A couple weeks ago, I had the chance to spend the weekend in Atlantic City, New Jersey for the Challenge Atlantic City triathlon. You may know that this was the inaugural edition of the race and the first iron distance triathlon by Challenge in the United States. It was a terrific event and I had a great time.
I hadn’t visited Atlantic City for about 25 years. Of course, there are new casinos now, both on and off the Boardwalk, but in many ways Atlantic City was very much like I remembered. It’s a very unique combination of nostalgic Boardwalk beach town Americana and the business of towering casino hotel developments. There’s new and old. Shiny and dull. Have and have not. The differences are very striking.
It’s an unusual setting for a long-distance triathlon. No doubt, it’s difficult to produce a 140.6-mile event in any urban setting, yet alone in the middle of the summer tourist season at a beach resort town! I give the organizers a lot of credit for getting things together.
Thanks to a kind invitation from Brad Bernadini, MD, and the race director, Robert Vigorito, I had a chance to be involved with a 2-day Sports Medicine Symposium in the days before the race. I gave talks on “Athlete’s Heart: Good and Bad” and on “Triathlon Fatalities.” The program included a variety of topics. My favorite speaker was Robert Laird, MD, the long-time medical director of the Ironman World Championship. He shared the fascinating tale of medical coverage at the event over the past 30 years. My favorite slide was of Dr. Laird, stethoscope around his neck, standing on the Kona pier watching the first Kona edition of the race, in 1981. That year, he was it. Today, the event stages a 50- to 60-bed medical tent to take care of the athletes on race day. I’ll devote my next blog post to some thoughts about medical tents at large endurance sports events. I have mixed feelings.
As for the race, I chose to do the aquabike event. This was a first. I suppose there have been instances where I haven’t finished a triathlon, stopping on the run. But this was the first time I’ve ever intentionally stopped the race at T2. And I must say that race day has a very different feel when you don’t have to run a marathon after the long swim and bike! Aquabike may be calling my name.
The swim portion of the race was deceptively challenging. Held in the “back bay,” the venue was subject to a brisk incoming tide that produced a very strong current. That, combined with a very unusual serpentine single-lap course made for a difficult swim. As an interesting surprise on race morning, the water temperature was 80 degrees, so no wetsuits were allowed. Most triathletes don’t have much opportunity to do 2.4-mile swims without a wetsuit. It was a beautiful, sunny day, though, and the temperatures were mild.
The bike leg of the race took us away from the beach, up the Atlantic City Expressway (ACE), to the town of Hammonton. There, we had two ~22-mile laps through the countryside which is apparently the U.S. capitol of blueberry farming. There was a rewarding stretch through main street Hammonton on each lap where there were hundreds of cheering spectators, balloons, inflatable archway, and an announcer. The race even provided shuttle buses for spectators who wanted to make the trip to Hammonton to watch the athletes. This was a nice touch. The ride back down the ACE to the beach was tough, into a ~15 mph headwind. For me, at any rate, the ride didn’t seem “flat and fast,” as advertised!
I hope that Challenge is successful in getting this race established. I understand there is a 5-year commitment at this point. I appreciate the alternative to the series of World Triathlon Corporation (WTC) Ironman-branded events and I appreciate the choice of a venue in Atlantic City. If you’re a triathlete, check out this race. If you’re a medical or allied health professional, check out the pre-race sports medicine symposium. And if you’re both….you can have a busy weekend next June!
Like I said, I was glad that my day was finished after the 112-mile bike ride. After a shower–and a casino buffet meal–back at the hotel, I made my way to the finish line on the Boardwalk in front of historic Boardwalk Hall. Most of the 26.2-mile run took place on the Boardwalk amongst the thousands of visitors. It was really a sight. And, as always, it was a thrill to see the athletes finishing late in the evening. In Challenge style, children or family members were allowed to join athletes in the finishing chute. The children seemed to draw the biggest cheers from the crowd.