Quarantine Backyard Ultra July 2020 – a Review

The Format of QBU

QBU is spawned from the brainchild of Barkley Marathons legend Lazarus Lake.  He developed the backyard format and during the COVID-19 crisis the ‘run from home’ quarantine version was born.  Originally run in April 2020, I took part in the July 2020 event.

The format is simple, at the start of every hour you head out on a ‘lap’.  That lap must be 4.167 miles or 6.667 Km.  This distance is chosen as it equates to 100 miles over 24 hours.  The loop has to start and finish at the same point.  It can be an out and back, a collection of smaller loops, or you can use a treadmill.  

You start at the top of every hour, which means you must finish a ‘lap’ within the hour otherwise you aren’t back in time to start the next one.

There’s a bunch more finer detail rules, but that’s the general format.

In April 2020 the inaugural event was won by Michael Wardian who completed 63 laps.  That’s 63 hours of running and a total of 262.52 miles – an insane distance!!

My Preparation

I decided about 3 weeks before the event that this was something I would take part in.  With next to no races this year due to COVID-19 I was missing my 3 planned ultra-events and the idea of doing an ultra from home seemed appealing.

I didn’t do anything specifically in preparation for the event.  But I have been taking part in the Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee which I completed 635 miles for over May and June, so my mileage was high for me and I felt that my endurance was good.  

I expected to feel tired after a while and thought I needed to put notes to myself as prompts.  I stuck a sign on the gate I was using to remind me to start and stop my watch.  I stuck a sign up at my aid station reminding me to eat.  I also wrote how to make my electrolyte/Tailwind mixes just so I didn’t need to think too hard.  

My Nutrition Preparation

Minimal and unguided through experience to say the least sums this up. In my only other. Real Ultra (Race to the Stones 2019) I hardly ate anything.  This wasn’t a great plan, but I survived.  I knew for the QBU this wouldn’t work.  I wanted to last as long as possible and thought lasting towards a full day whilst running upwards of 100Km would not work without food.  So I had to do something.  

I organised a bunch of sweet snacks – Snickers, snack bars, malt loaf etc.  I got in some pizza and some savoury bites etc.  But I admit I really had little idea what to do.

Liquid wise I was relying on Electrolytes (SIS Hydro), Tailwind and Coke.

The Event Format

To run a virtual Ultra like this needs organisation and a plan to see as much as you can.  This race is organised brilliantly, and all the runners join massive Zoom calls.  You get to watch many of the treadmill runners, see others between their laps and in some cases run with people as they stream Zoom on their phones.  This bridges the gap between running solo and taking part in an event.  Of course it’s quite different, but the host and race director were superb.  Really doing a great job to engage with runners, discuss tactics, experiences etc and to generally provide a commentary.  This was brilliant.

My Event.

When I started the event, I had a distance PB of 100Km from Race to the Stones in 2019.  This would mean I needed to surpass 15 loops to set a new PB.

LapShoesTimeOn Lap NutritionPost Lap Nutrition/RecoveryStrategyNotes
1Pegasus 3634:15None250mL Electrolyte drinkJelly Babies2 minute walk at halfway  
2Pegasus 3634:42None250mL Electrolyte250mL TailwindMaltloaf miniBabybel2 minute walk at halfway 
3Pegasus 3634:00None500mL ElectrolyteSnickersSmall homemade energy flapjack2 minute walk at halfway 
4Pegasus 3634:51None625mL Tailwind2 sweetcorn bitesFig roll2 minute walk at halfwayHad stitch on lap from food after lap 3
5Levitate 234:30None500mL LucozadeJelly BabiesSmall amt of CokeBreaded chicken2 minute walk at halfway 
6Levitate 236:25None330mL CokeSnickers250mL Water2 minute walk at halfwayShoes not working out, must change back
7Pegasus 3637:35None750mL ElectrolyteMalt loaf mini2 minute walk at halfway 
8Pegasus 3637:04500mL TailwindJelly BabiesSweetcorn bitesBabybel2 minute walk at halfwayTaking the tailwind on the loop was a boost
9Pegasus 3637:20500mL Electrolyte1/5 Pizza and KetchupIce Lolly2 minute walk at halfwayFelt stronger on this lap
10Pegasus 3638:11500mL tailwind1/5 Pizza2 minute walk at halfwayTired
11Pegasus 3642:21500mL Electrolyte1/5 PizzaJelly babies2 minute walk at start of each mileFeeling rough
12Pegasus 3640:02500mL ElectrolyteBananaSmall amt of coke2 minute walk at start of each mile 
13Pegasus 3643:42500mL LucozadeKMCNRG barSnickersSmall amt of coke2 minute walk at start of each mile 
14Pegasus 3646:24500mL electrolyte1/5 PizzaMalt loaf miniSmall amt of coke2 min walk 4 min run pattern 
15Pegasus 3643:38500mL Electrolyte½ snickers3min walk, 4 min runFelt tough
16Pegasus 3642:49250mL Electrolyte½ snickersJelly babies3min walk, 4 min run 
17Pegasus 36DNF500mL Electrolyte4min walk, 3 min runFelt cold, headed home

Lap 17

Was a DNF.  I completed about 1.4 miles and called it a day.  Disappointed was not a strong enough word to describe my feeling at this point.  Gutted I felt that was it and in reflection even more gutted I let myself quit at that loop.

My 16 completed laps meant I finished joint 64th out of a list of 1200+ registered runners.

DNF – No more Laps

Throughout the event the Race Director Ryan Kershaw recounted his previous experience of Backyard Ultras and the fact when he DNF’s he sat next to Lazarus Lake and he commented ‘You gave up mentally’.  And Laz was right.

