“Poor Thomas was going faster than he had ever gone before. He was out of breath and his wheels hurt him, but he had to go on. ‘I shall never be the same again,’ he thought sadly. ‘My wheels will be quite worn out.’ “

W. Awdry, Thomas the Tank engine

We All Make Mistakes

Well, I accidentally signed up for the 2024 Sicamous edition of the BC Backyard ultra on April 5th. 19 days before the race. Plenty of time to train. I am self-coached.

My late sign-up was mostly peer-pressure induced. Or simply peer-induced. Most of my friends from Chilliwack were going to be there. Or at least would go, if I went. It was a long list. Queen RD was organizing the race. Mr. Birch, Ms. Szabo, Mr. Korchinos, and Ms. Davies were all gonna be running. Mr. Bird was debating going. Mr. Jarvis and Ms. Leigh were on the fence. Mr. Shephard was crewing. And more! These many peers and their presence. They induced me.

And so I did it. And about four seconds after hitting submit I was like “Oh shit.” Memories came flooding back. The Pain. The Complaining. The Cold. The Gels.

I was actually not in terrible shape. In the months leading up I had some very inconsistent training, but much of which was simply due to moving, packing etc. It’s called a “down-week”, and it’s classy. Granted, some of my poor training was due to my shriveled Thyroid, iron-free blood, and several important organs failing from old age.

But, I had managed to run a 50 km long run with a nice 42.2 the following weekend. So that’s not too shabby. As I am fond of saying: any idiot can run far once, the question is whether they can keep doing it week after week. So I was pretty confident I’d gotten back to the point of being able to run a marathon every Saturday again (finally!)

Still, I was skinny-fat, my quads non-existent, and I’d only run outside in shorts twice all spring. It wasn’t going to be easy. I therefore dreamed of an easy victory. I told Queen RD the race had better end in 21 hours or I was going to very upset.

“Easy victory,” you scoff. Don’t take misinterpret this victory talk as braggadocio. Remember, I have backyard experience, after all. I know myself well enough; there are only two possible outcomes: hospitalization or victory. I mean that. I did not pray for an easy victory because I wanted the win. Nay, I prayed for it out of fear!

I also had these weird dreams of a low pressure, low stress race. I imagined myself sitting quietly in a chair, relaxing between laps. Maybe laying in the grass. No tents, no crew, just closed eyes, calm breathing. Unfortunately once I started packing the reality of it hit me. So. Much. Packing. Every piece of clothing I owned. Which, according to Ihor, is 2 t-shirts, 1 long-sleeve, and a couple pairs of decomposing tights. Crewing is an integral part of a successful backyard.

“Homeless people in downtown Chilliwack have more stuff than you.”


Chairs. Tables. Stove. Propane. Tent. Sleeping bags. Shopping trips all week. Food. Gels. First aid! It’s endless. It’s annoying as shit. Headlamps! Battery chargers. Every time I added another piece of essentially mandatory gear, my fear grew. Pots & pans. Utensils. +Fear. Dog food & bowls. +Fear. Oh yeah, I’d better book a fucking hotel. +Fear.

Wait, lemme sign up for Best Western Rewards. Ok sweet, hell yeah. I love points programs.

Get It Over With

Thursday we left Calgary after a long delay but plenty of time to spare. Was a 5 hour uneventful drive, with a free hour of time gain. Got our package pickup. It was rainy. Of course it was rainy. I’d forgotten why I’d moved out of BC. Of course it was rainy. Package pickup was fun. The race organizers are great. +Fear.

Checked into the hotel. (-Fear). Getting things done. Then went out and we met Mr. Bird, illustrious RD of the Fat Dog Race Co., for some G&G dinner. It was fun. Mr. Birch texted me, asking where we were headed. Oh man, ++Fear. Made the impending start feel very real. I guess this race is happening, eh?

I slept in my own bed, but the dog was grumbling and groaning and barking all night, because for some unimaginable reason people were outside our door talking at 3 AM. Anyway, you know what? I’ve done this enough. Sleeping before a race is a luxury. Just stay calm. Don’t start crying. No More Tears. It’s ok to be awake, just relax. I slept well enough.

Up at 5:45 AM. Well, 6:45 AM Mountain Time. Easy. Drove to the start line and … holy cow, there were tons of tents already. Thankfully Colonel Super Crew™ Striker was there and had started setting up a mint spot for us. Her runner, Mr. Korchinos, was in the pole position and ready to rock. +Fear.

