The idea of doing this race started last November when I was looking at races to add along with Ironman Chattanooga and Steelhead 70.3. I was wanting to do another ultra, but since ultra training and IM training don’t go very well together, I would need to either build up running mileage early in the season and do a spring ultra, or take a week off after IM and then have a month or so running build and aim for a late fall/early winter ultra. I finally settled on doing a spring ultra since who knows what condition I’ll be in after IM, and committed to the Queeny Backyard Ultra in early March. What really drew me to the race was that it was a non-technical course, it was 10 minutes from my house and I was really familiar with the course having running it many times for cross-country practice in highschool. Ah memories. However the format, last man standing, I was definitely not familiar with but figured it would be something fun and new to try and would just go into it without too many expectations. Since this wasn’t my A race and I didn’t want to burn out too early in the season, the plan was to get in enough run volume to have fun and go far but nothing crazy. Training included some back to back days with 10/16 mile runs and practicing doing 4 or 5 mile loops with a 10 minute break, as I figured I would finish each loop in 45-50 minutes, so practicing the ‘hanging around’ time in between loops would be helpful.
Training wasn’t off to the best start in January as I got COVID, so I was out for the count for a few days and fatigued for several more. I eventually got some of my longer planned runs in as well as some decent elevation/vert (for me) which was important since the course had about 410ft elevation gain per loop. At the end of my training cycle I felt prepared for a 50k, however in races with this format the strategy is to walk the uphills to save the legs since you have plenty of time to complete each loop, so maybe my legs were capable of 50 miles? Or would the 10-15 minute break between loops make my legs more stiff? I really had no idea what to expect, so I was hoping to run at least 30 miles and anything over 50 would be awesome. Although just in case I packed enough nutrition for 100 miles… because you never know?
Race day arrived and boy was I so excited! It felt like a mini adventure since this was all new to me, and I was certainly packed for an adventure: a canopy tent, a camping chair, a tub of gear (forecast was looking to be warm, but you never know how chilly temps can feel running in the dark), a tub of nutrition, a cooler… just to list some of the things, lol. The race started at noon on Friday, so I was able to get up at my normal time, eat a big pre race breakfast, and then head to the race at 10:30a to set up my tent and gear.
Once I arrived and got everything set up, I picked up my packet and just hung out, feeling a little nervous but surprisingly calm. I think knowing the loop was only 4.2 miles and every loop I could hit the bathroom and hang out at my tent was reassuring. Soon it was time to line up and I headed to the start, but made a fast dash for the bathrooms again, and then was off!
I had my headphones in (just in one ear) and planned to get into a zone and just tick off the laps. However the energy of everyone chatting along the way was so contagious that I wasn’t ready to go into a ‘zone’ quite yet. Many of the runners were happily chatting away and making new friends, so I just listened to everyone talking and enjoyed being outside and the sunny nice weather. Before I knew it, I was done with the first loop, a little faster than planned, so I had 15 minutes to hang out at my tent. I texted JMR to let him know one loop was done and since I might be back with some time to spare each loop, I was just going to text him every loop 🙂 Soon the three minute whistle was blown so I headed to the start, and then as the minutes counted down we were off for loop two. I had decided to put my headphones away and just ran this loop the same way as the first, enjoying the weather and just being around other chatty happy runners.
On the third loop, after the first 1/2 mile I ended up with a group of three guys chatting away and somehow ended up in their conversation. After chatting for a while, I learned that they had a similar goal of at least midnight (50 miles) and we were running a similar pace, so I planned to tag along with the three of them for as long as I could. Joining their group was the best decision of the race, we became fast friends, chatting about all kinds of random things and the loops just flew by. We even made up a team name!
I grabbed my headlamp at the start of loop 6, and was excited (and scared) to turn it on when the sun started setting and run in the dark. Running the loop in the dark definitely felt different, not super scary, but I was happy to have the company of my little group with several headlamps lighting the way. However on loop 9 I fell back from my little group as the first 1/4th mile is a steep downhill and my quads were starting to kill me, so I took it extra extra slow as the pounding was pretty painful. I tried to catch up without success, and then reminded myself that the end the goal was the finish the loop, not keep up with a group, so I carried on at my own pace. That’s how it went for the next two loops, however fortunately I still kept making new friends along the way so I wasn’t alone in the dark for very long stretches at time, which I was very relieved about!