I quit on Lap 17 and it wasn’t my body that decided the outcome, my head had simply won the battle.  I started my loop with a walk, then a run.  Aiming at a 4-minute walk, 3-minute run pattern.  When the next run was due to start my head simply wouldn’t let me.

I gave up mentally.  And it doesn’t sit comfortably.  I really hadn’t experienced that sort of mental challenge, and I gave in too easily.  There was no battle, no resistance fight.  I heard the call and just folded.  That’s something that I will not let happen again, I know what that voice sounds like now.  I know what a battle begun by my mind looks like.  I needed to be tougher mentally and I simply wasn’t.

***big sigh***

There’s an education in every experience

Whilst I gather my thoughts over the swift demise of my first Backyard Ultra, I have huge gratitude to the rest of the runners that I took part with.  I also can reflect on a lot of things I would do differently.

Strategy

I had no specific strategy when I started.  I thought I would work it out as I went.  Massive under-planning alert right there.

Many of the runners that went long had a run/walk plan embedded from the start.  Many finished around 40 minutes/50 minutes.  Rested and went again.  During the race I started employing versions of strategies I heard about through the Zoom call.  I know for next time I need a robust strategy.  Aim for 40-45 minute loops.  Have a consistent walk/run plan such as 1minute walk, 4 minutes run – repeat.  This gives you a rest during a loop, builds a rhythm, and stops you going out too quickly – another flaw in my ‘plan’.

Refuelling

Harder as this is so personal.  But I did find that taking fluid out on the lap enabled me to rehydrate during the run, something I am comfortable with as it’s something I do a lot on long runs.  Eating is different.  My experience this time was discomfort with eating between loops.  I need to practice that more, but again I need a rhythm.  Take some snacks on the loop to get some calories in during the walks.  Also eat between every loop unless I feel unable.  That way I avoid a calorie deficit and avoid having to eat big as the event goes on.

In all honesty though what I ate was tasty, meant I avoided feeling empty and with a bit more practice on timing of eating, I think I can avoid some of the discomfort.

A lot of people were eating noodles and potato crisps, something to try next time.

Sleep

Not sure I can do much here.  I had as much sleep before as I could – the only improvement would have been through an earlier race start.  But I should try and power nap between loops later in the event to try and get some rest.

Resting

I didn’t really know what to do between loops.  Again, learning from others on the event, I saw people putting feet up and reclining.  Also seeing a lot of rolling.  I tried to find ways to mimic this and that was a really good idea – again, for next time make that the normal plan between loops.  Rest, refuel and recover each lap even early on.  A comfortable reclined position is a must for next time.

Clothing

I did alright here, I changed tops after about 3 loops but at night I was slow to put on a thicker top and struggled with the night chill.  This was poor planning again and another lesson learnt.

I got through:

4 short sleeved T-shirts, 2 long sleeved shirts, 4 hats, 1 buff, 1 pair of shorts, 1 pair of socks, 1 pair of calf compression sleeves, 1 jacket, 1 vest and 1 towel

Shoes

I ran mostly in my Nike Pegasus 36 shoes.  I did plan to swap and rotate, but they felt good.  My switch to the Levitate 2 was not good.  They felt bulky and heavy.  After 2 laps I swapped back.

Going forward I learnt that rotating is a good idea and something like a switch every 6 laps – rotating between 2 pairs – provides a good basic strategy.

Support

I had great support from my wife.  This can’t be underestimated.  It really helps to have somebody prep you some food and replenish bottles of fluid.  I might have struggled much later in the event as she was also doing the childcare so there was a limit to what she could do, and I was on my own in the early hours.  But any help is a huge benefit.  You don’t realise how much it helps just to have somebody else make up a 2L bottle of electrolyte drink, when you have a minimal turnaround before heading off again.

Ultra-Running

For me this event made me feel comfortable to class myself as an Ultra Runner.  Distance is one thing, but the strategy in this event, the talent involved and the management of your own race and body was a different league to the mass participation Ultra events I have done or signed up for.  Not to diminish their own right to class them as Ultra races – they are – no question.  But this event was different.  I felt I grew up as a runner on the 12th July 2020.  I was bold enough to invite myself to take part in a competition that I wasn’t really experienced or ready to contribute to beyond a few loops.  I am very proud with my achievement.  Equally I feel disappointed that when tested I didn’t have a response for the mental challenge and let myself fold early.

But I have ended QBU July 2020 a far more educated runner.  I am an ultra-runner with the experience of running beyond 16 hours, over 66miles and finishing in the top 100 or so runners in a global event attracting over 1200 competitors.

One More Lap

If there’s another QBU I very much hope to be able to take part.  I will be more prepared for the strategy, the fuelling and the challenges that it brings.  I will start a more prepared runner, more aware of the upcoming battles between my body and my mind.  I will know better how to deal with them.

Yeah, OK I’m hardly likely to challenge the elite, I’m not blindly ignoring what my limits might be!  But I can see that with what I learnt and how I feel post event that there was a lot more I could have given.

I DNF’d on Lap 17, but for sure I know I could have carried on for at least #onemorelap

Undertaking an ultra is..

‘an opportunity to find greatness in yourself’

Lazarus Lake

2 thoughts on “Quarantine Backyard Ultra July 2020 – a Review

  1. Congratulations on your DNF. Being able to sit with that result is very challenging but really worth the effort. This is a great write up, thank you for letting others share in your learning.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Daniel. It’s an odd thing in the first place doing a race you expect to DNF. The biggest challenge is accepting the method of DNF. I was impressed with Ned who ran a good few laps more than me and on his final lap he walked it in knowing he wasn’t going to be able to finish on time. That’s a more satisfying DNF. Next time I’m aiming for the 100mile club and I know I can make it with better prep and better organisation on the day.

      Like

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