The Least Surprising Experiment Results Ever

I’m not exactly sure how updated I’ve kept this blog on my running plans, as I tend to do those mundane updates on Facebook. But, in case I haven’t announced it here, I have a race on the calendar that I plan to be my attempt at doing 100 miles at one event. It’s called A Race For The Ages (ARFTA) and it’s a simple concept: You get as many hours to run a 1-mile course as you are old. Finish time is noon on Labor Day so you subtract your age and find your start time. I’ll be 41, so I get 41 hours to do 100 miles which I should be able to do no problem. EXCEPT: I have to start at 7pm on Saturday night. Which is basically my bedtime.

So…I sought out a night race to test my “start a race at night” capabilities. Because, what I hoped I could do with the ARFTA, is to start at 7pm and run until it started getting hot on Saturday and take ONE long sleep period during the hottest part of the day before running until the finish. That made everything seem doable, divides the 100 miles into 2 chunks divided by one good sleep occupying the hottest hours of the race. Perfect.

Except that I did my Test Night Race experiment this weekend and it went terrible. My dream hypothesis was: Kim Can Function Decently Enough On 24+ Hours Without Sleep To Support Getting In 50 Miles Before Sleeping At ARFTA.

But, of course, we all know that the RIGHT hypothesis would have been: Kim Falls Apart Without Sleep.

This was a Run Under The Stars event (there’s a bunch) outside Knoxville, TN and it started at 8pm and went to 6am. It was a 1.25 mile flat gravel loop and we had a tent set up and a canopy and chairs and – as far as night races go? It was GREAT. If you want to do a night race? I highly recommend it. I went with 4 of my girl running friends (We obviously misunderstand the idea of a Girls Night Out) and it was really a great experience. I laughed more on that trip than I have on any other trip. Mostly because we all lost our damn minds. My friend Chelsea lost her mind before the race even started as she realized APPROACHING THE START LINE that she was wearing her flip-flops instead of her running shoes. So, basically I almost wet my pants laughing hysterically at the start line. There is no better way to start a race.

Ready for my night race!

A photo posted by Kim Holmes (@misszoot) on

My goal was to knock out 20 miles before taking any significant breaks. And I did that FINE. So from 8pm to midnight? I functioned well enough. It was not ideal, I definitely prefer waking up and running to running at night, but I knocked out the 20 miles fine in about 4:10 which is a moderate ultra pace for me. Then I started allowing myself walk breaks and sit breaks and the further I got past midnight the more I deteriorated mentally and physically. I was losing the ability to care about anything other than how much I wanted to sleep. My stomach was also rejecting the idea that I was expecting it to take new food on during normal sleep hours.

I got to the marathon distance and opted for an extended (20 minutes or so) break and let my friends just run along without me. I sat there thinking about how I was getting that weird dizzy feeling I’ve gotten when I’ve tried to function as a human after a night up with sick kids. It’s like a motion sickness feeling. If you’ve suffered it you’ll know what I’m talking about, but it’s strictly related to sleep deprivation, has NOTHING to do with the running portion of the evening. Yet I still had a solid 3+ hours left of running to do. I decided I could walk and still reach the 50K point so I opted to make that my goal for the night. 50K and then I could tap out.

So I muscled through the next 5 miles walking a lot more and sitting a lot more and fighting the urge to puke from dizziness CONSTANTLY. It was like a bad car ride, it was terrible. So when I hit the 50K point I decided to try to lay down. I think I had 2+ hours to go so I wrapped up in a sheet in our tent and put on my comfy/dry clothes. The problem was I was so dizzy/motion sick that every time I moved I felt the urge to puke again. So, I gave Chelsea my mat (SIDENOTE: When it comes to sleep/schedules Chelsea and I are identical. We normally go to bed early and wake up early. WE ARE NOT NIGHT PEOPLE. She struggled as much as I did.) and I tried to wrap up in a sheet on a chair and sit perfect still for awhile to try to settle my dizziness.