Ms. Black and I set up our tent, with Mr. Bird’s help. Of course it was raining. The tent got put together mostly correctly. Mr. Bird helped a ton, dragging things over from the truck. Ms. Black did most of the work, and I tried to avoid using my legs as much as possible. The rain was harshing my mellow.

Race Starts

What do you want me to say? It was a backyard ultra. I can’t remember any of it. You run forever in a horrific hellscape hamster wheel, from which there is no escape. Either you win, or you die. It’s Dante’s Lazarus Lake Layer of Hell.

The course was just about laughably easy. A bit of road after escaping the park. A super flat, hard packed dirt trail out and back around a little point surrounded by a river, and then a short out & back on the road. Delightful. In the night, I heard beavers smacking the water loudly with their tails. Lovely.

I ran with my friend Ms. Rahkola, who I convinced to sign up for the race. She trained really hard for it by doing several 2.5 km walks (I’m her coach, after all) but I believed that she could go really far. She had no crew, but I figured between Ms. Black, Colonel Striker, Mr. Bird, and the 650 lbs of gear I brought, she’d be great.

We took it slow. Credit due to Mr. Shepherd for teaching us the ways of The Force in our first Backyard. Slow and low. Come in last, every lap. Not quite last, but we decently slow. Everyone obviously went out of the gate fast, but we forced ourselves to walk a lot. Ms. Rahkola had a hard time slowing down. I would tell her to slow down here and there. After a few laps I told her I wouldn’t keep bothering her.

Rule # N of the Backyard: Run your own race

I guess that’s a rule in all races, but in the backyard it can be hard because the entire field resets every lap. So every lap you have to be passed by 100 people who are making you feel weak & slow. And then in this out & back course you had to see all of them twice per lap. That’s a lot of high-fives for us back of the packers.

We came in a bit fast a couple laps (nothing crazy, maybe 50 mins?) and then kept slowing down. Goal was on the order of 53-54 minutes per lap. I could have gone slower but it was weirdly difficult. It wasn’t the easiest course to pace. The trail section was very nondescript. I would have liked a few more 56 minute laps.

I wish I could tell you of anything that happened during the first … 13 hours of the race? Well, 7 hours is your first marathon. 15 hours is your first 100 km. Somewhere between those two, things start to get hard. I knew this from experience, that the first marathon is easy, but then the challenge and pain start accelerating. I felt optimistically good. I think when I ran Summerland with my brother I felt a lot worse at this point. Somehow, the knowledge of the impending agony was making things… easier? When you dread the very worst, things actually seem kinda nice in comparison.

We ran for an entire day. The night fell. The trail was kinda hard to see in the dark because it was so flat and … regular. Quite often, I’d hit the turn-around, and I’d miss one of my walk queues (double-tree), and end up like halfway out of the woods before I realized where I was. I wore my little waist lamp, and it really made a big difference. Only once did someone blind me with their Kogalla chest light set up in RAM 2500 DUI mode. Otherwise it was really nice to do an out & back, because unlike Summerland (a single loop) I didn’t have to spend the entire hour alone in the pitch blackness at the back of the pack.

At one point both my headlamp and waist light started blinking, warning of their impending demise. I hung with some dudes so I wouldn’t get left for dead in the pitch blackness. Definitely one of the risks of doing really slow laps; if something goes wrong, you’re done.

Mr. Verys, the God of Backyard himself, had shown up on this first night, to help crew and cheer me on. Mostly he shit-talked me between laps, which really helped. I noticed he really perked up when it was his turn to start stabbing my blisters with a bobby-pin. Although I couldn’t feel any pain, I started to wonder if he was doing more harm than good, as he stabbed repeated into the bottom of my foot. I’m sure the bobby pin he found in park outhouse was carefully disinfected.

I guess we ran for the entire night. I guess at some point the sun came up, right?

Rule # N of the Backyard: Never quit at night

I remember being very sleepy that first night, weirdly early on, like around 10 or 11 PM. After a while that passed, and the night was fine. By morning, however, I was obviously physically tired (and sleepy) and I remember being really disappointed that the sunrise didn’t perk me up the way I’d been hoping. If it happened at all, it took like 4 hours to gradual pull me out of that sleepy night mode. By then, I was probably too tired to ever feel good again!

