Like most runs I sign up for these days, I was both looking forward to and dreading the 20in24 Midnight Madness Run as the race date approached.
The 20in24 is a series of race events run along the Kelly Drive/River Drive loop in Philly every summer, benefitting Back on My Feet. The events include the Lone Ranger (50 and 100 mile ultra marathons), a Relay event, Pajama Loop, and the Midnight Madness Run.
The midnight run consisted of one loop around the 8.4 mile course, starting at midnight as the name suggests. Runners are required to wear reflective gear and encouraged to wear glowing items, with a prize for Most Illuminated at stake. I bought a string of battery-powered lights from Walgreens and threw on a few glow sticks for the occasion.
Coming into this race, my longest distance since Broad Street had been seven miles. I knew this one would be a little difficult, but a good primer for marathon training, which starts this week. The base level for my long runs is nine miles, so doing 8.4 is a good start. I wasn’t sure how to approach my food for the day, knowing the race started at midnight. I’m used to doing long runs in the morning. 8.4 miles is also not really a long enough distance to adjust your diet for. I pretty much did the opposite of what I should have done and ate a giant meatbull sub from Wawa for lunch, at 2pm. Then I felt sick all afternoon. I had some graham crackers and an apple a little later and then ate my usual half bagel with peanut butter at 10:30. The temperature was in the high 70s, but the humidity was rising by the minute. And I really wasn’t looking forward to the run.
I picked up Jen and we headed to the race, arriving around 11pm. I wanted to catch my friend Maggie, who was running the 100 mile Lone Ranger. As soon as we arrived, I started to get more excited for the run. The base camp was serious business. There was a tent area where all the ultra runners had set up spaces to change and rest during their 24-hour trek. There were families and friends with tailgating areas set up full of supplies and charts and extra gear for their runners. The medical tent was full of runners icing their weary legs and downing water. The loudspeaker was announcing the runners as they were two miles out so families could prepare to meet their runner with fresh supplies and a new pacer. It was incredible and inspiring to see these ultra runners in action, and see the support they had along the way.
Participants had a safety meeting before the race, which was just when Maggie ended up passing by. Luckily I saw her a couple times on the course, though. That means she actually ran her loop faster than I did, in the middle of her 100+ mile run (she ended up doing 110 miles in 24 hours, by the way).
The safety notes basically reaffirmed that we were all running at our own risk. The race was on the running path, which is just completely unlit in many parts of River Drive. We ran in the opposite direction of the ultra/relay runners, and were encouraged to cheer them on along the way.
We lined up at the start and were on our way. The race was timed by good old-fashioned bib tears, with Pretzel City Sports ripping off the bottom of your bib as you entered the chute. It was a pretty small race of maybe a few hundred runners.
In complete opposition to the Color Run we did last weekend, this race was full of serious runners. Yes, it was fun to do a race in midnight wearing glow sticks. But it was also a tad bit dangerous. The course is pitch black in portions, and it is very easy to trip. Considering I fell in broad daylight on a flat sidewalk a couple weeks ago, I can’t believe I didn’t fall. The runners were also fairly spread out since it was a small field, so you could go a while without seeing anyone. There were 3 water stations along the way, which was helpful since it was extremely humid and I found myself dripping after a mile. I was definitely in the latter half of the pack, which was humbling.
While the runners in the midnight race were pretty serious, seeing the ultra runners coming the other way was absolutely inspiring. There were runners of all ages, most with a pacer navigating the course with them, and nothing but a headlamp and water with them. Some were running, some jogging slowly, and some walking and looking like they were about to pass out. But almost every one of them was upbeat and energetic, complimenting me on my christmas lights and telling me to keep going. I couldn’t believe that these runners who had run 60+ miles at this point were encouraging me, doing a measly 8.4 miles. Every time I felt tired, I saw one of these incredible athletes and it made me keep going.
I chugged along at around a 10:30 pace, slower than I ran Broad Street, but exactly what I had planned on for this race. I made sure to pick my feet up higher than normal when it was dark, to avoid tripping on tree roots. I spent the majority of the race planning and plotting on whether I could do an ultra next year. And by the end of the race, both Jen and myself decided we want to do the 50-miler next year.
We stuck around for the awards ceremony after the race, as the organizer came up to Jen beforehand and basically told her she was getting a prize. She won 2nd place for Most Illuminated, a well deserved honor. I was so amped up after the race I found it difficult to sleep. I spent the next morning looking up Ultra Marathon training plans, and am really set on 50 next year.