Swim start was set to begin at 6:00 am. The morning was around 68 degrees and the sun was beginning to peak out over the water. As we walked near the course you could hear the excitement coming from the well known announcer Whit Raymond who was on the microphone getting the crowd pumped up and ready to go! The excitement was high and the energy was stirring.
We arrived at Bader Field where the swim start and transitions were located and being on an old runway was very cool. We looked over to the athletes and noticed that the race was no longer wet suit legal. The athletes were in their designated waves, waiting to start. We looked to our right and noticed a man leaning over the fencing with his hands folded and his head hanging down most likely questioning why he thought signing up for a full iron distance triathlon was possibly a good idea. The women to his right was standing with her arms close to her chest and her hands gripped together in prayer position. Her eyes wandered over the water and she jumped up and down as if she was trying to stay warm or maybe just trying to shake off the anxiety.
Within a matter of minutes the horn blew and the first wave of professional men went out for the 2.4-mile swim, followed by the professional women, and then each wave took off every few minutes. After the last wave of athletes entered the water we waited for the leaders to exit. There was an athlete that had a very large lead over the rest of the group. As he began to exit we realized it was 4x Challenge winner Dylan McNeice exiting the water with a 6-minute lead over the rest of the pack! The professional ladies had a similar experience with Laurel Wassner coming out 7 minutes ahead of the others!
Although the professionals are super fun to watch we were really inspired by all of the athletes. We at Boom are all endurance athletes and we understand the level of commitment it takes to train for triathlons while balancing work, family, and friends. It was so super cool to watch the diversity among the athletes: all shapes, sizes, and abilities. We saw parathletes competing with the use of one arm, blind athletes, and even a 17-year-old boy doing his first iron distance triathlon with his dad! Now that is INSPIRING!
Many of the athletes reported that what looked like an easy day in the water turned out to be quite challenging at the end. They said the current took a turn and was extremely difficult for the last part of the swim. We can’t even imagine what that would be like for the men swimming with the use of only one arm. AMAZING!
We drove away from Bader Field to meet up with the cyclists in Hammonton (aka “the blueberry capitol of the world”) where the bike turn around was set up and where the crowds were cheering on the athletes. We were able to see the professional men fly through the town with all of the age groupers coming in right behind them. What we loved about Hammonton was hearing all of the Boom! horns being blown that we had passed out to the crowd. It was so exciting to watch so many fast athletes crushing the bike course. At this point everyone still looked strong and somewhat fresh. We decided to head back towards the boardwalk where the run course and finish line were located.
As we entered the highway to head back we noticed the athletes riding on the highway against traffic. WOW! We all agreed that we would not want to be riding our bikes on the Atlantic Expressway against traffic with only one lane closed down. When we asked the athletes many of them said it wasn’t that bad, but what was bad was the horrible headwind that they caught for the last 20 miles of the bike. Many reported that their pace drastically went down due to the wind.
This was by far the most interesting run scene that we have experienced. The majority of the run took place on the busy Atlantic City Boardwalk. When we think of marathon runs we often think of long roads, cheering crowds, and plenty of space for runners to move around. This run, not so much! There were so many people on the boardwalk; however, many of them had NO idea of the magnitude of the race that was happening right in front of them!
The race vehicles and volunteers did a great job of trying to clear the area for the runners but due to the number of people on the boardwalk it appeared to be challenging at times. At times, we saw runners dodging pedestrians and just trying to find a clear path to run. There was a volunteer on the course from a local running club, (we really wish we got her name) who was PHENOMENAL!! She positioned herself in a very busy area with pedestrians and no race volunteers. She was ringing her bell and yelling for people to clear the way when the runners were coming through! She was so awesome!!
The boardwalk was hot and there was no shade but the runners were just trudging through. Some looked really strong and fast while some were walking and you could see the looks of pain and misery. The long course is filled with unexpected challenges and difficulties. It's amazing how within the matter of minutes it can turn on you: one minute feeling amazing running a 7 minute mile and then within seconds feeling horrible and dropping down to a 10:30 mile. The course does not discriminate. We did however see Friend of Boom, Jason McFaul looking strong and fast on the run course. Jason, way to CRUSH IT!!
By doing a race of this length there is an opportunity to discover so much about our potential. There is something so powerful about digging deep into our being and seeing just what we are capable of accomplishing. The race itself is so much more than race day. It is about the journey, the training, the commitment, and the daily perseverance. Whether we are young or as we age, being able to train for something such as this is an opportunity to challenge ourselves, feel alive, and ignite our potential. Thanks again athletes for inspiring us! You were amazing!
Kudos to the Challenge Family for putting on a GREAT race. The whole weekend was very well thought out and organized not only for the athletes but for family and friends as well. We look forward to the rest of the Challenge USA Family Series and we will see you soon in New Albany!