I finished loop 11 feeling down and out, hating the downhills (my quads!), feeling like my pace was just really starting to slow, and questioning if I would finish the next loop in time. I told JMR I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to start the next loop (he came to support me starting at loop 10 as I was worried that as the loops went on, I would get loopy, ha). He said ‘Come on, you are almost at 50, you’ve got to do one more’. I debated going out again and then told him that I was going back out but I was going to wear my headphones. So off I went with my headphones, hoping they would carry me through my final planned loop. I have no idea why I cared about the headphones, I guess I felt like I was using my last tool to carry me through, so if the headphones didn’t help, this was it… but this was it, the last planned loop. Like I said, I was getting a little loopy.
Our Team gave first bumps at the start (we had been doing this each time) and if we all finished this loop, we were going to make it to midnight! The whistle was blown and off we went, or well, for me, more of a shuffle. I slowly waddled down the big hill, and then something happened about .75 miles in, my legs felt good, I was feeing the music and…I felt good! I chatted with a few people but was mostly just focusing on finishing my last planned loop. As I was about a half mile away from the end of the loop, I thought, ‘why not just do one more loop’ and the idea sounded ok. The decision was made, I was doing another loop. I finished in about 50 minutes, headed back to my tent and told JMR, ‘I’m doing one more loop!’.
Once the three minute whistle blew I headed to the start, and when the final whistle blew I shuffled along. This time the big downhill had me doing loud, huffing, deep breathing techniques to fight the pain as I tried to hobble/walk down it. Once I got to the flatter parts of the loop I noticed I still couldn’t seem to hold a decent pace. I was in a another low and the thought of this being my final loop was the only thing pushing me to get through it. I think I had a few tears during the last .75 miles just wanting to be done since my quads were so angry, right about the same spot where I had decided on the previous loop that I was doing another. It wasn’t in the cards, my brain wasn’t even considering another loop this time. I came in around 51 minutes and told JMR I was done. I started to disassemble our tent and then heard the three minute whistle and remembered I needed to tell the volunteers at the start that I was done.
I headed to the start to withdraw form the race and the two volunteers said ‘What? You are?! You are doing so good! Just do one more loop!’ I hadn’t expected that response and I was like ‘My toenails feel like they are falling off, my husband won’t know if I leave for another loop since I told him we were leaving’. In my head I was like, do I even have enough time to run back and tell JMR before the last whistle blows?!? Should I go for it?! They tried to get me to go, saying there were only two other females left, which gave me more pause, but then I insisted I was done. I reminded myself that the furthest I had trained was 16ish miles and I was already asking a lot of my body, and had some other big races coming up. I hit my goal of at least 50, so I felt like it was time to walk away. I headed back to the tent and we packed up and headed home. That decision haunted me though as soon as I got in the car, however it had been made and there was no going back.
When I got home I left all the stuff in the car (2a isn’t the time for unpacking), showered, cooked and ate an entire frozen pizza and attempted to sleep for a few hours. Once the sun came up I spent the rest of the day in a post-race-hungover-feeling and eating my way through the day, ha.
I would be lying though if I didn’t second guess my decision to quit at 54.6 miles as the second girl quit after loop 13 and the winner won doing 63 miles (14 loops)… could I have done two more loops? Should I have run back to JMR and told him ‘one more loop?’ I woke up early Monday morning in a panic about it! As the days passed and I was further away from that moment I realized that I had made the right call, my goal was just to do a 50k, 50 miles was awesome and anything more was fabulous, and I did that. My recovery hasn’t been terrible, my legs took a week to come around but I’m back to training for the Go! Half Marathon and if I had kept going for more loops that might not be the case today 🙂
Overall I would highly recommend this race. The backyard/loop style format just makes for a really fun race to hang out/run with other competitors, and the 1 hour loop takes the speed ‘factor’ out of it so it feels less competitive. Also Terrain Trail Runners does an awesome job at putting on races, it was incredibly well run and organized. If I can fit it in next year, I will do it, because it was THAT much fun 🙂
I’ll leave you with a picture of Penelope, which is how I felt that Saturday after the race.
Great write up! We have a lot of similarities going on. I did my first backyard ultra in 2021 while training for Ironman Chattanooga and in retrospect it wasn’t quite enough I don’t believe. Choo was my A race that year and I think I did okay with the “byu” but could have been more successful had I just trained specifically for it. My byu was moved from August to April this year and I struggled to get in the miles in the winter/spring. I did get a couple extra yards in this time, though! 10 total. I agree that something happens in your head and you just sense that you can’t go one, even though you probably can. I have regretted dropping out both times by the time I get back to the hotel. Oh well, there’s always next year.