I started to run out of fuel really early on. Ms. Black was like “My greatest regret… is leaving you in charge of groceries”. We only had like 10 gels without caffeine and 10 with caffeine. A bunch of expired waffles (haha, I get them cheap, they are so dry.) And whatever other crap I bought. My crew resorted to begging other teams for leftovers.

I ate some Xact nutrition bars, which are like if grandma took a weird candy from the 1950s and called it running fuel. I told Mr. Verys “I puked and shit myself immediately as soon as I ate it.” “Perfect,” he said, “take this orange one next lap.”

Storm is not your enemy; it does not even know whether you are there! Your enemy is your unpreparedness for it!

Mehmet Murat ildan

The second day we were blasted with rain. This was actually bad. The rain was very, very cold, and I was wearing my Nike tights. These are tights for like, fitness models doing photoshoots. Not running. Though they are my mains for warm-weather running. So when that first downpour hit, I was freezing. The front of my kneecaps felt like I’d been icing them for 15 minutes. I could feel my patellar tendon just crying. It was fucking painful. After 26 hours of running or whatever the hell, the last thing I needed was to be icing my kneecaps mid-lap. I also knew that wind was blasting along the road section, and even worse near the lake.

Thankfully, I didn’t get caught out there completely unprepared, so I survived the lap, and changed into my winter tights.

Winter tights. That is for winter. Not for rain. Once again, I got caught out in another downpour. Worse this time? My winter tights were getting waterlogged, and again my kneecaps were just being iced to shreds. Terrible. Had these laps been much longer, hypothermia was a real possibility. That could be race ending!

Again, I made it back to the tent, and … what was I going to change into now?? Well, the only tights I had left were my 200 weight merino long underwear! I figured “Well wool stays warm when it’s wet”. Yeah, not when that wool is the thickness of a wet toilet paper square. Sure enough, more rain. However, this rain was lesser (if I recall correctly) and I survived. The weather cleared, and for the rest of the rest I think I wore my undies. I hoped the race photographer wouldn’t get a clear shot of my crotch where you’d be able to see the wiener-vent stitching.

“Do I look like an ultra-runner?”
“You look like a crazy person running around the forest in soaked long-johns.”

I guess at this point the really strong people started dropping. Incredibly, there were ~16 runners at the 24 hour mark! Normally, that’s a big milestone (100 miles!) and a lot of people drop immediately. This time, I think zero people dropped at 24. Incredible. I was actually proud of those idiots, despite dreading what this meant for the race duration. A few people looked super strong. One really young guy just looked cool was a cucumber the whole time, really good efficient gait. I figured he might win it. Another guy who was fucking dialed in and didn’t blink or make eye contact with me for about 29 hours also looked like a winner. “Not now chief, I’m in the zone.”

There were several of the usual; people finishing laps in low-40s, absolutely flying along the course. Again, you can’t help but feel like you’re doing something wrong, seeing these guys just fly by, day after day. I was amazed at how good they looked so long into the race though. One guy looked perfectly fresh, despite his pace.

“The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long – and you have burned so very, very brightly, Roy.”

Hampton Fancher, blade runner

Far be it from me to disparage someone’s race strategy, I’m just sayin’ I certainly couldn’t do it. I could barely keep up. I didn’t see any value in it, either. What am I doing at the aid stations anyway? I can only be force-fed so much oatmeal. I can only body-glide my toes so many times. So what value was there for me, in going faster? I will admit, running often felt easier than walking. Your brain yells “just get it over with!”. It’s hard to be patient. Unfortunately, Newton’s 1st Law of Running Physics state the longer you go, the slower you must.

“I just won’t sleep,” I decided. There were so many other interesting things to do.”

Jack Kerouac

At one point someone asked me “Is your goal to win?” (Did my stellar, near-perfect reputation precede me?) and quickly I said “No,” and he seemed surprised by that. I said “my goal is to run as many laps as I can run, and whatever anyone else does has no impact on that.” I thought that was good, and it felt true. I felt like I had a good mindset in this race. Running with expectations of winning could be disastrous. Running with expectations of a large number of laps would be a nearly-equally bad idea. Sure, everyone can have their goals (I certainly wanted that 100 mile Garmin badge) but the Backyard is cruel, particularly to the greedy.

Rule # N of the Backyard: Never set a goal

When the going got tough, I encouraged myself, stating matter of factly into the woods “Ihor fucking Verys is here crewing you, obviously the only outcome is to win.”

