Every 60 Minutes // Big Dog Backyard Ultra Race Recap
While dumping half a paycheck worth of diesel into Big Red, en route to Utah to volunteer at the Bear 100 [which was supposed to be my “A race” of the year], I impulsively tossed my name onto the waitlist for the Big Dog Backyard Ultra in Tennessee. Typing in my initials to sign away all liability + hitting “register” was weirdly exhilarating, even if it was only for the waitlist. For now.
Just after the Bear 100 racers took off from the start line I clicked through my inbox + hit “confirm” on my official Big Dog Backyard Ultra registration. *deep breath* Bigs is no “regular” ultra, it’s one of Laz’s races that was designed specifically to mess with your mind + force you to find your limits. I went out to Tennessee to crew the race two years ago when Jeremy + Johan battled it out to a tie at 49 hours. It was one helluva experience to crew — the atmosphere was awesome, Laz + his family were great hosts + it was incredible to witness the determination of runners hour after hour. Somehow that sounded fun enough to sign up for, with Jeremy jumping on board to crew because it gave him a chance to hang out with everyone he ran with a few years ago.
It didn’t take long for the excitement to wear off + the I-am-in-so-far-over-my-head terror to sink it. When I hit “register” every step was painful courtesy of a cranky shin that kept me from starting the Bear 100. Even with a healthy body, my entire summer of training was for a mountainous ultra…not a runnable loop course that was intentionally “made easier” this year to keep us all running longer. I legitimately had zero idea what I was capable of in this setting but that didn’t keep me from creating a few goals [that I intentionally kept to myself].
But first, let me explain the format of the Big Dog Backyard Ultra. Actually, Laz does a fantastic job of explaining it so I’ll let him do the honors…
The concept is simple.
At 0700 hours on Saturday, October 15, we will start a race around the 4.166667 mile Big Trail.
The time limit will be one hour.
At 0800 hours, we will begin another race around the trail.
We will do the same at 0900, 1000, and so on,
every hour, on the hour,
until only one runner can complete a race within the time limit.
Any runner not in the starting corral for any race, is not eligible to continue.
No late starts!
If no single runner can complete a race at the end,
there will be no winner.
At 1900 hours, the races will transfer to a road out and back course.
At 0700 hours the following morning, we will return to the trail loop.
Yes, you read that right — it’s simply a 4ish mile loop ever hour until you can no longer complete 4 miles in an hour. That’s a 15ish minute/mile pace + completely feasible. Right? Ha.
The trail itself isn’t very technical + it’s completely runnable with rolling climbs. It also has a lot of diversity for a 4 mile loop that is literally situated in someone’s backyard! There are a few stretches of sketchy Tennessee slate just waiting to lurch out of your way on the 8th loop when you’ve finally relaxed enough to trust them. Then there is pesky criss-cross of branches you have to slow down to hop over, completely disrupting a perfectly cruise-worthy downhill. Not to mention, that downhill stretch through a rocky field that never felt as fast as it should have been.
It’s not an overly exciting trail, but I could probably spend 45 minutes describing every detail of it to you…endless loops will melt the trees, rocks + sticker bushes into your brain whether you invite them or not.
I went into this race casually, maybe a little too casually. This wasn’t an oversight out of disrespect or cocky confidence, it was my way to keep myself calm + in tune with my body. I was afraid I’d be battling off some cranky tendons + wanted my body to make my choices without an overzealous brain getting in the way. In retrospect, I should have paid a little more attention to the details + actually followed through with a few things I had talked about doing such as keeping a stash of calories + caffeine in my pocket. Eh, lessons…so obvious when in the past.
eyeball this video of the start + hear that glorious cow bell Laz loves so much!
We started the race at 06:45 on Saturday morning, roughly an hour after my alarm went off to wake me from a cozy slumber in the back of Big Red. I pinned on my bib, strapped my timing chip to my ankle + lined up with 46 other doomed souls to start our “last man standing” battle. I chatted withe a few familiar faces as we headed on a short out/back on the road then attempted to settle into a comfortable pace as we hit the trail. My first few loops were done with my GPS so I could track out distance + pick out a few time check landmarks. By the third or fourth loop/hour the GPS was ditched + I spent the rest of the race relying on my stopwatch + memory as I looped through the forest.
This was also about the time Ben + I decided to become loop buddies. I managed to find a pretty solid rhythm as we hiked uphill, ran downhill + bounced along the trail. Ben settled in behind me + kept the conversation going so we didn’t run into any trees out of sheer boredom. Our loops went something like this…
…15 minute logs
…20 minute Y tree
…21 minute lollipop hill
…23 minute cave
…25 minute log/rock
…35 minute field
…37 minute slate cluster
…41 minute lollipop turn
…43 minute Y tree
…48 minute logs
…53 minute tree
…56 minute rock
…57 minute driveway
When Jeremy ran this race he had a similar 57:xx loop finish almost every hour for 48 hours. He can boast about that being his strategy [a seemingly good one, at that]. My loops were incredibly consistent but I can’t brag about my stellar strategy…those numbers were out of pure necessity. In the early hours it all felt easy enough but as we neared the 9, 10, 11, 12 hour loops I was losing ground. With each lap I’d be a few more seconds behind hitting the 25 minute log/rock at 25:12, 25:18, 25:32…etc. Silly seconds. But seconds I literally did not have time to play with as this would put me a bit further behind every other landmark + eventually behind the 60 minute cutoff of the loop.
