In this race report I’ll touch on many odd and specific topics of Backyard racing but before reading this it’d be worth your time to read the freshly released race report my coaches at Personal Peak did, you can find it on Facebook under the Personal Peak page. It’s a good read and creates a well rounded post mortum.
Shoes: Altra Torin, Altra Paradigm, Altra Superior.
Socks: 2 pairs of Swiftwicks
Big’s Backyard is painfully simple yet brilliantly complex. Every hour you need to answer Laz’s bell and run the course until either you can’t, you time out on the course, or you are the last man standing. The day loops between 6:40am and 6:40pm are run on trails and the night loops are run straight out a long backcountry road. It’s held in Gary (Lazarus Lake)and Sandra Cantrell’s backyard in east central Tennessee.
I started confidently on the first row of the startline proudly wearing my Outrun cowboy hat and my Outrun orange shirt. It was really fun but intimidating looking around and seeing many faces you know that could go deep into day three.
Coach Travis wanted to keep things super simple. Just get out on the course, walk the hills, map your footing, become intimate with how the course flows, and stay in the bottom half of zone one (super easy, comfy, all day pace).
On the first six 6.71km laps I did just that. The day course is surprisingly technical with leaves covering tons of roots and jagged rocks that if not careful will send you face down in a heap. There is no one big climb but the entire loop is rolling climbs and descents with rock hops at strange inopportune places. I ran close to the front of the pack knowing my pace would be slightly quicker than most. Lap after lap I would study the rocks and root placement to best mental map the fastest, most efficient and safest foot placement. Over the entire race I tripped and face planted about 10 times on the course. More so when the race wore on and my legs would drag as I got tired. A number of laps I ran with the Swedes Tobbi and Anna. Aside from being truly nice and kind people they were both exceptional technical trail runners, especially Anna. I purposely ran behind her and studied how she navigated the course. What was super cool was she was using the trees a lot and swinging off them like a monkey to gain momentum around the numerous tight zigzag turns. Of course I copied her methods and quickly gained efficiency…. thanks Anna.
Over the first 11 hours I routinely ran 41 to 49 minute laps with little exertion. I was almost always chatting with someone on the course and you got to know the other runners around you that had a similar pace strategy but it was definitely spread more thin the pace I was running and much busier in the 52-56 minute crowd. It rained on and off all day and the temperature was near perfect.
Laz would meander around and chat with all the crews normally offering advice of just having a laugh. He would come to Travis and remind him that Dave might be going a bit too quick and suggested to slow me down.
There are very few people I like more in the world then Laz and the timing team set up at Bigs. I really enjoyed shooting them a wave or a wink as I strolled past the chute. I could sense their concern for my faster than normal pace.
I originally set up my chair right beside the start chute under one of the provided canopy tents but by the time I finished, sat and reclined in my chair and closed my eyes it started getting insanely busy. Within the first 6 hours I moved my set up to Travis and Ashley’s private canopy tent with fixed tarped walls. Besides being an extra 20 step walk it was so worth it having the peace and quiet. In the private tent was me and Matt Shepard from Alberta. Matt won Outrun Backyard and a golden ticket to get into Bigs. Matt had some lofty goals but was super fit and very organized. Both he and I shared the crew support from our mutual coaches Travis and Ashley but Matt also had his father and friend there with him as pit crew.
The entirety of the first day went by with not much energy spent, it was going perfect. At the beginning of the 11th and final lap of the yard course before starting the road course after dark, a Bigs veteran warned me that the hardest lap is always the 11th hour because the technical trail of the yard will slow you significantly. That being said I decided to go out a bit quicker to get through most of the loop before the sun set. In Tennessee the sun sets and rises fast due to the overcast and it got dark when I was only 15 minutes into the loop. Still I pressed on and ran a 41 minute loop on the 11th hour.
The course was littered with film crew and photographers. I know there were two documentaries being recorded and a number of publications such as Sports Illustrated were there. I tried to pretend they weren’t there but my cheerful self typically wants to greet all on the course but doing this would ruin their shot so I tried my best but still flubbed up at times.