And the going definitely got tough. By this point, Mr. Korchinos had dropped, and Colonel Striker was also helping. At one point I said “<Random justification>, so I can drop now, right?” and she just rolled her eyes, scoffed and said “As if that’s even an option”. Needless to say, with the crew I had, there would be no quitting, ever. +Fear.

Anyway, our team was dialed. Three people full-time in my camp. I had no valid complaints. Well, foot pain was severe, but I was still moving. Legs were fine. I was really weak, of course (see Chapter 1: Self-Coaching), but I wasn’t injured at all. Which was incredible, as I’d feared several minor issues I’d been battling all year like shins, hips, even knee pain.

And Then There Were None (Two)

Unfortunately, the second place runner, Ms. Topping, was looking like a champ. I couldn’t believe how strong she was.

Throughout the race, she’d been super consistent. Her and I typically would pass each other at the same points every lap. She was moving fast, and must have been a solid five minutes or more ahead of me. She was cheerful, encouraging, and looked fresh throughout. Of course, everyone says the same thing about me, and the backyard is the backyard. As Mr. Verys says, “It’s a backyard, you never know what will happen.”

I remember at Summerland, I was simply dying of pain, and all these people in front of me looked so good! And then … they just kept dropping? At the end of the day, the numbers don’t lie: 40+ hours of running is hard. So I just kept keepin’ on, sticking to my walk-run breaks, trying to breath deeply, and calmly. Trying to shovel those disgusting calories in.

Now our pacing couldn’t have been more different. I was starting the laps at a jog, through the park, along the road, all the way to the woods. It was far too cold at the start to walk, although walking on the road would have made sense for my feet. Then at the woods, walk to the Coros sign. Run to the double-tree. Walk to the next Coros sign. Run through the turn-around, back to the Coros sign… you get the idea. Well she must have been nearly doing the exact inverse, and was starting her loops with a 3 minute walk. So I’d leave her for dead at the start, and then right near the end of my first walk, she’d blow by me. I’d see her again before the turnaround, and again just before she finished, far ahead of me.

I wondered if my “departing at break-neck pace while feeling fresh” was psychologically damaging? I wasn’t intending for it to be (I do not enjoy psychological warfare during races) but I was freezing. I’ll take any second-hand advantage I can get.

Eventually my crew started to get the sense she was hurting, that things weren’t going as smoothly. I had my doubts. She was still right on top of the pace, and I saw no breakdown of form, or enthusiasm. I wondered: would she run… forever?

Finally though, she faltered ever so slightly. I don’t know why, but I think there was just a couple laps where her pace didn’t feel so sprightly. Maybe I ran a bit fast, but maybe she ran a bit slow? Then one lap I caught up to her puking. I thought “Oh thank the lord! [It’s over, right?]” and then when I exited the woods, I looked back and she was like 3 seconds behind me. Ha! Damn, this woman is unstoppable. How much longer would the race continue?

But then this lap or the next, I was ahead on the return, and she hadn’t passed me. I was doing some math “If she doesn’t make the corner by the time I do, she can’t finish” but then of course, there she was! She stopped, and said “I’m done” and we hugged, and I was so very, greatly relieved.

I got to my tent, and … just got ready for another lap. The race ain’t over till your Achilles tendon snaps, as they say in the Backyard. Of course, this indomitable warrior finished her lap! Thankfully, my crew was elite, and never even paused, and I was all ready to go.

Off again! Ms. Topping in the start coral with me. I ran the park & road sections solidly, as usual. I refused to look back. It’s not a race, after all. It’s a quest to see how many laps I could do. What Ms. Topping did during her lap had no bearing on mine. She would finish it, or she wouldn’t, and I would run another, or I wouldn’t. So I didn’t look back, and I stuck to my plan. Walked at the woods. Run at the Coros sign…

Don’t get me wrong, of course I was really hoping it would end. I was in a lot of pain. The lap was very hard. I tweaked my knee a bit. I was feeling bonky, too, despite the 50 spoonfuls of noodles Colonel Striker had shoved down my throat at the last break. I laughed; imagine if I DNF’d the victory lap?

The course is an out & back, though, so eventually I realized that she’d turned back towards the start line. All I had to do was finish the lap, and I’d secure the cursed Silver Coin. The most vile prize, that no sane person could possibly want… A guaranteed entry into another Backyard.

“That’s peace – real peace. To come to the end – not to have to go on… Yes, peace.”

Agatha Christie, And Then There Were None