At the weekend I ran my first nighttime race, the in24 Philadelphia Midnight Madness. It is a mid-distance race through Fairmount Park and is run on the 8.4-mile loop around Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River. It was definitely unique. I even got to live out some of my ‘TRON’ fantasies from my childhood.
It was part of the in24 Philadelphia weekend raising funds and awareness for ‘Back on My Feet’, a national organization that uses running to help those experiencing homelessness to transform their lives. The weekend included an urban Ultra-Marathon, relay challenge, the Midnight Madness event and a 5K.
I mainly train in the early mornings (I’ve been known to get up at 3am to run – not counting runDisney weekends) so this was a bit of an adjustment for me in terms of being on my feet all day and figuring out what and when to eat before the race. It was an interesting experiment in time management for sure.
I have 4 weeks left until the ‘Chasing the Unicorn’ marathon and so I have been piling on the mileage recently. This left me a little tired going in, especially with a 12 miler that I had run the previous day (I was up at 3:30am in the morning) before work. Luckily I almost got to sleep in a little on Saturday morning as my wife took my eldest son to do ‘The Color Run’ down in Philadelphia. I was able to relax a bit with my other little guy and we watched a lot of Disney movies in our pajamas.
I spent the afternoon with the whole family and after putting the boys to bed I got myself ready, said goodnight to my wife and headed downtown to Philadelphia. The race was at midnight and I arrived around 10.30pm. I hadn’t been able to pick up my race packet the day earlier as logistically it was difficult for me to get to the host running store before it closed on Friday. I figured if I needed to return to my car to drop off stuff this gave me time. Thankfully there was bag check at the event.
As I drew up to the start/finish area at Lloyd Hall on the banks of the river it looked a little like a tented village. In addition to the race tents and sponsors areas, many of the ultra-runners and relay teams had set up tents and camped out for the 24 hour event (10am Saturday through 10am Sunday).
Check in was pretty simple and after pinning on my bib and getting my reflective gear on I checked my bag and waited with everyone else around the start line. Next to the check in table was a table of night running gear and glo sticks which were free to take and provided by the organizers. These included some reflective arm/leg bands, glo sticks and I think there were a few blinking lights available for runners.
Runners were encouraged to wear headlamps in the race instructions and most people did that. In addition to the running awards (top finishers) there was also a prize for best illuminated. Some people went to great effort and were innovative in their use of glo sticks. I saw a glo stick tutu, baseball cap and glasses as well as other uses.
I myself wore my new Noxgear ‘Tracer 360’ light and reflective gear. In addition to standing out it was very lightweight and provided much entertainment it seemed for the other runners. I have since had another early morning run wearing it (10 miles) and it is comfortable and stays put and is a little cooler to wear than my usual Brooks Nightlife running vest. In addition I wore my Petzel Tikkina headlamp and my Road ID Supernova lamp at the back of my hat (see my blog post about this gear here). People could certainly see me coming.
Around 11:40pm the starter called us to the starting area and gave a few instructions. As there was another race still going on (the ultra) we were running anti-clockwise vs the ultra-runners going clockwise. The roads were not closed to other traffic so we obviously had to be aware of our surroundings and although I saw some people wearing headphones their use was not recommended and most runners did not.
The starter made reference to the ultra-runners who had by that time been running almost 14 hours and still had about 10 more hours to go. He said they will look bad and smell even worse so we should give them every encouragement as we pass them by. I had been watching some of the ultra-runners run past while I was in the waiting area. They looked a mix runners going strong and some struggling but they kept it going no matter how hard it looked. Kudos to those guys.
The Ultra was not a fixed distance of 50 miles or 100 miles but was how many 8.4 loops you could fit into the 24 hour period. The winner was a 49 year old runner from Maryland who completed 17 x 8.4 mile loops (143.82 miles) in 23 hours 42 minutes at a sub 10 minute per mile pace. Wow…just wow!!
Midnight came and off we went. It was still quite warm (around 70 degrees) and was a little humid but not too unbearable. All the runners stayed on the sidewalk so it was a little bunched up for the first couple of miles but it soon broke open and spread out as we progressed through miles 3 onwards. The street was fairly well lit with the street lamps alongside the river and other than a few shaded places and underpasses where you needed your headlamp it was fairly okay to run. They had about 4 water stations out on the course and the volunteers were very cheery considering the time of day.
I used my usual run/walk intervals and pretty much stayed with the same group of folks from mile 2 through the end. I felt comfortable with my pace although I did slow around mile 6 and 7 but picked it back up at the finish. The course was pretty flat with the only real climb coming up from West River Drive up to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It is easier doing it as part of an 8 mile race than it is during the end of a half marathon for sure.
I completed the loop in a time of 1:14:33. Good enough for 49th place (25th overall male) and at an 8:49 per mile pace. I’ll take that. The winner ran the distance in a time of 45 minutes flat. He was 8 minutes (yes 8 minutes) faster than the runner up. That’s quite a gap for such a distance race. Almost a minute per mile faster than the other runners.
Every runner received a finishers medal as well as some post race refreshments.
By the time I had finished it was 1:15am. I grabbed a bottle of water and ate half a pretzel. I just wanted to get home and go to bed at this point. It had been a long couple of days and I needed to catch up on my sleep ahead of my last big week of marathon training before the taper. I listened to the results of the races being called and no, I didn’t win most illuminated. As I walked back to my car there were still some runners out on the course doing the Midnight Madness and also many still running the Ultra.
I got home and crawled into bed at 2:33am. Guess who’s kids decided to get up early when it wasn’t a school day? Two boys on full throttle on a Sunday morning. I’m one lucky guy 🙂
It was definitely fun and worth doing and I would recommend it for someone to try something different. I am not sure I would rush back to do it again unless I was running with a friend and I would have the ability to sleep in late the next day. All in all I had a great time running this event and I am just in awe of all those ultra-runners.