Now I knew that I’d do well on the night course because of my strange group of skillsets but I didn’t know I’d do this well.
When leaving the yard you go left, run 3/4 mile, turn left, run another 3/4 mile, turn left, run just over 1/2 mile to a turn around marker saying 2.08333333………, turn around and come back. There is one hill at the beginning but slight rollers throughout.
Keeping it at a super easy pace I ran out into the lead of headlamps. I hit the turn around point and looked at my Garmin, 20 minutes!!! Wait, what? With a chill pace this night loop was gonna be easy breezy lemon squeezy. I came in the first couple laps with 20 minutes to hang out. I decided to pass the time on the roads by calling my mom, Sharon, and a few of my friends. I was later told by other runners that overhearing my conversations was hilarious and that they don’t know anyone else who would do that. Running across Canada last year I got super comfortable phone chatting and running, in fact I get a lot of business done now during my long runs, it’s very efficient. The night was cold but not nearly as cold as last year. I definitely needed my sleeping bag to stay warm. At this point my fueling was going very well. I’d only eat on the course with about 10 minutes to go and allow the time between laps to be a digestive period for my guts. Like clockwork Travis would stuff the food I requested into my belt or vest right before I left. The main foods I ate were G2G bars, Boost, pie in a bag, and Honey Stingers.
At around 11pm I came in off a lap and reclined in my chair. Travis wanted me to try listening to white noise in earphones and to cover my eyes. He wanted me to rest the best I could even if I didn’t fall asleep. In the past with racing I have significant issues falling asleep with multi-day racing so going into this race I just accepted that I wouldn’t sleep at all and I’d be okay with that. Next thing I remember is Travis is shaking my arm WAKING ME UP! OMG I slept, what!? I got to the starting corral and was super excited, this changes everything. My next two laps were the two fastest laps recorded by any runner in the race both 37 minutes then 35 minutes because a 20 minute nap is way better then a 10 minute nap. Still the 35 minute pace was still in my zone 1 so I felt comfortable with the effort. Not only was I sleeping way more than anyone else but I was double downing by using my Normatech recovery pants. After using my pants my legs would feel much improved with shedding the inherent inflammation.
The night was not kind to runners. The field was thinning quickly through the wee hours. The starting corral heard many complaints of sorrow about the mental fatigue and the relentless pounding of pavement. I for one was having fun and doing very well in this element.
All throughout the night there was a large fire opposite my canopy tent and that’s where you could find Laz. While others would be chatting and drinking beer, Laz would be sitting there, head turned looking at me. My concept of Laz deepens further everytime we meet. The best way to describe him is complex and wise and he didn’t get that way by filling his time chirping like we all do, instead he listens and watches. I’ve never met a more purposeful observer. Whenever I would open my eyes there was Laz across the fire looking into my being. He would nod his head, I wanted to flip him the bird but settled with a nod in return, perhaps next year.
By the time the sun rose the next morning and we were on the trails again, the field had thinned from 73 to 44. The undulating, technical trails were a welcome treat after 12 hours of similar strike. It was almost like you were gifted by turning on muscles that were on snooze in the dark. My first lap I bit it twice reminding me that my stride needed to shift again and I need to turn my brain on again. The one rad thing about the night is you can co-pilot when decisions about foot placement aren’t needed for clean pavement running. This is the opposite for yard loops. On day 2 it was interesting watching runners looking good to very bad in an instant. In a regular 100 mile race you can have 2 or 4 blow ups, walk it out, and recover at an aid station. But Backyard doesn’t provide that option. You are either running well or you are done, the message is clear and we survivors were made very aware of this.