While running the loops I lost complete track of time. The only thing that mattered was the minutes + seconds my stopwatch was spitting out at me. As I came through the finish line I’d hand Jeremy my handhelds then loop back to grab food, icy cold water + whatever he could talk me into. Within 1-2 minutes I was back out on the course with the clang of Laz’s bell. We’d hit up the road stretch + I’d be back to snag more food from Jeremy as I ran out toward the trail.
Overall, I think I did a really solid job of handling food, water + electrolytes during the heat of the day. It got up into the 80’s with good ol’ Tennessee humidity but the shady trees + breeze kept me cool enough. Jeremy did a fantastic job of pushing water, Powerade, ice, salt tabs + food at me although I know I made him worry about by not taking as much water + salt as he would have liked. I trust his experience + judgement but my body was not agreeing with him so I got a little pushy. Sorry, sorta.
At one point people started talking about headlamps + everyone got really concerned that I didn’t have mine on. I was confused. In my mind we still had 2-3 loops of trail running left before we switched over to the road for the night hours…I wouldn’t need my headlamp until the last loop on the trail, why was everyone so concerned? Turns out we were on our last loop of the trail. I was so distracted by the minutes + seconds I had no idea it was 6pm. My run drunk brain had arrived in full force…
more photos, courtesy of John Price + the Bigs crew!
While I was getting sick + tired of the freaking trail loops it was the road miles that did me in. On our 13th loop we headed out to the highway to run a 4.16667 mile out/back along an open country road under a full moon. Most people were talking about how great it would be to just run + how beautiful it’d be. They were all delusional. I hated every. single. step. of that stupid road. Hated. I honestly don’t believe there are enough words in the English language to describe the pure disgust I had for that road. Yea, the moon was pretty. Yea, it was less technical. Yea, it was easy to “sleep run”. Yea, there were painted distances to help with timing. Yea…I did not care.
On my first road loop I hated every step but as I trucked along with my GPS telling me I was power walking at a 13 minute/mile pace I knew it wasn’t my body rebelling…it was my brain. I probably needed more food + I definitely needed to get some caffeine pumping through my veins. This first loop was my fastest loop + my only finish below 57 minutes. I ran into the finish, told Jeremy “I hate this” + promptly burst into tears when he asked what was wrong. Yup, caffeine was essentially. I cried while he + Terry [a CO runner who had to drop earlier in the race] fed me, caffeinated me + pretended everything was okay.
The bell clanged + I was back on the horrid road. On this loop I started plotting how I’d bargain with Jeremy. Maybe if I promised to never run a road again? Never run anything again? Or I could sign a contract to never race again? Nope…never run again. Screw running. Running was stupid. I hated it. But I had no real reason to stop. The road was just too easy. Laz’s diabolical plan was working, too well. Timing out on the road had to be intentional. I finished up my second road loop in 57:xx, back on track.
With very few words + a mouthful of food I begrudgingly headed out for my third loop on the road. Jeremy asked me to do just one more loop…fine! I’d time out on this loop + then never, ever run again. I’d show him! Except, I didn’t time out. I ran through the finish line at a good ol’ 57:xx then burst into tears, again. The food + caffeine weren’t working as fast as I needed them to. Or, this wasn’t a food/caffeine thing? Either way, I was still hating life + hating running. On top of that, the niggle in my right calf was getting worse + my past experience with busted Achilles tendons had me worried. An excuse? Heck yea…but a valid excuse in my book! I was done.
They counted down the seconds as Jeremy tried to communicate with my tears. I was crouched down at the far corner of the start corral, my water + food untouched at my feet. Technically…I could start with the bell, I was in the start corral on time. But I didn’t start. I opted to cry some more than throw myself onto the ground + off my feet for the first time in 15 hours…I quit.
14:23:35 moving time.
37 minutes of “aid station” time.
official results [scroll down to find me]
My lowest goal was at least 32 miles to snag an ultra + play it off as “birthday miles”. My hopeful goal was a 100 miles to get a 100 for the year + pull off a 24 hour 100. My high reaching goal was 30 hours as a true “birthday run”.
Ultimately, I’m as happy as I can be with a 62 mile/100K DNF at Bigs. It was twice my lowest goal + over halfway to my hopeful goal. It’d have to do. It’s one helluva race + I’m really proud of how my body held up. After a summer of hiking + 6 weeks of tapering I still managed to run consistent miles with a strong body + have zero injuries to contend with. Since no one could produce that “I’ll never, ever run again” contract I was begging for on my lonely road miles my running shoes are back on my feet + my enabling trigger finger has already gotten busy on Ultra Signup. Eesh.
— follow-up thoughts about next time —