Come, let me tell you a story, a story about the time that I randomly decided to do an all night race and lost my DAMN MIND.
A month or so ago, I let my dear training buddies, Kim, Lindsey, and Colleen, talk me in to registering for Run Under the Stars, an all night timed race series… When I say I “let them talk me in to it,” I really mean I saw them talking about it and I couldn’t very well let them do something as ridiculous as an all night race WITHOUT ME! So I registered on a whim. I knew they all had goals and reasons for doing this race, especially Kim as she is in the early stages of getting ready for her first 100 miler, but I was just along for the ride. Anything could happen! WEE!
A few days prior to race weekend we had made all our plans and even talked another friend into joining us, Kara. We all piled in to her car and made the road trip up to Oak Ridge, TN. During the car ride we talked race strategy, discussed our goals, told stories (like the one about Lindsey cutting off her own underwear at a race), and laughed so hard we cried (once because of the underwear story) so many times I started to wonder if I was losing my mind before the all-nighter even began. This was going to be the most epic girl’s night out, EVER! We arrived around 4pm, picked up our race packets, and then went to grab some dinner. I was kind of worried about what I should eat for a race that starts at 8pm. How do you even fuel for a race that goes all night? I decided to just eat pasta and hope for the best. Aka my general life strategy.
The race took place in AK Bissel Park on a 1.25 mile crushed gravel path. We set up our tent and camp chairs along the path and I laid out my own personal aid station– Pringles, Lay’s potato chips, Starburst jelly beans, Coke, and a giant jug of Skratch water. As the sun set there was a very slight chill in the air and I started fretting about being too cold– I had only brought one running outfit with a short sleeved shirt and nothing warm. What was I going to DO? If I was cold I was SURELY GOING TO DIE. Lindsey came over to me and said, “You’re not too cold, you’re just nervous, stop worrying!” She was right, of course, I was fine and the temperature was fine, I just couldn’t help finding something to be anxious about even at a race with zero personal pressure. I felt very centered and calm after her reassurance. So calm and serene, in fact, that as we gathered around the starting line I didn’t realize until minutes before the start time that I was STILL WEARING MY FLIP FLOPS. Oh brother. As I shuffled (because you can’t very well run in FLIP FLOPS) back to our camp site all my friends cracked up laughing at me and I crammed on my real shoes as quickly as I could. Possibly one of the dumbest and also most hilarious things I have ever done at a race.
I decided not to start my GPS watch because I always fare better mentally when I am not obsessively checking my mileage. I also knew that I didn’t want to be looking at the clock all night long; I was worried that if I knew how late it was, my mental state would deteriorate quickly. I am NOT a night person. At all. To me, staying up late is staying up past 10pm, and I rarely even do that. I go to bed at 8pm on the reg. I NEED MY SLEEP. So, needless to say, I really had no idea how I would deal with the sleep deprivation, this race was one big experiment. The first several miles went by fast. The sun hadn’t quite set yet and it was still light outside. We all kept remarking on what an odd feeling it was to be starting a race at 8pm. Thankfully I felt strong and happy, not sluggish like I thought I would after spending a large part of the day in the car. A couple hours in the sun started to set and we were running well, taking a few breaks here and there to eat something or take a potty break, or just to shoot the breeze with the friendly aid station workers. The race aid station was stocked with so much food I could hardly decide on what to snack on! There was fresh fruit, chips, donut holes, candy, pizza, pancakes, salt pills, coffee… they had everything! I mostly stuck to my personal aid, but I definitely enjoyed a few of those delicious donut holes.
At mile 15 I decided to take a sit break– I wanted to eat something more substantial than a handful of jelly beans and also wanted to change my shoes. I ate an embarrassing amount of Pringles (spoiler alert: I finished nearly the whole can before the night was over), drank a can of Coke, and switched from my Nikes to my Montrails. I was keeping pace with Kara and Kim had finished 20 miles and decided to join us for her remaining miles. At this point we added scheduled walk breaks– from the trash can to the bridge, from that pole to the next pole, from the crack in the ground to the tree. Giving ourselves the breaks helped us keep our pace steady and made running for several more hours seem less daunting. At one am we took a gratuitous “WE ARE HALFWAY THERE” selfie. I was starting to feel the beginnings of my eventual insanity. The park lights shut off around midnight, and we ran with a headlamp for a while, but the moon was so bright we ended up not needing it.
