Monday, October 12, 2015

Running from Dusk to Dawn and Then Some: The Midsummer Night's Dream Timed Ultra

Marathoners and Ultrarunners, basically.


(JUNE 2015--finally had a second to post the race report!)

I'm an introvert and I don't like parties unless I'm hosting and it's a nerdy dinner party with a small group of worldly friends who aren't picky eaters. I also make sure never to arrive to a party early to avoid having to make small talk or withstand awkward silences.

But this party was an exception. It was a running party, the Midsummer Night's Dream Hourly Ultra, a timed race put on by Tortoise and Hare Racing, LLC  at Boling Park in Canton, Georgia. I would get to see my friends every few minutes but not really have to hold extensive conversations.  I could arrive early without having to pretend to help the host so I could avoid uncomfortable conversation. I could eat JUNK food and drink carbonated beverages with abandon and without judgment, camp in my brand new Marmot Tungsten tent, and best of all, make a go for my next ultra distance finish. 

A timed race is one in which there is a loop of a specific distance, maybe a mile, 2 miles, or 5.  The goal of the the race is to run as many loops as you can within the allotted time. Sometimes the loop is paved, other times it is a trail loop.

At the MSNDHU, the loop was 1.25 on a crushed gravel track with a small quarter mile section on a packed dirt path. The aid station near the start was epic. There was the normal ultra fare- Hammer gels, Heed, an assortment of cut up fruit, CANDY CORN!!!!!, chips, pickles, potatoes, salt, gummy bears, Mountain Dew...

We brought our own sustenance, plus some extra items for total comfort. I 
also packed some GF sandwiches, pickles, frozen watermelon cubes in
my pack, and other delicacies. The Fiber One bars weren't mine--I know better :)

My friend Rebecca and I planned for the party appropriately: snacks (pictured below) and a cooler filled with sandwiches, mashed sweet potatoes with honey and sea salt, iced tea, some celebratory brew for each of our friends (for afterwards of course), frozen watermelon chunks, grapes, a six-pack of Samuel Adams Summer Ale to share, and some water.

There were all types of people of all shapes and sizes poised to run as much as they could in so many hours. Some came to try for their first half marathon, others came to test the waters of their first ultra. Yet others (veterans mostly) endeavored to add an "easy" 60 or 70 miles to their ultra resumes.

I had more shoes in the car...obviously those little ones on the left aren't mine. I have FLINTSTONE FEET.
This is the beauty of a timed race with a fixed loop. You can run as little or as much as you like. You can take a break between laps. You can rest in your tent for a few hours if you're doing the 24 Hour Race, power-nap before your final push during the 12 hour, change your clothes, or use the gross port-a-potties several times say, if you've consumed too much watermelon and pickles together. Also there is no need to carry a hydration pack (I did, though), or toilet paper, or anything really except yourself and your favorite tunes. 

At the urging of some new trail friends that I had met at the Double Tap 50 K Bearpalooza I signed up and began to prepare mentally for running the same loop a million times. I even convinced my friend Rebecca to join me for this momentous occasion!

I knew I wouldn't have any issues being on my feet for 12 hours since that last ultra I had actually completed took me upwards of 13 hours. I knew that running in circles for hours had the potential to be mind numbing and boring. I also knew that coming off of a DNF at Double Tap I would have to redeem myself (for ego's sake) and add another ultra finish to my running resume. My personal goal was to shoot for 40 miles, and I if I was able to, maybe more.

The unique challenge of this race would be that it would happen overnight. All races started at 9pm. I prepared for this by going to bed at 3am each night the week prior to the event and taking naps to adjust my sleep schedule accordingly. I also woke up early in the morning to run and work out, and then did the same at 9 or 10pm to ensure that I would be able to stay up throughout the night. This is very difficult for me as I normally wake up at 5am to work out and am fast asleep by 10:00pm.

The Marmot Tungsten 2P tent on the left is DA BOMB. The other one, well, not so much.....
On race night, we set up my two tents beforehand. My son had the pleasure of his phone, my tablet and portable charger, and the entire night before him (think multiple seasons of Family Guy on queue) with only occasional visits by mom.

The race began promptly at 7pm, just as the sun had finished setting and the stiflingly hot air became instantly cooler.  Some people wore wings. Others wore sparkle skirts and Marathon Maniac singlets.
At dusk there was an angel.

And there were twinkling lamps, butterflies, and other sparklies at the back trail section of the course.
Much thought had gone into making this event a magical one. When people endeavor to do anything that is difficult or out of their comfort zone (mileage, time, running in general, staying up past 10--which is me--, or literally running in circles for manymanymany hours), anything that makes this effort a more enjoyable experience despite pain and profound disillusionment is highly appreciated. It was indeed magical (and somewhat disorienting, particularly during the witching hours) to suddenly enter into a land of Teva and Chaco-clad faeries.

There were also faeries
The hours passed. The mosquitoes flew back to wherever they had come from. The air was cool, the night was quiet, and a random deer hung out right near the start, wondering why there were faeries and colorful lamps on the periphery of her homestead.

There were people that were in for three, six, twelve, and twenty-four hours. The numbers dwindled seriously after the 6 hour mark. There were a few left for the 12-hour and even fewer left for the 24-hour, because only truly demented people do that.

I ran and walked, walked and ran. Shuffled some, sat some. Stretched, changed shoes, talked with friends, offered encouragement to them, and received the same.

You know what? You actually can eat too much watermelon, which is basically a Fiber One bar in water. Lesson learned. The port-a-potty would be my best friend the entire night, in addition to my son's iPod.

I even gave Rebecca the side-eye when she mentioned that her feet were hurting after 16 miles.

"So? You keep going."

And she did. Rebecca finished a marathon that morning. She had never run any distance beyond six miles prior to the MSND hourly race. I was and am exceedingly proud of her! How many people surprise themselves like that in such a profound way? Rebecca is now a proud owner of a 26.2 sticker.

I did 32 miles and was finished. Done.

We both took a nap in the sun that had already dried up the copious amount of dew that had covered everything. At 9:20 we were given medals. At 10 we had breakfast, and at 11 we drove back to our respective homes.


  1. Wow, this sounds like so much fun (and such a challenge)! I hadn't heard of races like this before where there's no specific distance. Kudos to your friend for finishing her first marathon :)

  2. Absolutely fantastic! I would love to do this! Great job to both of you!!!!

  3. I am so encouraged by your strength. I take it with me on my runs. Although I struggle with increasing my speed, I have added distance and consistency. Thank you for what you do that reminds me we big girls can do this!

  4. You are so awesome!!! Just so inspiring and beautiful to me... thank you for doing what you are doing.

  5. Glad to hear your take this! I love this park.