It didn’t work and I still had an hour left so I thought, “Well…what the hell…” and I wrapped up in my sheet and put my race number on my pajamas and just walked one more lap for a total of 32.25 miles.

On of our friends that went that WAS just going to go as a spectator but signed up last minute knocked out 37 miles after…get this…having a long run of only 16 miles before that moment. SHE SET A 21 MILE PR. HA! She is also a night person, so she didn’t lose her shit like I did.

I knew it would be hard, but I didn’t realize HOW hard. One funny thing, I suspected when the sun came up I’d feel fine and I kinda did. I definitely didn’t feel GREAT but I actually helped drive home because I felt fine enough to drive once it became morning which is when my mind/body function best.

So now I’m questioning the ARFTA. If I could start at 6am, run 16 hours, sleep from 10pm-6am and run 16 hours again I’d be GOLDEN. I’d have to run in the heat of the day, but it would fit with my natural cycle of waking/sleeping. But this race is exactly opposite so now I either have to figure out how to adjust my sleep cycle the week before or I run for 3-4 hours, take a long nap, run for 20 hours, take a long nap, run for 5 hours or so. And that sucks. Because I’m still running in the heat of the day, but not in any fun schedule that’s good for mentally pushing through a long run.

I don’t know. It’s just frustrating to know my limiting factor in this adventure is how much I need/depend on sleep. I had really hoped I could function for 30 hours at a decent level but it turns out I can’t. Not even close.

So, long story short? The race was tons of fun. I highly recommend you do a night run with a group of fun girls where you can set up a camp and kinda hang out all night. It really was a great experience, and one I’d like to do again some day. Just for the fun of it. But this experiment kinda has me doubting my ability to schedule my running/sleeping during ARFTA in any sort of optimal way. If I knew I could get a refund? I’d withdraw today. I guess I’ll spend the next week or so talking to people about their experiences with running/dizziness/sleep deprivation because that’s not something you can really “treat” like you can digestive issues or muscle cramping. It’s my body’s response to exhaustion and it’s IMPOSSIBLE to run through.

All in all, great race. Great medal. Just making me wonder if the ARFTA is going to be as ideal as I had hoped for my first attempt at a 100-miler.

The medals blink!

The medals blink!

2 thoughts on “The Least Surprising Experiment Results Ever

  1. Colleen says:

    A few thoughts on my experience with the same race: one part of my plan was to never sit down for more than a minute or two (I could shake out or change my shoes or go to the bathroom), but no extended sitting. I think that helped me get through the night and keep going. I never sat down outside of the bathroom! Digestive issues were my problem. I had two pretty bad bouts of queasiness. I think that trying a new sports drink during a race was a bad idea, but I’m not sure if that was the cause or if I had the same problem as you – that my digestive system just couldn’t handle food at that time. I had other issues too, that I think eating a big lunch and a light dinner might fix if I ever do this again. The seasick no sleep feeling hit me soon after I stopped running, in the car on the way back and the rest of the day yesterday. I’m really tired but that feeling is gone today. I’m not sure that I could have made it farther than 40 miles if I was doing a longer race with a night start & then I’d be useless for the whole next day. I don’t sleep well during the day, even if I’m very tired. I think the strategy of two sleeps for your 100 would work better for me as well. I definitely felt the best between 8pm and 12pm and started to deteriorate after that. For the last 2 hours I kept looking at the benches and seriously considering just laying down!

  2. LC says:

    Your run sounded like it was MUCH FUN, except for that queasiness part!!

    I didn’t do NEAR the distances you did but I was up running at 1:30am when we ran the Ragnar Trail about a month ago. We started at 1100am on Friday and ran until 2ish pm on Saturday. I basically slept a total of 5 hours the whole time AND that was after a spotty night’s sleep at the campsite the night prior to the race start. But after year’s of sporadic traveling overseas for work and a deployment where your sleep gets all jacked up, I think my body has learned to cope with the crap I throw at it sometimes.

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