With many ultramarathons there is the aspect of running through, or well into, the night. Like the many miles and workouts logged, running at night is a trained skill. The circadian rythym, our 24 hour internal clock, isn’t used to telling our body to keep running when the clock strikes midnight; much the opposite. Night runs help your mind and body train for those hours of the race when you’d normally be sleeping, and can minimize the desire to nod off while traversing terrain on the way to the finish. Let’s cover some strategies to keep you awake when it counts… on race day!
Plan at least a few night runs and deep night runs before the race
Like most things, it is worth mentioning to ease in to it. If you aren’t used to running at night, starting at 11pm for your first one might be a big leap for your body and mind. With a couple of months out from your race, start thinking about easing in to night runs. Eight weeks out, start at sunset for an hour or two. Do a couple of weekday workouts at sunset. Six weeks out, ramp things up a bit and stay out until 11pm or so. With five weeks out, start running in proper dark and stay out until midnight.
Keep in mind that lack of sleep/altering your schedule is a stressor to the body and takes time to recover from. Again, ease in to it.
Limit Caffeine Before Your Race
As if running for hours and hours wasn’t crazy enough, we recommend limiting… or eliminating… caffeine before the race in order to get the biggest benefit from night running. Your body will become used to waking you up/keeping you moving without the boost from caffeine, and become more efficient at making its own energy. When you get to the night section of the race and reach for that cup of aid station coffee, it will jolt you awake more than previously.
Hallucinating - Seeing is not believing.
Hallucinations are real, meaning that they can happen. But they aren’t real… okay, you get what we mean, right? Your brain has to interpret and process data every second of the day, every footstep. It has to make sense of what is going on currently, but also file away memories of the day in order to get ready for the next day. Stay up long enough, and this interpretation/filing process can start to get a little bit weird.
Got a dog? Did you leave Buster at home, but now Buster is running with you? Hallucination. Do you live at 1234 main street and now all the trees in the forest have your 1234 address numbers on them? Hallucination. They can be just about anything, and can be split-second or many minutes long. The following tips can help you avoid them:
-Give Your Brain Energy
You need substantial amounts of calories and water to function during a race. Keep current on your fuel and hydration to keep your mind going strong. Most of your brain is water, and studies show that just 2% dehydration can start affecting your performance.
-Take a moment
If you need to take five or ten minutes to shut your eyes at an aid station, do it. General knowledge says to avoid the chair, but, staying safe is a plus if you are otherwise falling asleep on the trail. Studies show that a 10 minute nap can improve cognitive processes and reduce fatigue.
-Stop thinking about it
You create our own reality. If you go into a race believing that you are going to hallucinate, you’re probably going to be right. If you go in to a race not thinking about it, there is less your brain can trick you in to thinking about later in the day.
-Get a pacer
Having some conversation or a fixed point of reality can keep your brain more active in the night, and help you minimize/break free of hallucinations. If you are seeing strange things while running, hopefully they can tell you real from imaginary.
Clear or yellow tinted glasses can help keep the bugs, spider webs, and branches out of your eyes at night. A yellow tint can help to saturate the color a bit as well, as your world otherwise becomes a headlamp-grey tunnel surrounded by black. Experiment with glasses as needed.