My Body Wasn’t Ready: Observations from 24 Continuous Hours of Pinball

(note: I apologize for the lack of photos in this post. I’m bad at remembering to take photos. If you’d like to see photos from the event, check out Gene X. Hwang’s site.)

Before I get into too much detail, I need to say one thing: GET YOURSELF TO THE SANCTUM!!!! If you have the means and the opportunity, the 24 Hour Final Battle at the Sanctum is an absolutely fantastic event. The tournament directors do a great job keeping things organized throughout the event, and the games at the Sanctum are always a joy to play on.

Now that I’ve gotten the praise out of the way, IF YOU PLAN ON COMPETING IN A 24-HOUR EVENT FOR THE FIRST TIME, YOU WILL NOT BE FULLY PREPARED. This was the 5th annual 24 Hour Final Battle, and for many of the competitors at this year’s event, it was not their first experience with a marathon event like this. Even though I made it through the whole event without falling asleep or missing any rounds, I made quite a few mistakes when it came to preparation for the event.

What went wrong

The biggest issue that I could think of for a 24-hour tournament was the matter of sleep. From personal experience, I know that my body could handle over 24 hours of activity, so I had made the following schedule for myself.

  1. Pack the following:
    1. Clothes and toiletries for an overnight trip
    2. Protein-based snacks
    3. A folding chair
  2. Head down to the area of the tournament after work Friday (~3 hours of driving) and spend the night at an AirBnB
  3. Sleep in as late as possible to give me enough time to have a good breakfast and make it to the Sanctum when they opened in order to get in some practice time
  4. Compete
  5. Drive back home (~3 hours), but find a rest area on the way if I am too tired to drive

I went over this itinerary for at least a week before the tournament, and I found no problems with it. The only part I was tenuous about was the drive back after the tournament was over: I wasn’t sure how far I could make it while being alert enough to drive. While I was right to be wary about the drive back, I had issues with almost every other aspect of my preparations.

What to Wear

When considering an event of this length, your choice of clothing is much more important than one might consider. My choice of attire was pretty much the same as most other tournaments: a comfortable shirt and jeans. Even though pinball is not much of an athletic sport, I had not considered the effects of wearing denim for 24+ hours. By around 4 in the morning, I had noticed a considerable amount of sweat that was not interacting well with the denim, causing a fair amount of discomfort and chafing. Even though the most activity these jeans were seeing was a bit of walking during a round, enough activity built up to make these otherwise comfortable pants a liability.

At the 24 Hour Battle and at other long tournaments such as Pinburgh, I’ve noticed some competitors in athletic wear. After this experience, I can see exactly why these players made this choice. Comfort is king when it comes to endurance, and a nice pair of athletic shorts or sweats makes a better choice than blue jeans.

Sleep Does a Body Good

I have had middling success with renting rooms from Airbnb in the past when it comes to pinball tournaments. They’ve always been clean and the hosts have always been nice and friendly. It is the things that aren’t consistent that ruined me on this trip, however. I arrived Friday night to a house that wasn’t lit up very well, and when I walked in…well…let’s just say that the house had a bit of…history. The walls were super-duper thin, the hallways were extremely narrow, and everything creaked.

I got to my room, performed my nightly constitutions, and then proceeded to lie down on a mattress that made sleeping on the floor seem like a comparable option. Minutes later, I began to notice that a smoke alarm on the other side of the house began to chirp. I was too tired to get up and hassle the host to fix it, so the chirp blared on…….which was overshadowed by the arrival of the host’s daughters. Unbeknownst to me, the Airbnb host had several college-aged daughters that were out partying that evening. Their arrival at around midnight, combined with the walls that provided next to no sound insulation, led to a fairly bad night’s sleep.

And why did I choose to do an Airbnb room instead of a hotel? One word: money. I was too cheap to spend an extra 30 or 40 bucks to get a dependable, consistent hotel room. I will not make this mistake again, and neither should you. When you’re going to stay up for a whole 24 hours, make sure that your sleep is taken care of.

Practice? Overrated.

When you are playing at a new venue, or somewhere that you don’t play often, it is usually a good idea to arrive early so you can check out the games and see how they’re playing. At the 24 hour battle, you should be using this time to get some more rest. At this event in particular, the rounds do not all end at the same time. When you finish your round, you can hop over to any available game and get some practice in before the next round starts. Sleep in longer instead of practicing beforehand. The Sanctum has a large number of games, and arriving early to practice is just like cramming for an exam the hour before you take it. This is not to say that practicing won’t do you any good, but with the downtime that you’ll have between rounds, it’s less important to get in that practice ahead of time.

Coming Home

If there’s one point I want to make above all others, it is this: GET SOME SLEEP BEFORE TRYING TO DRIVE ANYWHERE. Studies have shown that driving while sleep deprived is as bad as driving drunk. I’m not a big drinker and I’ve never once considered driving drunk, but going into this I was convinced that I could handle a bit of driving after the 24 hour tournament as long as I got it over with quickly. I WAS NOT READY FOR THIS. DO NOT MAKE MY MISTAKE.

While I did get home safely, there were periods of my drive that were quite hazy. One of the smarter things that I did while heading home was making a few food breaks. The food helped with my alertness, but they were only temporary boosts, masking the larger problem of needing sleep.

Jim Swain, the organizer of the 24 Hour Final Battle and the head of the Sanctum, has emphasized several times that players intending to drive home after the tournament are free to take a nap in their cars in the venue’s parking lot. I should have taken this advice, and I would advise anyone doing this kind of event to do the same. It might not be a bad idea either to get a hotel for the night after the tournament just to sleep off the day before.

My Body Hurts…..Let’s Do It Again!!!

To reiterate, the 24 Hour Final Battle at the Sanctum was one of the best pinball events I’ve ever been to. It is well organized, challenging, and very fun. For me, at least it would have been much more pleasant had I made a few changes to my preparations. If there’s a 24 hour event in your area, check it out!

Join the Conversation


  1. Great post! I had never experienced the “Pinball Chafe” until this past Pinburgh. I always do a motel room and I always BRING A FAN with me to eradicate any other noises that may decide to ruin my sleep. And as for resting before driving? I did the York Show a couple of months ago after having gotten up early, worked late, drove to Pittsburgh, played my PPL games and THEN drove to York from Pittsburgh, setting out at 9:45pm! I seriously do not remember the last 30-40 minutes of driving! But as you said, “Let’s do it again!”…

  2. Anti-monkey-butt is your friend! Game changer. I had some rituals this year – drink some Kombucha, lots of snacks. Lobster Bake always re-energizes me.

  3. Good analysis of what can be make-or-break factors in this tournament.

    With regards to getting a good night’s sleep, I’ve made it a practice to bring earplugs to hotels, as I’ve had more than a few times where I’ve come to tournaments after getting to listen to the, ahem, activities of adjacent rooms; also, there’s always a non-zero chance that any hotel roommates of yours might snore (instead of getting an airBNB, I split rooms with people). I’ve thought to experiment with sleep aids like valerian root and melatonin, but I honestly wouldn’t do that without the assurance that someone in the room will wake me up, and I wouldn’t do it without testing beforehand whether it makes you groggy and whatnot — the last thing one needs in this situation is to start the vicious caffeine cycle early (unless your body is so used to that cycle that skipping will, in fact, cause withdrawals, in which case do as you will).

    Resting before driving is also critical, especially with that long of a drive. I was, ironically, unable to sleep after the 24h because I was so damned wired, but forcing myself to be still for an hour or two probably did me some good. I’m glad that you got home safely.

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