I’ve had many amazing running experiences already, and, so long as I stay healthy, I hope to have many more. Amidst the chaos of this fall, my focus continues to be on preparing for the 24-hour Across the Years run on December 28th. In addition to being the longest I’ve ever run, this event promises to challenge me mentally and physically in ways I don’t yet even understand. Therefore, I’m not only training my body, but attempting to train my mind throughout the fall. Ideally, I’ll have as much of a sense of what the run will feel like as possible, despite the myriad of wildcards!
One such wildcard is the overnight factor. I’ve hit the 50 mile mark twice before, but have always run mainly during the day. On a more general level, I’ve noticed more and more that I don’t have the magical ability to stay up late or pull all-nighters that I once had. I may not need quite as much sleep as some folks, but I still need a full night to feel fully rested. This realization made it all the more important to me that I find out how my body would react to running in the wee hours of the morning, when it knows I should be asleep. So, I decided to plan a midnight run at a local park, and invite anyone else crazy enough to come out and run with me.
In addition to the time, running in the park allowed me to run short, repetitive routes. This had the benefit of both simulating the race, and allowing me to leave my nutrition and other running supplies in my car where they would be frequently and easily accessible. As the day loomed closer, I started to doubt my ability to even stay up easily until midnight to then start running. I made the choice to head to the park “early” and start running at 11PM, knowing that others might join me at midnight. I loaded my car with plenty of nutrition, dry clothing, and other first aid supplies I might need, and I drove the 1/2 mile to the park. Although I knew having my car ensured plenty of storage for supplies, it still felt strange driving in the first place!
After laying out my supplies in the car, I turned on my headlamp and slowly started running into the darkness. It only took me 30 seconds to jump a little as I stumbled across a couple, sitting in the dark, “talking” to each other. This run also provided me with an opportunity to get a feel for a much slower pace, which I know I’ll need to maintain, in order for my legs to hold up for 24 hours. I began with the goal of maintaining a 10 to 11 minute per mile pace throughout the night. The first 5 miles went by pretty easily as I started to get a feel for my intended pace and for the path I’d be running up and down. I made sure to remove as much debris from the path as possible, and keep an eye out for any obstacles I might encounter. These tasks helped keep my mind off the fact that I was running through a pitch-black park by myself. I realized very quickly how much I (and many others, I’m sure) take for granted the ambient light that surrounds us living in a populated area. The silence left me free to hear each of my footfalls, along with the random animals, birds, and insects that call the wooded park home.
At midnight, two intrepid friends joined me for some miles, of which I was grateful. Over the next 8 miles or so, we made are way along the trails, invented new routes, and otherwise kept ourselves occupied. Around 1:30AM, one of my friends headed home for the comfort of her bed, and that left two of us. At this point, the Salomon trail shoes I started off wearing, in part because it was forecasted to rain, started to irritate my feet so we ran the 1/2 mile to my house to trade them out. Over the next two hours, we became very familiar with the trails in the park, as well as surrounding roads. Despite the monotony of the running, having a friend to chat with (and ward off the ghosts) was wonderful and I was incredibly thankful for the 3.5 hours he ran with me.
After he left, the park suddenly seemed much more creepy. Of course, I’m sure that had nothing to do with the fact that it was now 3:30AM or the random guy sitting on a park bench, upright, without moving. At that point, I made the executive decision to head up to a nearby main road that was lit, and run up and down the sidewalk until I met up with another friend who agreed to bike next to me. The street was still quiet, but even a little bit of light made he night seem not as intimidating. By this point, my body was definitely aware of the time, and I began to feel a bit nauseous, mainly due to the time of night. I had been taking water, electrolytes, and nutrition regularly and seemed to be consuming enough calories, so I can only assume that the mild nausea will emerge no matter what I decide on as my final nutrition plan.
Seeing my friend ride up to meet me was definitely a welcome break from the silence. She is normally awake at 4:30AM, so getting up to ride with me wasn’t nearly as difficult as it would have been if our roles had been reversed! I ran back and forth on the lit street with her for about 45 minutes, and then headed back to the car to refuel and re-hydrate. At this point, I decided to run to the starting location for the 6AM group run with my running group. We made our way to the meeting point, a few miles away, and the darkness was still quite intense but having someone pedaling along beside me certainly helped. My legs were beginning to feel some fatigue at this point, but I had been running for 7 hours at that point, so I suppose it was to be expected. We arrived at the group meeting spot, and then I headed back out with more friends. Have I mentioned how grateful I am to be a part of such an amazing running community?
I ran and chatted for the next 8 miles, still maintaining a 10:30 min/mile pace, for which I was quite pleased. The organized route actually went through the same park I had been running in all night, so I decided to stop at the car and refuel and then run back to the house quick to let out the dogs and give them their breakfast. At this point, I had been running for 9 hours, and had covered 42 miles. The sun finally emerged from its slumber, and it was a welcome sight to see the world once again illuminated by our favorite star.
The final two hours and 8 miles seemed to go by rather quickly, despite my legs feeling incredibly heavy. Although I had no mileage or time goals aside from getting through the darkness, I did secretly want to see 50 miles displayed on my Garmin. I arrived back at my car with a half mile to go, and figured it was somehow fitting to run small laps around the parking lot itself to reach 50 miles. Just as the clock struck 10AM, my Garmin struck 50 miles, and I walked back to my car with a giant, exhausted grin on my face. I slid into the car, drove the 1/2 mile home, took a quick shower, ate a bowl of cereal, and promptly collapsed in bed for 4 hours. My legs were sore and I had a bit of a headache, but moving from vertical to horizontal certainly felt nice! I’ll no doubt need to slow my pace a bit more (I finished with a 10:16 pace) to keep going for 24 hours, but now I know.
Late night. Early morning. Amazing friends. Important calories. Creepy parks. Now I know. 🙂