Day one yards were a bit spicy running between 41 to 49 minutes. Day 2 my pace, though still solid, slowed to 48 to 53 minute laps. I made the mistake of making phone calls in the yard. At one point I was talking to my 13 year old daughter when I hit a root and had a yard sale. Everything went flying, my hat and phone. I then needed to grab the phone out of the mud, wheezing in pain to assure Julia that daddy is okay but I’ve gotta let you go. Rookie mistake. The Sunday was warm and humid and ice was needed in my hat to stay cool. Ashley and Travis were busy going back and forth getting me stuff but also patching issues that Matt was now having. Matt’s muscle and body issues soon turning into stomach issues that eventually brought Matt to his knees. But that’s the challenging part of Backyard is that you can’t have a bad lap, there is just no time to recover from it.
Throughout the day on Sunday all I could fantasize about was getting back out on the night course. All the runners I chatted with dreaded the night, but that is where I ate. All I wanted was the cool asphalt and I salivated at the thought.
With the thinning field I latched onto a couple Swedes and got along famously. We talked all things family, career, politics, and running. It was a real pleasure making quality friends out there in this monotony.
The night, again.
And like clockwork the second sun went down and runners expectedly dropped like flies. Now at this point you start looking around and gauging one another’s comfort and you know what I found out? They were all a bunch a good liars. You really wouldn’t see breaks in the armor until they would just disappear and reappear somewhere on the course, after dropping, to high five you and wish you luck. It was like we all became a big dysfunctional family and I must admit I was sad to see them go even though it was the only true inevitable. One will stand.
From the first bell and scattered throughout there were two young, good looking woman who prided themselves in being the official Backyard cheerleaders. Baring pom poms they would cheerfully recite one catchy cheer after another with big smiles and cheery voices reminding you that the only thing that was assured was more suffering and that the person standing next to you will be a loser and chances are you’d be too. These girls did an incredible job of entertaining but admittedly I did think numerous times of taking those damn pom poms and throwing them in the fire pit.
Now like any big endurance run the pace will drop over time but I was proud as punch about my average pacing over the second night. All laps were now between 39 – 46 minutes, still leaving lots of time for quality sleep and the mental bump of knowing I’ve got more time off my feet than my competition does. Now over 40 hours the field is now small and oddly everyone is smiling more. Could this be that everyone is feeling that good, or are they all playing it up while others are around? My money is on the latter.
After completing a lap around 2:00 am I stopped to have a word with Laz while he stoked the fire. He paused, took a deep breathe, and said, “Damnit Dave you might have changed my mind about speed not being rewarded in this format.”
Now, holy hell, Laz has seen everything in this sport. He’s witnessed the unimaginable at Vol State, Barkley, the list goes on and on and when the wise man says that you might have it young man, you start to think that you might have just cracked the Backyard code.
The day after the day after the day.
At 48 hours there were 4. Anyone who says that women can’t beat men in ultra endurance sport should pay closer attention.
Dave …. that’s me 🙂
The 49th loop to start day three was terrible! A big wind came overnight and knocked down lots of leaves and branches on the course. The way we navigated the course the last couple days was following the beaten path of worn leaves, and now we have fresh new leaves over the worn leaves, crap! Also the new leaves created a new cover over the hazardous rocks and roots that I got tripped up on lots. I changed into my Altra Superiors for the first time and aside running off course twice and needing to slow a bit all was good.
9/10 laps I would finish the lap well ahead of the other three. From my view point here was what I saw. Will looked terrible but he is an interesting cat who goes unnoticed. When I saw him at 36 hours I pegged him as the next out but at 48 hours he looked the same and yet still continued. Maggie was solid and spoke often with me about working together to get to 72. Her hip and knee acted up early but she got it under control. At the beginning of every lap I would tuck behind her and mark her failing hip rotation, and guess what, it was getting worse. Katie again fell under the radar but looked stoic. She never showed pain, joy, or fear. She was on a mission and that was obvious. And me, well that’s not fair to self judge but I will say my confidence gauge was at an all time high.
Up to this point I’ve never ran this well in a race, ever. People were telling me that I looked good but I’m sure they say that to all the pretty girls.
Rule 1: no bad loops.
