As many of you know I raced Challenge Atlantic City last weekend. I also participated (and crashed) in the race in 2014 and after the race I wrote a blog about my thoughts on how the race could improve. I figured now is the time for the one year check up.
Areas of Excellence
- The Location. Same as in 2014, Atlantic County, New Jersey is a fantastic location for a race (even with the recent closures of casinos in Atlantic City). There’s a nice combination of beaches and city and plenty of things to do. The only problem I had with the location is the parking. Parking at both Bally’s for the expo / registration and at Bader Field was expensive. I get that this isn’t within the race’s (or race director’s control) but with a $400 registration fee for the half and $800 for the full it would be nice to not have to shell out additional money to park.
- The Course. This is a good course. The swim is a simple single loop for the half and a double loop for the full. No more crazy turns. The bike course for the half was excellent. Good roads, nice variation in terrain (by no means hilly but not pancake flat, it reminded me of the Patriot Half bike course in Massachusetts or of Ironman Texas), low levels of traffic and well marshaled intersections. All good things. If I lived in South Jersey I would ride the bike course on a regular basis. The run on boardwalk is excellent, if only for the entertainment value of the people watching. While crowd control on the boardwalk is an issue (see below) the idea of having the run on the boardwalk is excellent.
- Communication. Communication between the race director and athletes was excellent. I’ve never seen a race director (and race staff) post as much to a Facebook group as the Challenge Atlantic City staff did. Steven DelMonte and his staff did a great job communicating.
- Heart. The race has heart. Delmo and his staff want the race to be excellent, they really do. The same goes for the athletes and volunteers. It feels like everyone who has anything to do with the race really wants it to be special.
Areas for Improvement
- Crowd Control on the Boardwalk. I hit the Boardwalk for the run at about 10:30 a.m. It was already crowded and over the course of my 2 hour run (yes, I was slow) it became even more so. There was no dedicated lane for the runners (who were going in both directions on the Boardwalk) and there were people everywhere. I don’t know how many times I almost ran into a child, dog, bicyclist, oblivious human being. After the race I watched videos of the Atlantic City Marathon to see how they dealt with crowds on the Boardwalk. They had two things going for them: a much earlier start time and a later date (October) to avoid summer crowds. My guess is that having a separate lane for race participants would be really expensive BUT it would make a huge difference for the runners.
- Aid Stations. This was an issue on both the bike and run. On the half bike there was a single aid station that athletes passed at approximately miles 14 and 42. Nothing in between. There needs to be at least one additional aid station on the bike. On the run the aid stations were strangely spaced (anywhere from 1 to almost 3 miles apart). When volunteering later in the day I learned that the volunteers for one specific aid station never showed up so the aid station was eliminated. For a hot half (or full) there really needs to be an aid station every mile on the run and if there’s not participants need to know that beforehand to be able to adequately prepare. Numerous athletes were asking where the next aid station was.
- Number of Volunteers. The volunteers were EXCELLENT. Really, truly excellent. Hat tip to Jersey Girls Stay Strong, Laura Pyott and Moira Horan in particular. That being said there just weren’t enough of them. I get how hard it is to staff a race. The number of bodies needed is ridiculous, particularly for a race that will last 17 hours. In a lot of cases there just weren’t enough bodies.
- Local Awareness. When Ryan and I went back to volunteer at an aid station for the full distance athletes people on Boardwalk kept walking up to us, asking to take food from the aid station and wondering what the hell was going on. There seemed to be no awareness that there was race, let alone a 140.6 mile race. Most of the people we spoke with were extremely impressed with what the athletes were doing. It would seem to make a lot of sense to have signs / posters / something up on the Boardwalk explaining exactly what the athletes were doing. That would also go a long way to getting people on the boardwalk to respect athletes, give them some space and let the runners proceed without interruptions.
- Race Day Logistics. This seemed to be improved from last year, however, there were still some issues. After finishing the race we were handed water bottles and I know there was food and finisher shirts somewhere, but we never quite figured out where. As we finished on the Boardwalk it was easy enough to find our own vanilla soft serve with sprinkles, but it would have been nice to know where the actual race food was. In addition there were finisher shorts somewhere and we never found those either. On the other hand, the volunteer running the shuttle back to Bader Field pretty much fond us and even though we decided to walk back, it was nice to know the shuttle was there.
- Brand Unity. Atlantic City is a Challenge Family Race. It is put on by Delmo Sports and the Rev3 crew from Virginia (a division / subsidiary / affiliate?) of IIF Data Solutions, Inc. was also there. I don’t think this is something that the casual athlete or observer would notice but upon closer observation it appears that there may be too many different entities with too little co-ordination. I’m not sure that Challenge has quite figured out how to operate races in North America but a little more guidance and co-ordination from Germany might go a long way.
I really like this race. I would definitely race again next year. I also think this is a race that has a ton of potential but I fear that its been in the red for the past two years. So if I was in charge what would I do? Sadly, I’d cut the 140.6 option (for now) and focus on putting on a truly fantastic 70.3. My guess is that the cost per person is significantly higher for athletes racing the 140.6 than the 70.3. If you eliminate those costs, you’ll be able to reallocate volunteers to the 70.3 and (presumably) have additional funds to address issues such as crowd control on the boardwalk and awareness about the race. While I really like the idea of having another 140.6 option in North America, I think the long term health of the race depends of executing one race incredibly well.