As we looped around and around and around on the path we enjoyed a few moments with the other racers– there was one guy that heard we were from Huntsville (the Rocket City) and kept calling us “rocket fuel” each time he passed by us again. We recognized a couple of ladies that were also at Delano with us a few months back– back then we complimented them on their amazing coordinated running skirts and they were wearing yet another set of adorable skirts this time. As we passed by them I lamented, “I STILL DON’T HAVE A COOL RUNNING SKIRT.” and she replied, “I have already bought five since then! Get with it!” One time the guy in the lead was walking for a moment, and just before we passed by him he started running again. “AW MAN, That was our one chance to pass the FAST DUDE!” I commented, and he immediately stopped, walked backwards a little, and let us pass him. I giggled and said, “TAKE THAT!” as he passed us a second time. We were definitely starting to get silly.
Near Kim’s marathon point she started to feel full blown sleep deprived and I knew I wasn’t far behind her. I pushed on to my marathon point and took another break. I held my Pringles can in my hands and looked it over. “Guys… guys… GUYS. I THINK I FORGOT HOW TO READ.” I knew I was looking at words but I couldn’t figure out what any of them said. Then I realized I was looking at the Spanish side of the can. It around 3 am, and I had definitely lost my mind. I stopped eating solid food a couple hours prior because I was feeling increasingly nauseous. I felt like I had been eating for hours and hours and hours. I couldn’t eat ANY. MORE. I was done. No more food. My stomach was revolting– it’s the middle of the flipping night, I’M DONE DIGESTING! I grabbed a couple donut holes from the aid station and as I chewed them I realized there was nothing I wanted less in the world than to swallow the stupid donut holes. I spent probably 10 minutes just holding the nasty chewed up, now sand consistency donut holes in my mouth before I finally gave up and spit them out in the grass. I was also feeling incredibly mentally foggy– it was taking me several minutes to process normal conversation and I couldn’t focus my eyes on one single point for very long.
I finally realized my end was near and decided to walk one final lap. The death march. I was at mile 28.5. Kara was still going strong– she had no only PR’ed her mileage distance but ran her first marathon and was well on her way to running her first 50k! She was amazing us all with her fortitude. She very kindly walked my last lap with me (probably because she was worried I might wander off and get hit by a car in my deranged mental state), and the only thing I remember about that lap was stopping in my tracks and feeling terrified of the sign post that was ominously lingering in the shadows. Kara assured me the sign post was not going to attack us and we slowly hobbled to the finish line.
After my final lap I ducked into our tent and laid down to try and catch some sleep before the race was over. It was around 430am and I felt weird. I had been awake for almost 24 hours and I was Not. Handling. It. Well. I think I slept for a few fitful minutes, but mostly just laid there thinking about all the weird stuff you think about when you’re sleep deprived, monsters, the universe, existential crises… Around 6am the sun came up and I weirdly started to feel completely fine. Tired, yes, sore, yes, but the weird “I am definitely insane” feeling was completely gone with the reemergence of the sun. I felt the fog lift from my brain as we repacked up the car to head home, it was like magic! Kim was feeling the same thing, and after a coffee stop we were both feeling normal enough to share the duty of driving home while Colleen, Lindsey, and Kara snoozed off and on in the back seat.
I ended the race with 28.75 miles (the medal LIGHTS UP), and I’m perfectly happy with my performance. After all, I went in expecting nothing, and I ended up running a marathon in the MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT! I’m not going to lie, there was a small part of me that thought, “Only a marathon? Man that stinks…” But then I immediately want to slap
myself for using the words “only” and “a marathon” in the same sentence. This season has been insane. I have run 5 ultras, 1 marathon, one three day stage race, a handful of other shorter races all back to back in the last few months. It’s time for a break. A REAL BREAK. No more races until next fall. Pinky swear.
Overall, the event was incredibly well done and the race director couldn’t have been nicer and more welcoming. If I ever feel crazy enough to run all night again, I would definitely return to a Run Under the Stars event. For now. Sleep. All the sleep. Beautiful sleep. I will never forsake you again. (Until the next dumb race my friends decide to do, that is.