I had a bad loop on the 51st hour. Well that’s not entirely true. The moment I remember feeling off was around the birthing tree with about 10 minutes left in the loop. I remember jumping through the tree and feeling a whoosh in my head and body. I looked to the side but my vision was delayed. Weird. My heart rate started to spike. I got pastie in my mouth.
I got back to the finish and immediately told Travis that something is really not cool. We focused on the two big recovery tools: hydration and fuel. Now I did slow my drinking because I was frustrated with my frequent urination. I think my fueling was solid but this sure does look like a fueling issue. Travis pumped me full of 1000 calories and over 1 liter of hydration. Standing on the start line I felt dizzy. Laz rang his bell and off we three went.
Now that was a hard hour. All I could think was this too shall pass, this too shall pass, just get back within the hour. With the heightened heart rate my pace slowed, I walked runable sections. I knew I was cutting the hour close but I was having a hard time viewing my Garmin with my blurred vision. At one point I remember even stopping to put my watch up close to my face to see it but after realizing that doing that was completely counterintuitive I gave up. As I approached the final climb I heard 3 whistles in the distance. SHIT! The rock descent, two whistles. The power line, one whistle. At the power line all crew can see the runners and the loud cheer from the crowd really jolted me into fifth gear. I crossed the line with 40 seconds remaining. I was a mess and all I heard was Laz’s voice say it’s gonna be a quick turnaround. Travis and Ashley put my UltrAspire vest on fully loaded with water and food. Ashley said “Dave you’ll get through this.”
The bell rang.
I walked back onto the course. I stopped at the top of the out and back hill not clear what I needed to do but little did I know that Travis and Ashley alongside loads of runners and crew followed me out to yell at me if I were to think of quiting. Standing at the top of the hill I staggered and then I heard a lot of yelling. The voice I heard the most clear came from a new friend Guillaume.
Go Go Go
So I went. Not fast but I went. After doing the short hill out and back I needed to go through the staging area and it was loud. Everyone and I mean everyone was trying their best to urge me forward. I love these people. I entered the yard thinking again this too shall pass, get through this Dave. I didn’t get far before my dragging legs caught yet another root and down I went. I got up on my hands and knees but really struggled to get to my feet. I remember crawling to a tree to use it to climb to my feet. I stood there motionless, I’m not going to get back in time for the 53rd bell. A lot of feelings flooded but the one that stood out was being unfulfilled. I said aloud ten times, “I’m capable of so much more, I’m capable of so much more, I’m capable of so much more, I’m capable of so much more, I’m capable of so much more, I’m capable of so much more, I’m capable of so much more, I’m capable of so much more, I’m capable of so much more, I’m capable of so much more.”
I walked back to the finish line. I remember it being really important to me that I take off my cowboy hat because I was no longer racing. When I hit the powerline clearing I broke down into tears. As if everyone was standing there waiting for me they all stood square towards me and as if to salute my efforts they applauded for minutes on end. I can’t say enough thank you’s to all of you old friends, new friends and complete strangers. The way you made me feel in that ugly moment of hurt meant the world and I will never forget it. In the field Travis and Ashley met me with I love you’s and hugs. They were the real heroes here and the applause needed to be directed to them. I couldn’t take more than two steps without the warmest hugs from my fellow fallen soldiers and their battered crews. I made my way to the timing tent to thank my friends the Mikes and Bill for everything they do in and outside the timing tent for all us runners. These men are true gems in this sport. And lastly there stood the man.
“Dave, I thought you had it”.
He said with a slumped posture and a sadness in his voice.
“Laz do you remember what you told me up in Canada earlier this year,” I said. “You told me in Backyard you can’t have a bad lap, only good ones. Well, Laz I had a bad lap.”
We hugged and he handed me my DNF silver coin.
“Hey Laz can I ask one thing from you?”
“Go ahead.” He said knowing what I was about to ask.
“Can I come back next year?”
Laz paused as if he was reading my face the way a Sommelier reads wine.