In 2017, I vowed to run races that offered new and unusual experiences, so I applied to Big Dog’s Backyard Ultra Race in Bell Buckle, Tennessee. The race is a last-man standing event; you run a four-mile loop once an hour until you – or your competitors – have dropped out. I was ecstatic to be selected as one of the 70 starters for the 2018 race.
To get ready for the race, I worked with my long-time coach, Ryan Knapp, but I also needed assistance with injury prevention and mobility training. I contacted Jesse Fuller, a trainer in Washington, DC, for remote coaching, which was a game changer. Jesse assigned workouts, critiqued my running through videos, and was always available.
My training appeared to be going great until August, when I felt pain in my right leg. The pain wasn’t going away. I had a bone scan and MRI 10 days before the race, and the doctor told me I had a low-grade stress reaction of my right tibia. It wasn’t a stress fracture, so I considered the nature of the race: only the winner escapes being branded with a DNF (“Did Not Finish”). And it’s a looped course, which means you don’t need to run particularly fast. This meant that I could start the race and, if things went sideways, I could stop.
I packed my gear and headed to the race with my friend, Gavin Harmacy, who agreed to be my crew at the race.
After setting up, we walked over to say hello to Gary. I presented him with an award I designed commemorate his walk across the US this summer. Thanks to Blaine McFarlane for making this amazing award.
On a rainy and cold Saturday, Oct. 20 at 6:40 a.m., I lined up with 69 runners in the starting corral. The cowbell rang, and we were off.
The race does not reward speed – the key is energy conservation. It’s a mental race. The crowd doesn’t thin out until runners start getting knocked out of the race for not making the cut-off time. So, if you choose to settle behind other runners, you may risk not making the cut-off time.
I ran the first loop in 54 minutes, and had enough time to refill my water bottle, eat something, and get ready to go again. The race process for every loop is:
Throughout the race, you have to make mental notes (i.e. 20-minute mark was the field, 33-minute mark the V tree) to ensure you hit your time marks to keep your pace and make the time.
My race results: 100 miles in 23:50 (this is three hours, 25 minutes faster than my first crack at 100 miles earlier this year).
The winner, Johan Steene of Sweden, ran the race in 68 hours and 283 miles – a truly staggering feat of endurance.
Key race takeaways:
If you’re thinking about running this race, I’m more than happy to answer your questions.
Read a more-detailed post about my race experience on Facebook.