That last question is always tough. There are so many aspects of the Big Dog to prepare for, with surprising variety. Technical trail running, speed and leg turnover, hill climbing (the hills are small but there is almost 500 feet of uphill per loop, which adds up quickly), cardiovascular fitness, pavement running, and I also like to work on the mental training side. Every year I brainstorm training/racing/preparation ideas and every year is different. Our travel is different. Our focus is different. At some point I'll have to admit that I'm getting older...
I do know a few things. I always enjoy our time in laz's backyard. We always meet wonderful people and have a great time catching up with old friends. John is always there for me, helping me every lap of the way. And I will always "give my all", and if that ever changes then it will be time to quit this ridiculousness.
Until then, it's time to enter the fray and see what happens!
Something new this year! For the first time, it has been designated as the world championship of backyard racing. Runners qualified at races around the world - Brazil, Japan, India, Australia, New Zealand, all over Europe, and more. Sweden had a particularly large (and strong) contingent of 6 runners, following an explosion of backyard racing in their country. Amazing! I love having been in on the ground floor of this phenomenon.
A couple other new things - a giant "big top" tent where we could set up a chair and be protected from rain and sun. Super awesome. And Mike Melton had a microphone so he could make announcements that everyone would hear, big improvement over prior years.
Oh, and the trail. I have to go into a bit of detail because this might (or might not) have been important to my race. Every year the trail is improved. Major things like removing every single step-over log and limb. Minor things like straightening it a bit here and there. Large and slight reroutes, including removing a big step-down/step-up rock at the start/end of the trail this year. For the first time I got to help with one of the trail work days (highly recommend for anyone who has a chance to do this!) and I was thrilled to get the chance to move a few loose rock plates out of the path of travel. So thank you for all of that!
I heard they were going to wheel the trail for distance accuracy and I didn't think much about the implications. Until we were driving to the site on Friday and John mentioned he saw writing on the road. Immediately I said "oh no." Sure enough, the trail had come up short and the out-and-back road section had been lengthened. Maybe it wouldn't matter? But I suspect, for me at least, that it did. Or maybe I'm just making excuses, feel free to judge for yourself.
The upshot was about 1:15-1:20 added to my first split, including additional elevation. I had already been toying with the idea of slowing down just a hair on purpose, now this change complicated things. Well, like I said, let's see what happens!
Getting set up on race morning - and chatting with Greg for the first time in years! He remembered us from Hardrock the year I ran, excellent memories and it was great to see him. Nice running at the Backyard too, Greg!
Runners gathered in the corral (which laz spray-painted well before the starting whistle this time, many thanks for that). No one seems to want to lead the way:
Chatting with John Sharp at the start, and I might have been trying to see the Jeer Leaders' first performance here. They were again awesome, with pompoms and words like "Q-U-I-T, Just quit now and you’ll be free!; Q-U-I-T, Just quit now, come drink with me!" Lots of laughter!
And we're off! Down the road, all the way to the first bend this time (oof), back up the road...
Enjoying walking and chatting:
Well, my first split was obviously well off from previous years. OK, guess I'm going to do math for breakfast today. We entered the woods and I was happy to take the straight line past the large rock (yay for that reroute!). Not as happy to be stuck in the back of a long line of runners.
The first lap was just all-around weird. Even adding the extra 1+ minute to the splits, we were going slower at an alarming rate. John Sharp and I started discussing it and at first I counseled patience. But when we reached the start of the loop section, we both agreed we couldn't just sit back here and be OK with this pace. John took off past a line of people and I followed. I really didn't want to push hard this early but I also didn't want to time out on the first lap!
After about a mile and several more passes, our split times came back closer to normal and we settled down in relief. A couple guys had been tagging along and we let them know that everything was OK, no more freaking out. I knew I had some work to do to reset my splits, but this wasn't the lap to try to figure that out.
The start of lap 2, probably the last time I lined up near the back. It soon became obvious that there were only downsides to walking further from my chair just to end up running more distance and having to deal with more people in front of me on the trail.
Yay Jeer Leaders!! Another one I remember (although I'm pretty sure it came later in the race): "H-E-L-L, just tell laz to go to hell!"
