3 hours, 54 minutes and 7 seconds, and was the third grandmaster (50 and older) finisher. I was third of 12 in my age group, 38th of 128 men and 45th of 236 finishers. Every runner who finished ahead of me is younger. It was my 37th marathon. This race tied my record for marathons in a calendar year (set last year) at 5 and marked the 18th state in which I’ve finished a marathon.
The Loonies Midnight Marathon is exactly the sort of locally run marathon that I prefer. Local folks — the members of the Upper Cumberland Road Runners Club — do an excellent job of putting on the race without any sponsors. The back of the technical shirt most races give runners is packed with logos from sponsors.
The back of the T-shirt has the UCRRC logo, the logo for the city of Livingston, Tenn., and the phrase "Sleep is overrated ... Run 26.2 at Midnight."
This isn't some for-profit operation run by an out-of-state company like the Raleigh Rock 'n' Roll Marathon. The race is administered by hard-working volunteers with the TCRRC and other local folks who care about running. Of the 236 finishers, only one lives in Livingston. I'm guessing that's because local runners are among the terrific volunteers I saw on the course.
You can tell that runners put on this race because they take care of all of the little things that matter to runners.
Race officials and police did an excellent job of making sure that the course was fairly well lighted. When there were areas without good street lights, the town placed temporary spotlights, which also were used around Livingston Academy. All of the lights were on for a couple of athletic fields on the course as well.
There were also flashing pylons at many points where you needed to turn and flashing reflectors on the shoulder of some roads. The Asheville Citizen-Times City Marathon started at 6 a.m. and the sun didn't rise until I was at about mile 7. That course seemed a lot darker over the first 7 miles of that marathon than any part of the Loonies course.
There were enthusiastic volunteers at every water station, and other volunteers directing runners at many parts of the course. The hour got the best of one young woman sitting at a corner of my last mile of the race: She had fallen asleep. It was a little before 4 a.m. CDT!
There was very little traffic, and the Livingston Police did a good job of controlling it.
In addition to a nice technical race shirt, all runners got a nice running cap and, of course, finishers earned a medal.
Even though "sleep is overrated," it helps!
I’m an early-morning runner. But I’ve never run this early — in a race that starts at midnight.
I adjusted my sleep schedule on marathon week many times when I was in the newspaper business. In those cases, it was because I worked until well past midnight and I usually woke up at 10:30 a.m. Since most races start between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m., I had to take a couple of vacation days ahead of the race in order to slide my sleep schedule earlier.
But I’ve never had an adjustment like the one on Loonies Midnight Marathon race week. With my post-newspaper-career 8 a.m.-5 p.m. (or sometimes later) work schedule, I usually am asleep by 10 p.m. I’m out of bed and out the door for my runs a little after
6 a.m. or a little before if I’m running 8 or more miles.
Livingston, Tenn., where Loonies is run, is in the Central time zone, which meant that the race started a little after 1 a.m. EDT.
It was easy to see that adjusting my sleep schedule earlier made a lot more sense than adjusting it later (which would have been easy in my newspaper days). It really was no decision when you consider that I tend to wake up, unable to go back to sleep, around 6 or 6:30 even when I don’t have to be up that early. These days, I don’t even need an alarm clock.
I started shifting by early in the week by going to bed at 8 p.m. and getting up at 4 a.m. This also gave me a preview of what it would be like running at night. I’m all too familiar with what that’s like, though, because of early-morning winter runs.
By Tuesday night, I went to sleep around 8:15 p.m. and got up at 3:45 a.m., and on Thursday, I was asleep by 6:30 p.m. and got up at 2:45 a.m. We left for Livingston on Friday morning, checked into the motel late Friday afternoon and I slept for about 4 hours before heading to the race.
I very much appreciated that my wife, Jean, and younger son, Scott, kept the motel room dimly lit and quiet Friday evening so that I could get some sleep. I’m a very light sleeper.
For the looney, it's loopy (6 loops, to be exact)The race starts and finishes at Livingston Academy. It got going at about 10 minutes after midnight to shots from loud muskets, followed by a short fireworks display. The latter was a first for me at a race.
