Crazy is a matter of perspective. “You run marathons? That’s crazy.” I suppose that’s true, but when I have friends who do things like half and full Ironmans, a marathon seems pretty normal. When registration for Loonie’s Midnight Marathon opened, my mom signed up. A marathon in the middle of July somewhere north of Cookeville, TN that started at midnight. Totally crazy. But while we were in the car en route to Charlottesville, she told me that our friend Jen (with whom I ran Marine Corps) was coming down from Indiana to run it too, and I decided to sign up too, after doing some quick math to see if I could increase my training in time.
Well, June was a very busy month, and I never did run over 13.1 miles. The Saturday that we were going to limp through a 17-18 miler, we woke up to thunderstorms, and I settled for 9 miles on the treadmill. That Monday, less than two weeks out, I Gallo-walked through a miserably hot 15.5 miles before I was done and curled up in the fetal position on the couch. I didn’t so much care about my time as I a) didn’t want to get injured, b) be miserable for the last 16 miles, and c) be out on the course forever.
The day (night?) of the race rolled around, and we made our plans for a very conservative pace. Jen is great at pacing, so we knew we probably wouldn’t go out too fast. The course was a series of 5 mile loops with an initial 1.2 mile leg. Every loop, we went by our cars, so we set out a cooler with our fuel of choice. Did I mention that I’m not a night person? Staying up for the start was half the battle, though once we arrived at the race, the adrenaline kicked in. I had tried to take a nap during the afternoon but only slept for 20 minutes or so. In reality, the start just felt like an early morning race: dark, people in their running clothes milling about, making Porta-Potty runs, just like any other race.
The race director required a certain amount of reflective gear, though most of the roads were lit by streetlights. Obviously, my Amphipod Xinglet works really well. Loonies was my first marathon as a Marathon Maniac (I qualified at Rocket City Marathon in Huntsville, AL), so I was excited to wear my Maniacs singlet, and we all somewhat inadvertently dressed the same. Our fellow runners dubbed us “The Pink Ladies” as they cheered us along the course, which was fun. And I got to legitimately be in the MM group picture.
One of my race goals was to finish before “official sunrise”, around 5:30-5:45. However, the pre-race festivities (national anthem, prayer, moment of silence for Boston, another Boston remembrance, acknowledging the cross-country team, etc.) dragged on and on, and we didn’t start until after 12:15 am. We did the first 1.2 miles slow and steady and came back through the start/finish line. The next 10 or so miles were pretty uneventful. There was a volunteer playing the banjo and serenading us, amusing spectators with beer, and great aid station volunteers. Since it was a lollipop course, we saw our fellow runners over and over again, were lapped by the leaders (twice!), and it really fostered a sense of community with the other crazy people who were running a marathon in the middle of the night.
I started to hurt shortly after the halfway point, but I knew that if I could get through the third and fourth laps, that I could finish. Sometime around 3:30 am, we started to hear roosters crow. The fourth lap was the hardest, mentally and physically. Everything hurt, and it seemed like we still had so much more to go. Even though the course was pretty flat, I started to walk up some of the inclines just to give my legs a break. I honestly thought I might walk the whole fifth lap, but once I passed under the finish for the last lap, I got a second wind of sorts, and my despair dissipated.
By that time, we could see the light begin to creep up behind the hills. The course emptied out with other runners finishing. One of the volunteers was passed out asleep in his chair. I tried to enthusiastically thank the aid station volunteers for staying up all night to pass out water and Gatorade to us, but I probably wasn’t making sense at that point. Our goal was 5:10, and all three of us crossed the finish line in 5:12:54. Instead of medals, they presented us with these personalized tiles.
After a little bit of food and a quick clothing change, Mom and I said good-bye to Jen and headed back to Nashville. We were completely disoriented since it felt more like 10 am than 6 am, and by the time we got to breakfast, we could barely walk and started laughing hysterically. Then she spilled water all over the table which set us off again. I don’t think I’ve felt that loopy since the last time I stayed up all night at a sleepover. I managed to get myself safely home, took a shower, and got right in bed where I slept for three hours.
This was a REALLY good race. Except for the late start, it was incredibly well-organized, and all the volunteers were amazing. Our first few laps, they passed out cold washcloths and then oranges. We also received a technical t-shirt and a running hat with the logo. But my favorite part was the camaraderie with other runners. Even some of the faster runners cheered us on (as they lapped us), and we supported the runners who were a ways behind us as well. Would I do it again? Eh…it would have to be with someone else, and I would definitely want to be better prepared and trained!
So, yeah, I ran a marathon at midnight.