim times usually have me in the top 10-15% of finishers. I should have been in the water already. There should have been very, very few people in the under 26 wave. This race didn’t even have a pro field so the 26 – 35 wave should have gone off quickly. We realized that there were people entering the starting queue from all different waves. Some were from waves that should have started after the 26 – 35. This wasn’t a surprise as we couldn’t hear the National Anthem until it was 75% over. So if there were announcements over the PA system, we surely didn’t hear them.
As we got closer to the start, we observed people jumping into the water and breast stroking almost immediately. We were totally perplexed as this should have been the 26 – 35 minute wave for which people mostly swim freestyle the whole time with minimal to no breaks or breaststroke. Again, this should have been the swim wave with the top 10-20% of swimmers. We also noticed that more and more people were…uh…relieving themselves while standing up on the pavement. The pavement was soaking wet and stunk like urine. It was simply disgusting. Granted, athletes didn’t have much choice in the matter, but they surely didn’t wait until they got to the water. The race didn’t allow them into the water before the race, the lines at the restrooms were super long before the race, and after a wetsuit was on, there was no way to get into the restroom to take care of business.
Eventually I got up to the dock, joined 9 other people and jumped in. Immediately, I swam over top of two or three people standing still and/or swimming breast stroke. Well, I know how this swim is going to go. I’d call this course a very technically challenging one. Your sighting had to be on point due to the course not being a simple box. The course was also in a “sheltered” bay meaning there were no waves. Our swim start should have had us start a little before the mid point on high and low tide so current should have been as low as it was going to get. The first half of my swim was a mixture of watching people get totally confused by the course and stop, pull their head totally out of the water, stop forward movement, or swim into my side by zig zagging. There was a huge amount of traffic in front of me that I had to pass. I know my sighting was spot on as I was hugging the buoys as they came.
At the far end of the course we made two left turns coming back to transition. Up to the turn around, I was passing a significant number of people which, as I’ve mentioned, was 100% due to the self seeded failure. My recommendation to the race organizers is to have people specify their self seed wave up front at least the day before the race starts. Give them a swim cap color corresponding to this wave. Everyone would still have the same amount of time on the course, but would make it easier to understand where and when to start. As soon as I made the turn, I noticed the tide was now pushing against me. I felt my hand being pushed back towards me each stroke. Some had indicated that they experienced a swim treadmill (an issue reported last year too). I’m not sure if this was the start of that or if it only affected weaker swimmers. Either way, I knew I was working a bit harder on the way back and was slowed down as a result of the tide. There were also reports later of jellyfish in the water, but I didn’t personally experience any of them. The water was, however, very murky and you could not see anything. I couldn’t see the person in front of me until my hand hit their feet.
Once I got to the final turn buoy right by the shore, the lifeguards were shouting for us to stand up and exit the water. I went to stand up and there was still water under my feet. Dang it! A few more strokes later and I had solid footing. I found two kids to strip the wetsuit and it was time to hit T1. I should note that the race organizers did a fantastic job putting carpeting down for the run up to T1. Unlike Ironman Maine 70.3 which had a long run over pavement, this was a welcome gesture. I looked at my watch and saw 37:00 flat (official time 36:25). I did start my watch a few seconds early to make sure I could lock it during the swim. Not my best swim, but ok given the tide and huge amount of traffic to pass in the water. After a quick shower it was into T1.