The course starts with a 1.2-mile loop, followed by running the same 5-mile loop (that has no hard turnarounds) 5 times. While that does create some monotony, you are certain where water stations are located. With a race-record 300 runners registered (the rain probably had something to do with only 236 finishing), you rarely were running alone for long.
For 4 of the 5 miles of the loop, runners are going in the both directions. This gave the 60+ Marathon Maniacs plenty of chances to greet each other along the course. There was, of course, the traditional pre-race picture or 2 of the Maniacs at the race.
|I'm squatting in the front in the prerace picture of Marathon Maniacs.|
I also liked that there only was a marathon. It seems like just about every marathon these days also has a half-marathon.
It was neat to lap other runners after a few of loops. Not so neat to get lapped, though. About 2 hours and 30 minutes into the race, I was lapped by the leaders who were on their 5th 5-mile loop while I was on my 4th loop. I’m sure that a good number of other runners who passed me after that also were that far ahead of me.
By the third loop, I had every tangent figured out and knew where there were puddles to avoid.
You cross the finish line 6 times. In a nice touch, the lady on the PA microphone announced your name each time after the first initial short loop.
I got into a good routine of consuming a Gu packet about a half-mile away from the finish line since I knew that there was a water station there.
Race officials describe the course at “Tennessee flat,” which meant that there were a couple of minor hills in the middle of the 5-mile loop. Those hills were nothing like the ones I routinely run in Durham.
Knowing that I was going to run 5 laps of that 5-mile loop made it oddly easier psychologically. I really didn’t concentrate much on the mile totals but rather my progress on each loop. I remember being surprised to find at one point that I had already run 11 miles because it didn’t seem like I had run that far.
Although I knew I was running in the middle of the night, I decided to never look at my regular watch to check on the time of day. I just didn't want it to enter my head that it was, for example, 3 a.m.
If not for the backlighting on my Garmin Forerunner, it would have been quite a challenge to even check my pace, which I did often.
A wet visit to TennesseeI was in the state of Tennessee for parts of 2 days and never once saw the sun. It raining as we crossed the state line on Friday and rained about 90 percent of the time until we crossed back into North Carolina on Saturday. Driving to Livingston and driving back was challenging many times because we were dealing with driving rain and poor visibility.
Thanks to the arrival of the Polar Vortex earlier in the week, we were greeted by the coolest temperatures in the race’s 3-year history. Temperatures were in the mid-60s for the whole race. It actually felt a bit cool standing around waiting for the race to start and actually wasn't raining. During prerace ceremonies, it started to lightly rain.
It rained lightly almost constantly during the race, more of a mist that I barely noticed after a while. I was lucky to finish when I did. About 5 minutes after I was done, the mist gave way to a downpour almost as bad as what I dealt with over the last 6 miles of December’s Jacksonville Bank Marathon. I felt bad for the runners who were out on the course after that.
It might have been prettier to be able to look up and see the stars, or possibly the moon. It likely would have been a lot hotter in that event, though. I understand that it was much hotter and humid for the first two years of LMM.
Few reserves left over the last 6 milesAfter keeping a fairly consistent pace for the first 10 miles or so, my 5-mile loop splits kept getting slower. After I finished the first loop in 42 minutes, 37 seconds, the successive loop times were 43:47, 44:00, 46:17 and 47:31.
My last really decent mile split was an 8:38 16th mile. After 3 miles just under 9 miles, every mile after that took longer than 9 minutes.
Whether it was the lack of sleep or the fact that, by my body clock, it was after 4 a.m., my pace started leveling off substantially down the stretch.
I walked for a few stretches at the Hatfield-McCoy Marathon in June. Even though I never walked at Loonies, my time was only about a minute faster on a much flatter course.
I didn’t really hit a wall, though. It just felt like a higher gear no longer was available. I popped in an Advil along with a Gu packet at the end of the fourth loop. Although that seemed to help (mile 26 was the fastest of my last 5 miles), it didn’t really allow me to push the pace much.
Although I highly recommend this race, I doubt I’ll run another midnight marathon. The actual race is fun. It’s the elaborate planning to shift my sleep schedule that was no fun. Without that plan, I doubt that I could have come close to the same time.
There is no doubt that I thoroughly enjoyed running this race.