Getting Through the 24 Hour Tip-Off Marathon: Five Maxims For Survival

Posted by rtmsf on November 14th, 2011

The ESPN 24-hour Tip-Off Marathon starts at midnight tonight. If you are a bored college student, a chronic insomniac, or a college basketball blogger, you may be planning on making a run at the ridiculous, meaning staying up for the entire event. While we can’t officially tell you that this is a good idea and recommend that you go ahead and do it, we don’t blame you, either. It’s a great event. We wish all the decision-makers could organize it so that this “Tip-Off Marathon” actually was a tip-off to the season, but even though it doesn’t really tip anything off, it’s still a blast. You’ll get an early edge on your hoops-loving friends and sound ever-so-insightful as you talk intelligently in late November about mid-majors your buddies and bud-ettes won’t even plan on watching until Championship Week. Of course, even if you don’t remember, say, that power forward from Northern Iowa who really caught fire, or why Rider’s man-to-man defense impressed you, you’ll still have the memory of watching as these teams and their fans all got together and did something…well, really bizarre. And you never know; someday ESPN might decide to feature your school for the 4 AM ET game, and you’d want people to watch, too, right?

Most importantly, though, once you’ve made it through an entire 24-hour marathon, nobody can take it away from you. ESPN has held the event three times, now, and RTC’s John Stevens has stayed up for all three and live-blogged each of them. He rides around town like some college basketball version of General Patton, with his front license plate bearing three gold stars on a red background, one for each marathon he’s survived. And we won’t even get into the matter of those ivory-handled revolvers; that’s another story altogether. Eccentricities aside, John has a few useful tips for you if you’re headsworn on showing you’re at least as much of a man as Andy Katz by going the distance.


I used to have a job that, once or twice a week, required me to stay up for anywhere from 24 to 35 consecutive hours. Because I knew when those were coming, I could plan accordingly. I knew what to bring with me to the job to help pass the time, and my family and friends knew not to expect me to answer the phone (or my door, after it was over and I was sleeping) or meet them for a night out, or whatever. In other words, the earlier you can get all your preparations done and get into the spirit of this thing, the better it will go for you. You need to get your supermarket trip done immediately — seriously, as in right after you’re done reading this — if you haven’t already. Don’t get into a spot where you’re watching Drexel at Rider (6 AM ET) or Morehead State at College of Charleston (8 AM) and you suddenly find that you’ve run out of Sun Chips or Chee-tos or whatever your bagged fuel of choice is. Now you’re screwed, unless you have friends who will bail you out by bringing you provisions. Play it safe, here. Always get a little more at the supermarket than you think you’ll need.

The next thing you need to do is grab a nap. I’ve found that setting the alarm to go off a few minutes before the first marathon game is actually more of an invitation to slap the alarm, roll over, and keep sleeping. The best practice here is to plan to wake up about 90 minutes to two hours before the first game. You won’t tempt fate — upon finding yourself in bed at midnight on a Monday night/Tuesday morning, the natural instinct is to stay in bed — and you’ll give yourself time to fully awaken. If you’ve snagged one or two hours of sack time and gotten up at 10 or 10:30 PM, that should carry you through the first three games, unless you’re some kind of sissy.

Finally, look at the schedule and identify where you’re weakest. Look, we LOVE mid-major basketball, but on this year’s schedule, the first major hurdle for most people is the 4 AM ET tilt featuring South Alabama at Hawaii. It’s like ESPN is really trying to weed out the pretenders with that one. In 24-hour marathon terms, that’s the basketball equivalent of eating a whole turkey in a dark room and washing it down with a few glasses of wine. Then again, you may be the type who’s likely to get tripped up in the early afternoon, if watching a rebuilding San Diego State take on a Perry Jones-less Baylor team doesn’t excite you. Do yourself a favor by looking at the schedule before this thing starts; figure out which game or games are likely to act as your Propofol (what, too soon, Jacko fans?) so that you can use your consciousness-saving measures most effectively. More on those in a bit.


Let’s say you get to daylight intact. If you have friends doing this, or if you’re following a live-blog or Twitter account who, like you, is looking to add a star to their front license plate, they’ll probably be bragging about how they were able to hold off from the coffee or the energy drinks until around 9 AM. Mock them. In fact, encourage them to drink up. Here’s what’ll happen: they’ll get a little jolt from the caffeine for an hour, maybe even two. Then they’ll crash, not knowing that if they had stayed away from the sweet, delicious caffeine, they’d have more energy than they do now. Hitting the coffee and/or the power drinks early can COST you energy even though most people use them to stay awake. Delay using them as long as you can. In other words, like Alec Baldwin said in Glengarry: PUT. THAT COFFEE. DOWN. Foodstuffs with caffeine or high sugar content might sound like sure-fire fixes for a bout of mid-blowout drowsiness, but they’ll cost you in the end. Save them for the last two or three games, using them to help get you over the finish line. If you’re hitting the coffee just a few hours after awakening from a nap and you’re not even at the halfway point, cash in your chips and go to bed. You won’t make it.