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The bike course this year was new. Last year’s course looked like it took you through a single loop of towns outside of Atlantic City. This year would be 2.5 laps of the same course. The course, while mostly closed to traffic, also had us riding on the Atlantic City Expressway. The course was advertised as being fast and flat (which it was). On paper, it was flatter than Maine and held high promise to be a fast one that I should be able to PR. It wasn’t long until we left Bader Field that we were on the Expressway. The pavement was decent, but there were a few spots where automobile traffic in other lanes blew past us and caused a blast of air to hit us (mostly buses and large trucks). This caused some athletes to move all around on the course. I’m a pretty confident bike handler so it didn’t bother me. What was cause for concern was the places where we needed to cross the highway rumble strips with our bikes. Yes, we had to cross automobile rumble strips on our bikes. I’m really, really not sure what the race organizers were thinking when they thought “Sure, let’s have triathletes (often known to not be the best bike handlers) cross a rumble strip.” I saw so many people either with flat tires, ejected bottles & nutrition, or worse, crashed. It just makes no sense to me. There were several ways they could have mitigated the crossing of the rumble strip either by waiting until the strip was gone, placing carpets over them, etc.
But, back to the course. Each loop was 18 miles or so with 9 miles out, 9 miles back. My biggest issue with the course was it was just boring. There was no pretty scenery, no downhill giving my legs a small dose of recovery, no interesting climbs, just, an out and back, mostly on a highway…with traffic and rumble strips. Sure, there was a toll booth we got to go through six times. After completing the loop the first time, looking at the mile markers on the road, it was clear I’d be riding that loop TWO MORE TIMES. By the time the second loop was completed, my mind got the better of me. I wasn’t focusing on maintaining power and speed, but thinking “is this over yet?” It wasn’t a super fun bike course. I let my mind get the better of me. Don’t get me wrong, I was averaging 21 mph which was totally a PR for me in this distance even with totally missing my power goal.
Due to the compound effect of the poorly seeded swim start, there were riders of all abilities on the short 9 mile stretch of road. There were some very narrow sections where you could argue it was downright dangerous. If I’m traveling 21 – 25 mph and come up against someone pedaling at 15 mph, how safe is that? There were also some stronger riders who were poor bike handlers wanting to pass on the left of while I’m in the middle of my pass. You can scream “on your left” all you want. I made sure to leave plenty of room for these folks to complete their pass of me (while I’m passing someone else) and I am complying with the rules. Note to athletes: It’s up to you to decide if that gap between me and the cones is enough for you. What did you expect for a 2.5 loop course? There was going to be heavy amounts of cyclist traffic.
Speaking of gaps, I have never seen so many people in a penalty tent. I heard there were many, many people getting called for drafting, illegal block, illegal pass penalties. I’m glad officials are calling out the penalties (especially drafting). Until USAT and Ironman make these draft legal events, it has to stop. I know many people were upset getting called for illegal pass and block penalties. I do think the officials were a little over zealous on these penalties, BUT, I saw many people who had nobody to their right yet were riding left of center on the course. I’m sorry to say folks, that you have to ride to the right side of the road. It’s dangerous for one and just a waste of road space. So please, please ride to the right side of the road as far as is safe to ride. If everyone is riding in the right place, you should never have to scream “on your left” because the left lane would be open for passes.
My conclusion here was this was not a bike course suited for me and should be rethought for next year. Personally, I thrive on rolling courses where there are ups and downs so momentum can keep going. Unfortunate for me, my head checked out around 35 miles into the bike leg…and I still had another loop to do. I’d like to see the race organizers come up with a slightly more challenging, scenic, and “less loops” course.
On the performance front, I was hoping to average 80-85% FTP (normalized). Sadly, I only averaged 74%, but did have a far more consistent output of power (Variability Index 1.05) than in prior races likely due to how flat the race was. Still, I managed to average 21 mph for a bike course that was one mile longer than it should have been and set a new speed PR for this distance. With the extra mile, my time was 2:42:56. Removing the extra mile, my time would have been sub 2:40 for the bike split. I also made sure to carry as much speed as possible through the turns on the course. They were well suited to rolling through with minimal to no braking required.
Despite being super bored on the bike and not holding power, I’m still happy with the time. Looking back at it, this was a very, very fast bike course and I know if my head stayed in the game I would have been able to produce a little better result. This course does require the ability to consistently apply power for 3 hours steady with no recovery (looking back at my TrainerRoad Saturday rides pegged at 80-85% FTP would be comparable). With that targeted training, this would be an insanely fast course. For me, I think I was just tired after a long, but very successful triathlon season. My legs were tired and my mind checked out.