There were only 10 women runners out of 72 starters, but it was a strong set of 10 that included Maggie Guterl who was 2nd female last year (44 hours). Also Katie from New Zealand, Amelia Boone from World's Toughest Mudder fame, and several fast ladies from Sweden.
Running with Andy Emerson, who has been to this race as many times as I have. It was great running with him off and on all day, talking strategy and reminiscing a bit. Thanks Andy!
The 2nd lap went much better, like everyone suddenly figured out what pace they needed to keep. No more huge line at the back of the pack, just an evenly strung-out set of runners going a reasonable speed. I can't explain exactly how it happened, but lap 1 was really odd and the rest of the day was perfectly fine. I'll take it!
It took several laps of watch watching at all my split spots to collect revised times, eventually recording some numbers in the notebook that should work OK for the longer course. Something to keep my mind occupied, at least.
Back in the chair after lap 2:
Cute shot John captured at the start of lap 3:
Hey, there was a live webcam this year! Apparently it wasn't "Big-proof" because John saw Mr. Big walk away amid a tangle of wires while Mike shouted at him to "stop, Big, stop!" That only caused the dog to pause briefly before continuing his journey, resulting in the tipping-over of the webcam. Would have loved to catch that on video.
It also didn't have the most stable of internet connections, but it was running at this moment that Kathy was watching and she sent us a screenshot from her phone. Huge thank you to Kathy for capturing it!
Starting out again, and there's Ben (with the headband) who lives down the road. Hi Ben! He's part of the muscle behind all the great updates to the trail over the years, and he has run this race every year. Always fun to talk with Ben again:
I had 5 easy laps (which is typical) before needing to work just a little to maintain pace. I was concerned about my heart rate and tried to run more efficiently and modify my uphill/downhill running to bring it lower. I don't know that any of that helped. I was also concerned about my lap times, which were longer than normal even accounting for the additional road distance.
Finally I gave up on the numbers and focused on the positives - I wasn't breathing hard at all and things still felt easy-to-normal as far as the effort level. My legs were fine.
And I was having a great time! So much fun to be back there. The cheering crowds at the start and finish of every lap helped a lot too. I relaxed and soaked it all in.
The middle of the day was a bit warmer than the morning but not bad at all. We had great temperatures and cloud cover on Saturday, even some misty rain that kept things cool. No complaints, could have been much worse.
For a while it felt like I could keep this up forever. While that's a prerequisite for doing well at a backyard race, there's no "certainty" embedded in it!
Running along, having a great time on the smooth downhills, legs doing great on the uphills, meeting a few people - Marc Laveson has been here a few times but somehow we hadn't met until he introduced himself and we ran together for a while to chat. Great to meet you, Marc!
Oops! I kicked a stob in the middle of the field, went flying, and luckily landed on grass. At least it happened in the field where most landings will be soft ones. Several of us ID'd the culprit stob and its neighbor, and we all made sure to avoid that spot in future passes. I didn't think the fall had caused any damage until my shoulder felt achy for the next couple days. At least I didn't feel it until after the race.
Various guys followed me around at various times, one of them mentioning that John Sharp told him that I was a good person to pace off. It's not often I actually like having people on my heels, but in this case I really enjoyed it. Most of them were happy to chat, joke around a bit, help pass the time. I was impressed that most were OK with my frequent switches from uphill speed hiking to downhill flow running and back again. Lots of patience in the back of the pack this year.
A couple from Sweden had a stronger uphill pace but a slower downhill run, so we worked together to try to stay out of each other's way. It was interesting listening to other languages around me over the weekend.
I got to say "Hi!" to Rob Youngren, excellent! Another person we haven't seen since our Hardrock days. We chatted about FKT's which is always a good way to get me to start jabbering.
These two "bears" seemed to be thinking about heading into the woods to greet unsuspecting runners, but I never saw them on the course (perhaps because it started sprinkling):
The start of lap 12! It's a tough one because it gets dark partway through. Mike made sure we all had a light and that we knew we shouldn't dawdle. Then it started raining for real, so it felt like a bit of a madhouse getting off the line and back onto the course. Time to push and make sure we didn't time out before the easier road loops.
My legs were OK with the slightly-harder running, with my IT bands somewhat reluctant but loosening up with the rock dancing. I made sure to be careful on the wet, slippery rocks (mostly avoiding putting a foot on one unless I had to). I made up time where I could and watched my splits closely.