There are other ways to keep yourself awake if — that is, WHEN you run into trouble. One of my favorite maxims from my old high school Driver’s Ed teacher was “Heat lulls,” meaning that if you’re on a long-distance drive, you don’t want to crank up the heat because it will put you to sleep. The same applies here. Keep the room cold and resist the urge to use a blanket. Also, in this age of ubiquitous cell phones, one of the best ways to pass the time on a long drive is to call a friend and talk about something, anything. If you’re slogging through a boring early morning or afternoon game, give someone a buzz for 5-10 minutes. There are many ways to stay awake. Get up and move around enough to produce even the smallest release of adrenaline. Go outside and get some fresh air. These things work better than you think they will. And they don’t involve huge hits of caffeine or sugar. Last year I did this with no caffeine of any kind. It’s possible.

A final note on this: you’ll probably see record numbers of live-blogging marathoners this year, not just because it’s considered almost obligatory if you have a sports/college basketball website, but also because of Twitter. Twitter can be an excellent accompaniment to any sporting event, and, because Twitter is bigger than it’s ever been, you’ll have journos and bloggers alike pledging to go the whole 24 hours while probably commenting every 90 seconds on each game. Use it to your advantage. If you’re getting tired, read their comments or live-blogs, or even get into a Twitter argument. There are all kinds of hoops fans on there ready to tell you why they think your observations aren’t worth reading, and then use 700 characters to explain it to you.


We want you to succeed, but if you start down this road and realize some time around halftime of the third game that you’re not going to make it, it’s perfectly fine to admit this. Shut it down, get a good solid five or six hours, and get up in time to enjoy a couple of the mid-major games and the prime timers. This is about enjoying college basketball, after all. If you see early on that you messed up in your prep or whatever, don’t worry. The Tip-Off Marathon isn’t going anywhere, people; ESPN is killing it with this thing. It’ll be there next year. Go to bed, enjoy the basketball after you awaken, and next year you’ll know better how to prepare and have another run at it. Be ready, though, to take a couple of jabs from at least one of your non-marathoning friends who’ll tell you about how he doubted you from the start. Handle that as you see fit, but keep in mind that he’s probably just jealous. If you ask him what he did the previous night, he’ll most likely cower and be reminded about how he hates his life, since he was in bed by 10 PM under a big pink comforter with his girlfriend watching select episodes from her Mad About You DVD box set, all the while wishing he could check the scores.

If you’re able to go all the way, though, we’re all trusting you to adhere to the honor system. Once the marathon begins, naps are not allowed, no matter how short. Same for supermarket runs and coffeeshop visits. Once you’re in, you’re in. Unexpected things come up all the time — power outages, cable/internet interruptions, bear attacks, home invasions — and you’re expected to get through them as best you can. I’m even fine (especially in the event of a late-night or early-morning blowout) with changing the channel for just a few minutes. By all means, if it will help keep you energized, enjoy a few minutes of SportsCenter; flip over to HLN to get a glimpse of Robin Meade or hear the latest news headlines; check out NBC and try to figure out where the hell Matt Lauer is. The problem is abusing those breaks. The more you do this, the less motivation you’ll have to go back to basketball. It’s a college basketball marathon, and sticking mostly to basketball isn’t just the correct thing to do — it’s also the best way to stay awake. Getting away from basketball will only remind you how long you’ve been awake and how long you have to go.


People who suffer from diabetes are taught to eat five or six smaller meals in a day, as opposed to three big ones. They’re also taught to eat healthier, and to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into their diet. For at least the first 12-16 hours of the marathon, this is invaluable advice. I’m not trying to suck all of the fun out of this, but if you eat huge meals during this thing, you’re just adding more hurdles into the equation in the form of post-meal crashes. If you take care of your body early in the marathon, it won’t let you down late in the going. Frequent fruits and veggies are your friends until at least lunchtime. Then you can go a little bigger. Multiple smaller meals means less energy used for digesting and more energy available for trash-talking the poor bleary-eyed saps blubbering through their post-caffeine crashes. We’ve heard from a couple of writers who say they plan on ordering a couple of pizzas and downing some beers during the marathon. My prediction: asleep by 5 AM. See you guys for the prime time games.

Eat These Early, Otherwise You're Toast


I’m still a beginning golfer, but one thing I’ve never done and never will do is accept a “gimme.” This may annoy the bejeezus out of my fellow players, but I don’t care. I don’t know anyone who couldn’t use more putting practice, and you’re not helping me by encouraging me to pick up those two-footers. It’s a cliche’, but it applies here: finish up strong. In other words, the clock striking midnight doesn’t mean you’re free. If there’s a game on that started before midnight, you’re responsible for that game. The 24 hours is a MINIMUM. Sure, Alice, you could go the entire 24 hours and cash it in with half a game left, but why would you want to? You can’t go out like that. A real marathon is over when there’s no more course left. The hoops marathon is over when the basketball is over, so know that going in. If you prepare for 24 hours, you’ll go 24 at best. That helps you zilch if the marathon goes 26.

No set of tips for an undertaking like this is perfect for everyone. My final piece of advice is to take from this what you think will help you. We like to refer to college basketball as Our Game, which means that, as a fan, it’s partly your game. Enjoy the marathoning experience, but most of all, make it your own. And feel free to contact us and tell us what worked for you.

rtmsf (3954 Posts)

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