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I had high expectations for this run given my first sub 2 hour half marathon split in Ironman Maine 70.3 and a fantastic 10k the week prior as part of the Pitch Pine Olympic Triathlon. Upon entering T2 I decided it was a good idea to hit the restroom before the run as I wasn’t sure when or how many were out on the course. After my extended T2 I exited transition. The run started on the abandoned airplane runway. At this point the sun was out and heat was starting to kick up.
The runway had no shade, dark asphalt, and full sun. After the bike where my head checked out, I tried my hardest to put it out of my mind. “You are at the beach man, at least that’ll be pretty.” So I started looking around trying to psych myself up for the next 13.1 miles. The air strip was abandoned, not super pretty to look at with weeds everywhere. I chuckled when I saw a modern Subaru car on the back of a tractor trailer flat bed. God only knows how it got onto it or why the trailer was parked on the runway. Soon I hit the first mile around 9 minutes. I wasn’t feeling great. It felt like my energy was rapidly being drained from me, but was somewhat encouraged by this being the same time as my first mile at Maine. I was well hydrated and fueled coming off the bike, so it wasn’t that.
By mile 2, I was slowing down (9:19). We hit the boardwalk around 2.5 miles. Drawing on some personal experience running 5k’s on a boardwalk back in high school, I was pretty sure I knew what the boardwalk would do to me and it wasn’t going to be pretty. But I kept on plugging and came through mile 3 with the same 9:19 time as mile 2. Ok, so no PRs to be had today, but if I can just hang on to this, I’ll be ok.
It didn’t take long, but by mile 4, I started feeling my calves and hips tighten. The boards were flexing a decent amount each step. One thing if I could do it all over again would be to have worn my 2XU calf running sleeves. I usually wear these on long runs and they are fantastic, but I’ve never worn them in a race as I don’t want them on my legs during the bike. I was kicking myself by mile 5 on the run for not wearing them. Add in the baking heat, no shade, and a strong bike (with limited recovery), I think I also overcooked myself getting to the run. I consumed a Hotshot around mile 4 as I started feeling tightness in all sorts of places so figured if they were cramps, they needed to be put to rest quickly before they became a bigger problem.
I know it is no comparison, but I remember watching old coverage of Kona Ironman World Championships where they talk about the Energy Lab. It felt a little like that. For each step I felt hotter and hotter, less confident in each stride. My cadence dropped significantly and I was struggling with forward propulsion. It felt like my brain knew what to do, but I couldn’t command my legs to do it. I found myself wishing for the next aid station just so I could have something cold to drink, hold some ice cubes, and dump water on my head. Ironically I didn’t feel dehydrated, just hot and lacking energy. Along the route there were a few places where showers were placed so people could get the sand and salt off them before exiting the beach. There were several of us dousing ourselves with water at these. It was funny as we’d all be running and hear squishing noises out of our shoes.
I mostly stuck to my nutrition plan on the run, but I would be out 20 – 30 minutes longer than I was hoping to be. A full bottle with Nuun was attached at my waist as I knew I was going to need it in the sun and heat. I had bananas at the aid stations once I realized I had to stop and grab them off the tray. At Maine, volunteers were handing them out. I also would grab a water, dump on my head, Gatorade to drink, another water to drink, and if there was Ice, I’d add the water to the ice, drink it, and hold onto the ice cubes for a while to try and get my body temperature down. I walked most aid stations to make sure I could get as much liquid in me as possible. This race felt like the aid stations weren’t always in the same consistent places. Some stations were less than a mile apart while others felt like they were 1.2-1.5 miles apart. It was survival mode time. The view of the ocean was pretty and was good to try and take my mind off my struggling legs. There was a slight breeze and the ocean surf was very strong due to Hurricane Jose. Just looking at the crashing surf made me quite happy the swim was in the protected bay.