Casey followed along toward the end of lap 12, giving me someone to report to on our splits. I knew we wouldn't have much time but that we would make it. No time to relax but no need to panic either. He thanked me but I did enjoy the company and felt like I had done something slightly useful in the middle of a mostly pointless endeavor.
And it's dark, time for the road!
That first road lap, phew, that was a tough one. It's always something of an adjustment to switch to pavement, but this time my legs were seriously not happy about it. I muddled through, returning to the yard with barely enough time to swap shoes. I really need those Hokas please!
The shoe change helped a lot, OK, settle down. I was able to gently run down the long hill and feel more normal about it. My IT bands loosened up for a while. I worked on mentally trying to be OK with bright headlamps behind me casting wobbly shadows all over the road ahead of me. It was slightly dizzying.
No Haunted Woods this year, bummer! I missed the chainsaw noises and screams in the dark forest. Just the normal hayride with people both cheering for us and/or saying "what the heck?" Otherwise, the road was pretty quiet. Most of the runners were quiet too. Just an occasional chat, a brief talk with Shenoa to exchange our mutual concern for our less-than-optimal physical conditions.
My nighttime lap times were way slow this year, and while I had thought to slow down overnight by design, the actual slow times were in reality the best I could do. I really wanted to make it to 23 hours to retake (from Johan) the overall number of Backyard miles, but I was starting to wonder if even that was possible.
The cycle continued of tight legs/looser legs/come on legs!/OK we're running now. I worked on posture, breathing, smiling, focusing, letting my mind drift, speed walking, push a little, back off a little. Some things helped temporarily. Then everything would contract again. I was very hesitant to try an ibuprofen because of a prior experience with a separate injury cropping up that I wasn't aware of until the pill wore off. I also wasn't sure how my stomach would handle it.
My stomach was doing reasonably all right, sort of letting me know that it was considering being a problem child but not actually causing nausea yet. I tried a couple ginger chews and that helped. I managed a solid pit stop (pun intended) at the start of a lap and that also helped.
But eventually the attempts at "sustaining" all crashed at once. All of my leg muscles decided they were done with running, not just the IT bands. Efforts to push them to run anyway resulted in a stomach rebellion, and the slight increase in speed wasn't enough anyway. I turned to speed-walking the whole lap, which felt fine and actually wasn't all that slow. Just not all that fast either, and not enough to make the hour cutoff.
Seeing headlamps bobbing over the top of the hill coming toward me (the pack starting the next lap) was pretty cool, except it meant my race was over. Several people commiserated and told me "good job" which I appreciated. Then there was John, walking out to look for me. Hi honey! Thank you for the hug!
I'm still not sure exactly what happened, some combination of incomplete preparation/training, needing to be a bit more fit to handle the extra daytime distance, and not nearly enough pavement running over the summer. More brainstorming and adjusting are in order.
For the moment, sitting down was nice. Warm clothes, a blanket, sips of warm water to settle my post-race stomach, chatting with a couple people. Then John bundled me into the sleeping bag in the tent. We slept in one-hour increments, waking for the whistles every hour (at least I did, John apparently has a better filter).
Contemplating getting up to watch the surviving runners the next morning, happy to be inert just a little while longer:
We enjoyed the lovely Sunday morning and afternoon, cheering on the pack (especially the women!), talking with everyone else who was still hanging around. Quite a lovely day.
I hadn't noticed until then that there was an addition to the "Finish" banner:
We eventually needed to go, get showered, get other things done, as much as I would have loved to be there the whole time. Some year!
Funny photo from the TV at the hotel the night before the race started:
Except this time it was the Last Woman Standing!! Finally!! Maggie outlasted Will in 60 hours/250 miles. Super excited and completely impressed. Congratulations Maggie!
That pretty much made my year. Wow, wow, wow.
And since I haven't seen a copy of the race program posted online, I figured I'd show it here in case anyone is interested.
Hey, I'm a little piece of history, if you look hard enough :)
The list of athletes and their accomplishments is pretty amazing:
The winners of these races get automatic entry next year:
It was truly a worthy event for a World Championship!
Thank you John for all your help and support and calm focus.
Thank you laz for this crazy race!