When you’re dead-tired at the end of running all day, for 26 days, nothing is as important as a good night’s sleep.
Ideally on a super long run, in order to get a good night’s sleep, you’re going to want a comfortable place to sleep that isn’t far from the course, restroom facilities, electricity, water, and overnight parking. You’re also going to want to get as much sleep as possible.
But these are intertwined. What constitutes a “good” sleeping arrangement is determined by a balance among these factors:
- Distance from the course: Ideally, we’d end each day at a hotel, walk up to the counter, check in, shower, sleep, and get up and run again from the hotel to the next town. But sometimes there are not hotels at the end of a full day of running, and sometimes the closest hotels are more than half an hour’s drive away. In a day where you might have only a couple of hours idle time before it’s time to do it all again, it might not be worth it to drive that far.
- Environmental factors: There’s no question that one gets a better night’s sleep in a place where you can control the temperature, humidity, light, and to a degree, noise level. The presence of curious wildlife right outside your tent can put a dent in camping, and makes for a more cumbersome setup when you have to wake up and use the restroom.
- Shower and toilet facilities. There’s a saying in the military that you should never pass up the chance at a shower or a restroom. You can’t sleep well if you feel salt-encrusted, chafed, and itchy; and part of getting a good night’s sleep involves access to good hygiene.
- Electricity: You can bundle up instead of running an electric blanket. You can open a tent flap and close mosquito netting instead of running a fan. You can eat room-temperature food. But those can all affect quality of sleep. Creature comforts of the type that significantly change the temperature usually consume electricity, and they get a lot more important when you’re tossing and turning and can’t get warm or cool enough to doze off until 2 AM.
- Access to water: It’s hard to sleep when you’re not clean. Even cold running water is easier to take a simple sponge-bath with than bottled water or water from jerry cans. Hot water makes for a more comfortable hygiene experience, and consequently, a better night’s sleep.
- Parking: If you’re not inside, it’s hard to get a good night’s sleep with traffic buzzing past you at all hours; so it’s good to find a safe place off the road.
Why Quality and Quantity Matter With Sleep
Sleep is when our bodies use whatever plant and animal proteins we took in during the day, break it down, and reassemble it into people proteins, specifically muscle.
No sleep means no recovery for the next day’s running. Poor sleep means poor recovery.
During the Capital to Coast Relay solo run from Austin to Corpus Christi, I slept well. But we didn’t budget time for check-in, check-out, and taking turns at the shower. 6 hours of theoretical sleep turned to 3 hours, 4 hours turned into 1.5, and we skipped the last night’s sleep entirely. As a result, we ended up getting only 7.5 hours of sleep in 4 days.
Quality didn’t outweigh quantity.
My recovery was barely adequate to keep going, I was mentally foggy, my attempts at conversations turned into gibberish, and toward the end, I was seeing things that weren’t there. We might have fared better with an RV, or sleeping in the car seat, or on a covered cot.
For the run across Iowa, I was determined to get a good night’s sleep, and that meant plenty of it, whatever quality it was. There were hotels in all but one town, and that one had a B&B. We budgeted extra time for sleep on six out of seven nights, and it paid off, even when our progress was delayed by thunderstorms. That’s how much sleep matters, especially on the high-mileage days I had to run to make up for lost time.
For our run across Texas, we’ll have limited options for a safe route (I-10 is too interrupted with no-frontage or 1-way frontage sections), so we’ll be taking US-62 / US-180 through Guadalupe Pass, oilfield country, and eventually to Odessa. For the first 12 days, along that route, accommodations will be extremely limited, so we’ll be looking closely at the tradeoffs among the options below:
- Hotels: Hotels can be a mixed blessing. Actual lodging usually includes a restroom with a flush toilet and lockable door. Second, a temperature-controlled place to sleep that’s free of pests (all but the worst roach motels meet this standard). And finally, hotels provide a generally safe place to park the chase van overnight. Check-in and check-out takes longer than at an AirB&B or setting up a pop-top tent, but with adequate time budgeted, a hotel is a good choice. Unfortunately, for the first 300 miles of the run across Texas, there are no hotels.
- Air B&Bs: Much like hotels or commercial B&Bs, but with the added necessity of coordinating in advance with the property owner about when you’ll be arriving, where to find the key, and how to leave the property to avoid hidden charges.
Pricing and quality of experience vary quite a bit; after all, sometimes you’re staying at someone’s house (or guest house). Late arrival can complicate key pick-up, and you have to take considerably more care to leave the property the way you found it. Parking can also be limited if the property is on a residential street, as many are.Most often, staying at an AirB&B is less of a choice and more a case of being the only option available. That said, they usually have a bed, shower, temperature control, and locking doors. Some even have cooking facilities. Three of our first 4 days we’ll be staying at AirB&Bs: once in Hueco Tanks and twice in Dell City.
