Of all the half marathons we've run, we've never met a runner who had a New Jersey race on his bucket list. Anyone who doesn't give NJ's Asbury Park Half Marathon some serious consideration is missing out on a true destination race experience. Running New Jersey's famous Boardwalk, passing Asbury Park's iconic landmarks, and witnessing the revitalization of a community devastated by years of neglect and a more recent hurricane should be enough to lure any runner to The Shore.
Packet pickup was held multiple days during the week leading up to the race, so locals had a chance to pick up their race bibs early. We picked up our packets on the Friday before race day at the Asbury Park Convention Center. Though the hours were advertised as being 5 pm to 7 pm on Friday, volunteers and race organizers were ready for us when we arrived at 4:45.
Friday's event was truly just a packet pickup, where runners picked up their race bibs, a Runapalooza sticker, and nothing more. With that being said, just because you can breeze in and out of the Convention Center doesn't mean you should. Take some time to enjoy and appreciate this venue for its dilapidated beauty, and for the fact that it is unlike any convention center you've entered before. The building's architectural details reveal what Asbury Park was in its heyday, and all should stop to appreciate that the building has survived and evolved into what it is today.
Stop by some of the little boutique shops in the convention center and you'll get a good sense of the pride Jersey folks have for their home state. Shore merchandise abounds, along with t-shirts, plaques, coasters, and any manner of chochkies all bearing the state's post Hurricane Sandy motto: #JERSEYSTRONG.
The real race expo happened after Saturday's half marathon, when the convention center filled up with vendors (a few of whom set up shop during packet pickup). Runners were directed into the expo post-race to pick up their long sleeve technical race shirts.
The race's host hotel, The Berkeley, was within spitting distance to the race start and finish. Book here early and take advantage of the race rate, which in 2016 saved runners sixty dollars per night. The Empress and the Asbury Hotel were mere blocks from the starting line, making them additional options for places to stay. Finally, it would not be difficult to stay farther away from the shore and drive in for the race. We did, and we had no problems battling any sort of traffic. Since Asbury Park is set up for heavy beach traffic in the summer, it's numerous lots and side street parking were readily available to runners. An added bonus was the fact that parking was free until 2pm giving us plenty of time to grab lunch before heading out of town.
Places to Eat
The recent revitalization efforts in Asbury Park has ensured that there are plenty of places to eat. We suggest walking down Cookman Ave where you will run into a plethora of dining options. Better yet, keep your eyes peeled during the race as it runs down Cookman within the first mile. You can ponder your dining options during the remaining 12 miles of the half marathon.
Anyone craving a post-race burger should check out Brickwall Tavern and Dining Room, which in addition to burgers has a great breakfast plate on the menu, as well as $5 Bloody Mary's and even cheaper mimosas.
While much of Central New Jersey is a hotbed of tasteless McMansions, Asbury Park's fall from glory in the 1970's ensured that it's stately beachside homes remained safe from any tacky remodels. The first half of the Asbury Park Half Marathon showcased many of these grand homes as it wove runners down city blocks toward the ocean and back up again. The second half of the race took runners along the famous Jersey shore boardwalk, providing everyone with a glorious view of the Atlantic Ocean on one side and beachside B & B's on the other.
Aid stations were located approximately every two miles. Tons of volunteers were on hand not just to pass out water and Gatorade, but to ensure that not a single runner missed a turn at one of the course's many intersections. An additional army of volunteers on bicycles escorted the race's frontrunners through all 13.1 miles.
While the tunnel of cheering fans along the boardwalk finish was the spectator highlight of the day, there was also a good amount of fan support during race. As runners passed the starting area four times (including start and finish) during their 13.1 miles, it was easy for spectators to see their runners without having to hike out to distant parts of the course.
The course finished on the boardwalk about one block south of the convention center. After receiving finisher medals, runners were directed back inside to the center's auditorium to pick up their race shirts and view the race's expo in its full glory. This was the first race we'd run where the expo was held after the race, and we liked it. Being directed to an indoor location allowed runners to pick up their long sleeved race shirts and add an extra layer to bodies beginning to cool down after a long run. Additionally, should bad weather occur on race day, the indoor location ensures that runners can enjoy their post-race experience no matter what the temperature outside might be. 2016 runners were able to chow down on pasta, yogurt, bananas, cereal bars, bagels, and cheese. Anyone who was craving a post-race beer was able to purchase it from the concession stand.
Another benefit to the convention center was that it allowed event organizers to host the awards ceremonies for both the 5K and half marathons on a stage that has seen the likes of Led Zeppelin and Jefferson Starship. Age group winners were awarded with beer mugs and backpacks, all bearing the iconic (if a little creepy) face of Tillie, a New Jersey shore mascot.
We’d be willing to bet the Asbury Park Half Marathon is one of the most scenic New Jersey races. Coupled with an ideal April race date and stellar organization, this is a race not to be missed.
Tips for Running a Successful Asbury Park Half Marathon
- Figure out what you are going to do with your stuff. Gear check was not offered in 2016, so one of us had to carry the rental car keys until he could foist them off on a spectating family member.
- Bring a throwaway shirt. It may be cold at the start, and the lack of a gear check will mean you need to wear something warm that you don't mind tossing.
- Be prepared for wind in your face at some point. Because runners head down the boardwalk in both directions over the course of the race, and because it is April in NJ, wind is almost a definite.
- Take some time to enjoy Asbury Park. Take pictures of its iconic landmarks, eat out in the revitalized area of downtown and take in the sites of Asbury Park before the masses descend upon it from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
For more information about this race visit http://runapalooza.info.