What would possess someone to create an entire race series centered around a midnight start time? Midnight Madness race director Chris Schnelle sums it up: " a unique ultra run, in the summer, with the challenge of beginning at midnight, and the benefit of missing out on a lot of the hot July sun." But such a simple mission came with more complicated logistics and decisions than most racers realize.
"'It's amazing to see each one of these runners push themselves beyond what they thought was possible."
According to Schnelle, who took over the race last year, the series began in 2010, although he does clarify, "I'm not exactly certain...someone will correct me, I'm sure!". The race originally only had one distance: the 50 miler, consisting of five ten-mile loops. With the exploding popularity of ultra races, Schnelle elected to add the 10 and 20 mile races in 2018, to include runners who were just starting out in the long distance scene. "With the addition of the 10 and 20 mile races, this course was great for runners from all distances to encourage and support each other," Schnelle notes.
Then, a friend proposed an addition distance. "There weren't many certified half marathons, in the middle of summer, within driving distance (of Tulsa)..." Unfortunately, the addition of more race lengths didn't sit well with Schnelle. "The race was already advertised and registration was open. Adding a 13.1....just wasn't feasible." But true to the trail and ultra spirit, Schnelle took the impossible idea and turned it into a golden opportunity. "(We) started discussing the idea of adding a second date that was just the 13.1. Midnight Mayhem was born."
But of course, why stop there? A second date prompted the idea of a full series. "With the idea of getting even more runners involved...Midnight Mania 5k was added. I felt that, by adding a 5k, the series was truly inclusive." The extra creativity and work paid off, and all three events sold out in 2018.
In terms of the venue for the wide spread of distances, Schnelle feels that the River Parks trail system was an obvious choice. " Quite simply, we have this fantastic trail system that is perfectly suited for these events and, logistically, relatively simple to put on." The recently flooding in 2019 threatened the choice location. "As recently as three week ago, the trail system was closed...there was scrambling to find alternative locations." Fortunately, the trail systems have been cleared by the hard work of the River Parks Authority and their volunteers. Schnelle reflects that, "in looking (for alternative venues), we found just how perfect the River Parks trails were for our event, and we're more grateful than ever to have this great trail system in our community."
The biggest obstacle to putting on a series of races that start at midnight and go well into the following morning? "One word- volunteers," Schenelle states. He follows that up with, "but the people we do get are truly fantastic and really work hard. For the past two years of this event, runners and volunteers have endured thunderstorms, wind and rain...trying to keep aid stations running, food and supplies dry, and tents from blowing away. In the end, the work is truly rewarding, and the people who continue to volunteer understand this and have a blast." In addition, the relatively small production team for an entire race series poses some extra challenges. "It's basically myself and my wife, with a handful of volunteers, trying to make this whole series happen. We design the medals, hand-make the awards, stuff all of the packets, load the trucks, buy food and supplies for the aid station, mark the course...unlock the bathrooms!" This is all in an effort to keep the races intimate and focused on the feeling of community; "It's personal to us, and we hope it will be for you, too." As the man who buys the aid station snacks, Schnelle prefers "real food. I don't want gels, gu's or gummies. Give me potatoes, fruits, nut butters, green olives and coconut waters!"
When asked to pick his favorite Midnight distance, Schnelle notes, "that's like asking to pick a favorite child!" He finally decides, "This is a great first time fifty miler. It's the original race, and there's something special about it." He lists the generous 15 hour cutoff, frequent aid stations, and the allowance for a pacer as the qualities that make it a safe and attractive race for first-time 50 mile racers. "We've seen a lot of first time 50 mile finishers...it's amazing to see each one of these runners push themselves beyond what they thought was possible."
In terms of advice for first-time Madness racers, Schnelle recommended, "...running at night with a bunch of other runners is fun!" In terms of practical advice, he adds, "lights are your friend. Headlamps, waist lights, handhelds, whatever you like- just have one!" He encourages the supportive and celebratory atmosphere that surrounds the race as well. "These events are a blast, so have fun. The running community in Tulsa is so supportive and enthusiastic. We'll be cooking out at the start/finish line....come take part, hang out with friends, and make some new ones. Plan on hanging out for a while when you finish, and cheer on your fellow runners!" His last piece of advice, for new and veteran racers alike: "Thank the volunteers. These are the people who make this event possible."
The 10, 20 and 50 mile Midnight Madness race is this coming Saturday, July 6th, 2019 at...well, midnight. Registration can be found here or on our Home page under "Upcoming Races", and is open until Friday, July 5th at 10:59PM. If you can't run this year, please consider volunteering here!
We hope to see some returning and new faces out there in the moonlight!
Special thanks to Mark Cole and Peter ver Brugge for editing this article