The Atlantic City Expressway Connector will be used for more than just vehicles in October as the Atlantic City Marathon will take an unusual detour through the tunnel.
By running through Gardner's Basin and the tunnel, runners will see all of Atlantic City, not just the Boardwalk side of the resort as the course took runners in the past.
The 53rd Atlantic City Marathon, which is scheduled Oct. 16 at 8 a.m., is a series of races with a marathon, half-marathon, 10K, 5K, non-competitive Health Walk and a Kids Fun Run.
"We changed the course so the runners could run past every casino," said tournament director Alan Staller, 66, who is a lawyer at Levine Staller in Atlantic City. "It makes it more interesting for the runners. Some people get bored with long distances. It's also a chance for people to see the areas of town they wouldn't normally see. All the properties are very impressive."
Traffic will be closed in the Connector during the race, Staller said. This will be the second time in a month the tunnel will be used in this capacity. The Atlantic City Triathlon, scheduled for Sept. 18, will use it during the bike portion of the race.
Part of the reasoning to extend the marathon through Atlantic City was to accommodate runners. The course normally has gone along the Boardwalk into the Downbeach area. But once runners got there, they were making several turns before heading back to Atlantic City for the finish.
This time the race starts in front of Bally's Atlantic City, heads toward Gardner's Basin - passing Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, Harrah's Resort and the Golden Nugget - and through the AC Connector toward the downbeach communities of Ventnor, Margate and Longport. The route is a qualifier for the Boston Marathon.
"We talked to runners after last year's race and this was something we could do to make it better for them - less turns," Staller said. "This helped make it more uniform."
In addition to the new course, officials from Margate's Milton & Betty Katz Jewish Community Center, which is running the marathon for the third straight year, will bring in a sports and fitness exposition for the first time in the marathon's history. The expo will be held two days before the event at Bally's on Friday from 1-7 p.m., and Saturday 11a.m.-7 p.m.
After speaking to a number of runners and attending other marathons and running events, officials realized this was something missing from their own event.
"It's kind of a national progression," said Brian Barry, co-race director for the A.C. Marathon. "We don't want to just make it a race but a weekend full of events. People are going to drive here from out of town and they get to see the latest in running trends."
Barry said numbers from the Atlantic City Convention and Visitors Authority suggested delegate spending for this year's A.C. Marathon would be close to $4 million.
In the three years the JCC has taken over the A.C. Marathon, the officials have seen tremendous growth. In 2009, when the races almost didn't happen, there were 800 registrants.
Last year, the number spiked to 2,700, according to Marg Mancuso, co-race director.
This year, there are already 1,000 people registered, whereas this time last year there were only 200.
Marathon officials are expecting a larger turnout overall, hopefully in the 5,000-people range.
"It's definitely an attainable goal," Mancuso said.
Throughout the marketing blitz for the A.C. Marathon, Mancuso discovered the event wasn't well known despite being one of the oldest in the country. She went to races events to get the word out and found runners quickly jumped at the chance to get more information.
Because the A.C. Marathon offers more than just a 26.2-mile marathon, there is great appeal for many runners who look for variety and other distances to add to their training. Mancuso used the half-marathon as a tool to get those who are competing in the Marine Corps Marathon on Oct. 30 in Arlington, Va., as a warm-up race.
"We let them know it was a great training race and the response was tremendous," Mancuso said. "We have a significant amount registered now, but we typically get a bump one to two months out."
Fans and family members will get a chance to participate without having to run. The organizers are setting up around 20 different fan zones with live bands, food and drinks along the course.
This will give fans - and anyone looking to enjoy a Sunday afternoon around Atlantic City - a chance to cheer on runners from several different locations.
"This was something we started last year and we really liked it," said Staller, who has run the A.C. Marathon four times. "This will help get more locals out to view the race and also offer a distraction for the runners during the long race."
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