Around Mile 8 you ran past the finish line. Dang…I had 5 miles left. It was also around this time I consumed my second Hotshot. There was a quick detour over some sand dunes where plastic fencing was put down so we didn’t have to run on sand. As soon as we passed the finish line, we went out over a pier which was a multi story building and caused the GPS on my watch to go nuts. This was the only shade on the course and only lasted a quarter mile or so. Unfortunately, it also was concrete and was an uphill. Many people, myself included, struggled here with the sudden change of running surfaces coupled with the incline. Finally, I hit Mile 11 which was the turnaround point. I knew here we had only two miles left. One guy came up behind me and asked “where the BLEEP is Mile 12?” We were all struggling. It was a tough day on a tough running surface for many of us. Eventually, we went back around the concrete shaded building and I finished. My final run time was 2:16:55, a far cry from the 1:54 I ran at Maine and sub 2 hour goal. Even with a miserable run, I still finished the day with an official time of 5:42:46.
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As I crossed the line I was still surprised to see I went under 5:45. I felt like the run was a train wreck (and it was). But even with a run going so not to my plan, I took every mile and aid station at a time. For me, when I know things aren’t going right I think to myself, “you paid for this”, “this is fun”, “you can get through this, just take it one step at a time.” My accumulated fitness helped me get through the run. After crossing the finish line, I was right at the food area. Score! I wasn’t in the mood for a burger, but a soft pretzel, Coke, and some fruit sounded perfect to me. The finisher medal was absolutely massive. We also got a finisher’s pint glass (heavily sponsored) as well as a cooling towel which came out of an ice bath. That was a nice touch.
I knew my buddy Kevin had some hip issues coming into this race and knew he was at least 3 -4 miles behind me. Given the pace I ran and the pace I expected him to run, he should be at least 30-40 minutes behind me. We passed each other on the boardwalk. His hip acted up a bit more than he realized and was about an hour behind me as he had to walk most of the run. It is important to note that the finish line was 1.5 miles away from Bader Field. This also meant that our change of clothes, phones, and anything we wanted post race was back at transition. Because of this, I had no idea when to expect Kevin at the finish and couldn’t check the Ironman tracker to see where he was at on the course. There also wasn’t much shade at the finish either.
Shortly, Kevin came across the line, he grabbed something to eat, and we boarded a bus back to transition. We changed into dry clothes, grabbed our bikes, and went back to the boardwalk for some dinner and post race refreshments. One of Kevin’s friends got second in his age group so clearly the course design didn’t affect him like it did me. We spent that night back in our hotel, watched some football, and passed out. We drove home the following day. All in all, it was a disappointing end to my triathlon season, but on the flip side was great to catch up with Kevin.
What I Learned
This race was a tough one for me. What made it so difficult is that I had high expectations for myself but didn’t count on a few things. It’s never fun to struggle in a race when you know you are capable of so much more. That said, here’s a few things I learned:
- Having three weeks in between Ironman Maine 70.3 and Atlantic City 70.3 wasn’t a good idea
- The Olympic triathlon the week before was great for a confidence boost, but I’m not sure I was fully recovered
- Maybe don’t eat pasta the night before. Stick with the big breakfast that has worked before.
- With a run that went like the way it did, I was curious if a run/walk strategy would have been faster in the end.
- Ice cubes in the hands did wonders for cooling effect
- With no shade, I should have sprayed more sunscreen on before heading out for the run
- Flat courses are really fast, but are more physically taxing. Curious what backing off the bike just a little more would have done for the run.
- Staying an hour away wasn’t that bad. We heard plenty of people say they were woken up many times in the night by drunk people coming back from the Atlantic City casinos as they stayed on the strip.
- This had the potential to be a very, very fast course. It’s not a course suited to my strengths, but for those who thrive in flat courses, pick this one.
With that thanks for reading!