- RV parks: Now that we have a rooftop tent, at least we can sleep in a sort-of bed, relatively safe from the elements, lying down, with an electrical hookup to recharge our deepcycle battery. There are no locked doors or temperature control unless you own that kind of RV. A lot of RV parks also have showers and flush toilets, but using them involves a trip to a separate building. In our case, with just a rooftop tent, that involves putting on “outdoor” clothes, climbing down a ladder, and dealing first-hand with whatever temperatures or weather you may encounter, both going and returning. On the day where we end in Strawn, TX, we had planned on staying at a B&B, but it turns out it’s closed for repairs. Therefore, we’ll be staying at an RV park in Gordon / Mingus because it has running water, restrooms, electrical hookup, and the closest hotel, B&B, or truck stop is 40 minutes away by car. And it turns out that it’s a nice RV park.
- Truck stops: Unlike RV parks, you can’t recharge the deepcycle battery there, but they generally have showers that you can use for a small fee of around $10, flush toilets, and hot food available 24×7, and a quiet lounge area where you can sack out in a lounge chair if you can manage to sleep sitting up. Or you can sleep outside in your vehicle or rooftop tent. Truck stops aren’t really set up for spreading out a camp setup, but you can park overnight (sometimes there’s a charge). We’ll be staying at the truck stop in Orla because the closest hotel or AirB&B is over an hour’s drive away, and the truck stop has showers, hot food, and restrooms, all of which make for a better night’s sleep. But truck stops typically operate 24×7, and they can be noisy.
- National and state parks and campgrounds are not bad. Some have electrical hookups for charging auxiliary batteries (some don’t), some have restrooms (but no showers), decent parking, and a little room to set up a quick camp, make a hot meal, and sleep in the van or in a tent. Unlike RV parks, they’re not for long-term stays, but that’s of no concern to us. Some may be closed to camping in the off season. There’s more room than at truck stops, and a number of parks have outdoor grills you can use to prepare a hot meal. Unlike truck stops, it’s usually a quiet night’s sleep.
- Safety Rest Areas: These are the big rest stops you see on major federal and state highways, which usually have flush toilets. Most have covered picnic areas in a grassy area that’s not bad for taking in a relaxing meal. Some have overnight parking, but many don’t particularly like you to stay overnight, much less set up camp. To be honest, most of the time, these are worth stopping for a few hours to eat, take a nap, use the restroom, and keep going. But they beat stopping on the side of the road. Our stop at the McKittrick Ranch / Pine Springs Safety Rest Area keeps us from having to drive 40 minutes each way to and from Carlsbad, or back 40 minutes through Guadalupe Pass to Dell City (7% grade) at night.
- Parking lots and City Parks: In some towns, Wal-Marts allow overnight stays in the remote parts of their parking lots. However, any town big enough to have a Wal-Mart probably has a hotel, or at least an RV park. In some very small towns, it’s possible that you may be able to arrange to park overnight at the Post Office, Police, or Fire Station. But check with the town’s government and / or public safety personnel first. Same goes with city parks. Most don’t allow overnight parking, but occasionally it’s possible if you contact the city and let them know you’re running across the state and will only be there for one night. Make sure you arrive and leave on schedule, get any permits the city make require, and don’t overstay your welcome.
- Roadside Pull-offs: When you’re in remote oilfield country, often the only place you can stop without backtracking or driving ahead 40 minutes is literally just a wide spot in the road. There are absolutely no facilities. No electrical, so you’re completely dependent on your battery for what little electrical needs you can’t get by without. No showers, so you’re nightly hygiene routine involves Handi-wipes, a modicum of soap, and bottled water. Restroom stops involve a folding toilet seat and a Biffy Bag.
You also have to be careful that you’re not blocking a driveway, a turn-off or turn-around, so even then, you’ll have to pull well off to the side. You may need to make sure you’re not camping illegally, don’t appear to be broken down (unless you LIKE being waked up by public safety officers asking you if everything is OK), and that you’re not presenting a hazard to oncoming traffic (road cones and reflectors help). That often limits these opportunities to the most remote locations where none of the other options are available and nobody is likely to pass for hours. In which case your route is probably not ideal. Ours wasn’t, but the only other choice would have been to run for several dozen miles along the Interstate, separated from the crew vehicle, facing 70 mph traffic. Once we chose a safer route, we had to deal with the consequences, and remote highways through oilfield country were what we got stuck with. Our Delaware River stop will most likely be a roadside pull-off, as it’s a 30 minute drive either back to the McKittrick / Pine Springs Safety Rest Area or ahead to the truck stop at Orla.