Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Race Report: Painful Elimination Backyard Ultra, Aug 20, 2022

ORN:   Officially- 8.2 miles in two hours. 

Summary:  The Painful Elimination Backyard Ultra was a new race and race format for me.   Running on a poor training base with a head full of mucus, I didn't run well and wasn't sure I liked the format.   

Gory Details:

I've read about Backyard Ultras, a devious invention of Barclays Marathon founder Gary Cantrell, a.k.a. Laz Lake.    You start a loop of about 4.2 miles on the hour, every hour.   If you don't get back in 60 minutes or you don't line up to start the next loop on the hour, you are out.   Last Runner Standing...the winner is the final individual to finish a loop in 60 mintues.   It's a format I've never run.   This race landed well on my calendar, so I signed up. 

The organizers offered free camping near the start/finish line, so I took advantage of that.   I drove the 2.5 hours from my house to the site, just north of Bloomington, Illinois and set up on Friday evening.   

The clouds in the photo developed into some serious rain overnight.   I was OK in my tent until it got heavy and I noticed my feet were around 3am, I moved back into my car until the alarm went off at 5.   Not great sleep, to say the least.   But I was up, had my usual race-day breakfast of two turkey and cheese sandwiches and a Diet Coke, and got set for the 7am start.  

I wadded up my wet tent and backed my car to a spot very near the start finish line, where my supplies would await me between each lap. 

My objective for the day was to run 9 laps, which would get me 50K of distance.     Since I only had to beat a 14:21/mile pace to cover the distance each hour, I thought this was reasonable.   We gathered for a brief pre-race meeting at 6:45am and at precisely 7:00am, we were off...56 intrepid runners.   

Having never run in this park before, I wanted to use Lap One to gain a perspective of the course.   It was exactly what the race organizers said it was...a surprisingly difficult route, especially for a Midwest trail.    It was  "lollipop" trail, with the "stick" being about a  half mile of heavy grass...think "pasture" if you will.   It was wet and heavy and absorbed a lot of energy from the legs. 

We then entered the woods for the "loop" of the lollipop.   It was very narrow, twisty, single track for 3+ miles along a forested area above a lake.   Up and down and back and forth we went.  

There was very little straight running and lots of roots, logs and trip possibilities, along with short bridges.  The course was made more difficult by the overnight rains.   The clay-based soil was quite "greasy".   

I was glad I had my screw shoes which I normally just use to run on ice and snow.  

I wasn't running all that great but I had set up my Garmin to turn off autopause and autolap...thus, I knew I was well under 14 min/mile pace required.   I was pretty sure I was dead last as I came across the final bridge out of the woods and back into the pasture to finish up.   The RD snapped this. 

Thumbs up enthusiasm...even though I didn't feel so great.    I finished the lap in 56 minutes, grabbed a water bottle, changed hats (rain was looming in the west) and lined up.   Promptly at the top of the hour, out we went again. 

Lap Two went better.   I had a feel for where I could pick up a little time and a feel for where I just had to keep moving.   I found I was running with the same people again...not surprisingly.    I ran better and smarter and finished in 54 minutes.     I didn't look all that vigorous as I came to the finish line, though...that pasture grass took it out of me.   At least I wasn't dead last...I beat the 10 year old boy and his dad....

With six whole minutes to rest this time, I swapped out my shirt which was soaked from rain and sweat and sat down for a couple of minutes.   The off time just FLEW by though and the intermission seemed hectic.  At the top of the hour, the same group reassembled and out we went again for Lap Three.  

The third lap felt strange.   I ran less-hard in the pasture grass, preferring to let people I knew would eventually pass me move ahead where we had some space, rather than stopping to let them pass on the single-track.    I mostly ran by myself in the woods and wondered just how close it was going to be.   I went through a low spot mid-loop and noticed my aggregate pace fell below 14:21/mile.   I felt cruddy in my head.   Was this it? 

I kept moving though and tried to run faster in the few runnable sections in the woods.  Whereas I had felt good doing that on Lap Two, the legs were balky this time.    When I emerged from the woods, I looked at my watch and saw it would be close but I felt like I was on the wrong side of the clock.      The pasture grass was still long and wet and ate up what energy I tried to put into the final half mile.    I came down the final section and heard the group take off at the top of the hour...I had missed the cut off.   As my new-friends headed out on their Lap Four, many recognized I was close but not good enough and empathized.   I crossed the start-finish line with a lap time of 60 minutes, 38 seconds.   Voted off the island.   My day was done.   Officially, I was credited with 8.4 miles.   I had run 12.6 miles.   I was so far short of the 31 miles I had hoped to cover it wasn't funny.   

This is the master score sheet from later in the didn't want to be the runner under the orange were gone.  

I was disappointed in the moment.   I plopped down next to my car, refueled and began to ponder just how the day had gone so very poorly.    I slowly regrouped, toweled off, changed into dry clothes and decided to hang around to see runners return.  The leaders returned in 39 minutes and the rest got in by 58 minutes.   Quickly, the group reassembled before the top of the hour and out they went for Lap Five.   I got in my car and drove home.    

Why did I run so poorly?   Did I not enjoy the event because I ran poorly or did I not enjoy the format of the event?    Three hours driving across the prairie gives you time to think. 

I ran poorly due to poor training.   I missed my scheduled long run two weeks prior because I was traveling.   I had also  missed a full week of training following that due to a monster head cold/sinus infection I was just recovering from.   Had those two items worked, I would have likely run at least two more laps successfully.   Yet the course was just as advertised and I hadn't fully grasped just how tough it would be.  

My enjoyment was diminished by the format of the event, as well.   It took me a while to figure out why but I finally put my finger on it. 

In traditional road races, the entrants gather at the start line, begin running and the field extends throughout the entire event.   Whether the event is distance-based (won by who finishes fastest) or time-based (won by who finishes with the most distance), each runner runs the pace he/she can manage.   On those good days, you push the pace and seek to run hard.  On bad days, you come to grips with it, slow down and live to fight another day. 

A "last runner standing" event is neither, however, and that was disconcerting.   Instead, it is a series of independent, 60 minute races.   At the top of each hour, you start a new race.   Everyone assembles and starts.  Over the next 60 minutes, the field stretches out.   Next lap, same thing.  The same people, the same course, spreading out in the same way.   It's much like the movie Groundhog Day, yet without Sonny and Cher.   Each hour I ran with the same folks, hearing many of the same stories, until we gradually spread out at about the same spot each time around.   I'm not sure how I would have felt had I done the nine laps I had hoped to do.   

So, that's the story.   Good adventure.  Race was as advertised.   I'll probably pass on future formats like this. 

But I will persevere.   And I hope you do as well.