“It’s an interesting concept”, said Glenn Sutton.
He had just run 38 laps (254km), been encouraged out of his tent for the 39th, started to turn around, but with encouragement kept going. While everyone was cheering him on he got just over the brow of the hill and tried mooning us. Fortunately that was a failure also – we could tell what he was doing, but we could only see his top half. Finally, he came to his senses, walked back to the start and officially DNFed.
The “interesting concept” is the Backyard Ultra. Runners set off on the hour every hour to run a 6.7km loop. Once the hour starts they are on their own with no support until they get back to the finish. The faster they go the more time they get between laps. The faster they go the more they burn out. It’s a balancing act.
There are currently three Backyard Ultras in NZ that are affiliated with the International Backyard Ultra movement set up by Lazarus Lake. The top 15 participants from all of those earned a spot in the NZ team for the World Team Championships that began last Sunday morning. As I write this, 85 hours have passed and two teams still remain with two runners in each – Belgium and Japan. The current world record is 90 laps set by Merijn Geerts of Belgium – he is one of the remaining runners. A live Zoom link connected all the countries and a continuous YouTube channel was showing updates and interviews.
All the teams in the world began at the same moment. NZ got the short end of the straw as for us that meant 1am Sunday morning. Out of the 37 countries in the World Team Championships we were ranked 15th. The event was held at Puhinui Reserve near Auckland airport. Otago was well represented with Glenn Sutton, John Bayne, Andy Smith all from Dunedin and Adam Keen, Brandon Purdue and Jub Bryant from Queenstown.
All 15 managed 24 laps (100 miles – pause and take that in!) before John Bayne pulled out. Andy Smith managed a personal best of 32 laps and Glenn also managed a personal best of 38 laps (254km). By lap 41 there were only two remaining, Sam Harvey and Scott Bougen. Both of them were looking good and the average lap times were increasing. However, after 45 laps and 302km, Scott’s body decided that was enough and he didn’t start lap 46. The rules of the Backyard Ultra mean that there can only be one winner and they must complete one lap more than anyone else so Sam had to do lap 46 on his own. It didn’t seem to be a problem as he shot around the course in 28 minutes setting the fastest lap time of any of the 544 starters throughout the world.
Sam set a new NZ record. Fiona Hayvice set a new NZ woman’s record (37 laps). The NZ team improved on their rankings to finish in 11th place.
It is an interesting concept as we watch Belgium and Japan creep up on the world record. How far can we go? How far can humans go? Kipchoge likes to say, “No human is limited”. It seems logical that there are limits somewhere but we will never know when we have reached them so we may as well keep reaching.
The Backyard Ultra isn’t just for the elites though. Watching Sam Harvey complete his 308th kilometre faster than I have ever gone in 5km I realised that I could never do that! He has a physiology and mindset different to most! However we can all push. At Pigs Backyard Ultra in February this year I watched as runner after runner ran more than they had ever run in the past. For some it was their first half-marathon, for others their first marathon, or 100km, or 100mile.
This is where the Backyard Ultra becomes a really interesting concept. It’s a chance for anyone to push their limits and find out they can go further. As well as that… it’s a really fun time with a great bunch of people!
The next Backyard Ultra in New Zealand is the Pigs Backyard Ultra in Dunedin. Entries are open already so sign up here… https://pigsbackyardultra.com/