A wild Wild Half

    Sunday was the first running of the Wild Half, a 13.1-mile race through North Wildwood, Wildwood, and Wildwood Crest. For a first year race, the Wild Half went off with very few hitches.

    A big one was water. On Saturday night and early Sunday morning, a thunderstorm parked itself over Cape May County and refused to move. It produced the loudest thunder claps I’ve ever heard. The thunder kept a lot of runners up until the early morning, and the torrential rain flooded a small portion of the course.

    The weather wasn’t ideal for running, either. High heat and humidity plus a warm sun meant few runners set personal records. I’ve run about a half dozen half marathons, and yesterday was the slowest I’ve ever run the distance when not pacing another runner. There’s not much the race organizers could do about that. If you sign up for an August race, you know you’re taking the risk that it’ll feel like summer that day.

    Here’s what I liked about the race:

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    1. The start. The start wasn’t corralled, but it didn’t need to be given the relatively small size of the race (1309 people finished the half marathon and 297 finished the 8k). Still, the announcer was very forceful in telling people to start near where their pace should be (i.e. the six minute milers in the front, and progressing back from there). The organizers also provided pacers – runners with balloons tied to them who pledged to run at a specific pace. They not only helped people reach their time goals, but they also helped us figure out where to line up at the start. The organizers also had a separate start for the 8k race and kept 8k runners out of the half marathon start area. This prevented a lot of confusion. I’ve run races where two distances start at the same time. It’s rarely pretty. 

    2. The course. The race started on the south end of the boardwalk, went down the boards into North Wildwood, then wrapped around the edge of the island. It followed along the Ocean Drive toward Stone Harbor before turning around, then followed the same path back up onto the boardwalk with a dog leg into Wildwood Crest before looping back for a beach finish. This maximized boardwalk time, which is key if the organizers are promoting the Wild Half as a destination race. It also provided for cool ocean breezes. Other than a clog up in the first mile, which is common in most races, runners had plenty of space. The portion toward Stone Harbor and back included some hills and a toll bridge, but nothing too terrible. The transition from the boardwalk to the road was flooded due to that parked storm, but the race volunteers helped runners go around it, and many people plowed right through (I went around so I wouldn’t run in wet shoes for the rest of the race). I don’t think they had another options. The race course was laid out the night before – you could tell because a timing mat was submerged in that puddle.

    3. The volunteers. These folks didn’t have an easy job. Not only did they keep boardwalk crowds out of the race course, but they also had to stop sometimes angry vacationers who wanted to leave their house/condo/rental from pulling out onto a road filled with runners.

    4. Runner support. The organizers set up water stops every 1.3 miles, which is more frequent than any other race I’ve run. They also had two stops within the last two miles. The number of aid stations was helpful on such a hot day. They also had towels submerged in ice water available at mile five and a little after mile six. They were a wonderful blast of refreshment. 

    5. Morey’s Pier park passes. With registration, every runner was given a wrist band that got them onto all rides on Morey’s Piers. That’s a great bonus, and we saw a lot of runners doing what a friend called the “half marathon shuffle” through the rides and water park after. 

    Here are my suggestions for next year:

    1. More towels. I loved those towels, but they came early in the race. How about another station around mile 10, too? That’s when a lot of runners suffered most from the heat.

    2. Less beach. The beach finish is a nice idea, but it could be shortened by about 200 yards. Running on sand can be very taxing, and people who have just slogged through nearly 13 miles are already hurting enough.

    3. Don’t have runners pass the finish. While I liked the course, the end could be re-arranged beyond the sand ending. When you hit the boardwalk coming back from North Wildwood, there’s a feeling of relief at having made it, and of being almost done. The boardwalk crowd support had an end of race cheering vigor, too. But the course requires that runners come back off the boardwalk for a dog leg into Wildwood Crest first. That’s a mental blow for tired runners.

    4. Misting stations. This is really a wish list item since I know it would add cost to the race, but sprinklers set up to cool down runners would be wonderful. This might happen naturally the longer the race is run – in popular races, people with homes along the course sometimes set up sprinklers on their own (I might have run through a few automatic sprinklers yesterday).

    I don’t know if I’ll do this race again. My ideal race conditions are 35 degrees with a pale sun, so an August race by the beach isn’t going to be my best run. But I think the Wild Half is a great half marathon addition to the races offered at the South Jersey Shore.

    Runners, how was your experience? What did you like about the race, and what changes would you suggest for next year?

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