Runners are kind of crazy, right? Yes, in a good way. And what happens if you throw crazy times at crazy people? Well, let me tell you the story of (my) Quarantine Backyard Ultra.
Saturday, April 4 2020, 8:45 am EST. Some 2,000+ runners around the world log onto one of two massive zoom calls. Their cameras point at porches, garden gates, front doors, and treadmills. They show where every single one of us will start their respective 4.167 mile loops, every hour, for the foreseeable future.
The concept of the Backyard Ultra is simple: Every hour, you run 4.167 miles. You need to start at the ring of the bell at X:00 sharp. If you finish before the hour is up, you can collapse into a chair, eat, change your socks, nap, whatever makes you happy (or, as time pases: less miserable). If you do not finish within the hour, you DNF (did not finish). If you do not start the next loop when the bell rings, you DNF. When do you not DNF? When you are the last person finishing a loop. The concept is as beautiful as it is cruel.
So: Why did I get myself into this? The short answer is: why not? The longer one starts with an innocent post on CHRC’s facebook page, linking to the Quarantine Backyard Ultra event. I knew about the ‘original’ Backyard Ultra, a race hosted by the father of the infamous Barkley Marathon. I loved the concept and the fact that a woman (Maggie Guterl) had won it in 2019. I had been running 30+ mile weeks over the past month. I felt ready for a crazy running adventure.
When I toed the “starting line” (aka the shoe rack next to the door) that Saturday, my initial goal was to finish 4 loops, just a bit more than the 14-mile long run I had on my regular schedule. Fortunately, the 4th loop was accompanied by such a runner’s high that I decided to start loop 5. At this point, my brain took a nap, or at least the part that should have been responsible for counting loops. It did not wake up until loop 6 had been finished, and that meant: 25 miles. My glutes were burning and my calves had transformed into a solid muscle-brick. But I was only one loop away from really accomplishing something. Surely, I could walk-run another loop?
Yes, I could, and I did. For the better portion of this last loop, the giant smile on my face earned me confused stares from pedestrians. I DNFed after 6 hours and 50 minutes, 29.5 miles, 2 giant calorie bomb cookies, 1 banana, 2 bowls of rice, more than 1.5 liters of Gatorade, and an undocumented constant flow of water. My body was aching, my stomach was righteously upset, and an old blister on my left toe had swollen to a new record size. I felt amazing.
I spent the remainder of that weekend lying on soft surfaces, constantly keeping an eye on the YouTube live-feed that showed the runners that had not yet DNFed. It was not until Monday (!) that Micheal Wardian won the Quarantine Backyard Ultra – after 63 hours and almost 265 miles on his feet. His prize: the golden toilet paper roll.