28 October 2018


The "26 minute" overlook.
I had originally tried to sign up for the Big Backyard Ultra put on my Laz of Barkley Marathon's fame. I had just come back from a work trip to the west coast and noticed that only 60 or so runners were signed up. Registration was still open on Ultrasignup so I thought, why not throw my hat in the ring. I'd never done a "Last Man Standing" (LMS) event, so this should be fun. Little did I know that there had been a long application process with some runners selected by lottery and others selected on merit and that more than 1000 runners had applied.
All smiles all day...and half the night.
Needless to say, this guy didn't get selected 4 days out from the event:-) But I was still in need of miles as my work trip and kept my mileage low, so I went back to Ultrasignup and lo and behold, there was an LMS event in Chattanooga the following weekend, the Cannonball just a short 2 hour drive from home. I signed up right away. Maybe I should've read the fine print first. The LMS format was similar but not identical. At the Backyard Ultra, runners line up every hour to run a 4.1 mile loop. The first 12 hours during the day on a moderate trail, the 12 hours during the night on a road out & back. This would continue until only one runner remained and completed a loop.
The final 5 prior to lap 16.
At the Cannonball, 60 or so runners lined up to run a 4.3 mile trail loop with 650 feet of vertical gain at Stringer's Ridge in Chattanooga, Tennessee. They would run this loop every hour until only one runner remained. In addition, race directors reserved the right to reduce the lap time by one minute per loop every hour after the first 5 hours.

I decided to book a cheap hotel room that I split with fellow Huntsvillian Kelly Clary for the night before the race to sleep in as late as possible. We left the hotel in downtown Chattanooga around 7AM to make the short 10 minute drive to Stringer's Ridge, an urban park in the middle of Chattanooga. The parking lot was almost full already, but I managed to find the final spot, perfect for setting up my chair and cooler with supplies as it was only a few steps from the start/finish area.

It was still dark, but it would be light by the time the 8AM start of the first lap rolled around. I had plenty of time to set up and to say hello to the Huntsville peeps that had made the trip up here, Natalie, Jay, Kelly M, and Kelly C. and I, of course. My race plan was easy, run 12 hours/laps and see how I feel. The max I was mentally ready for would be 24 hours/laps for 100 miles, but that mental steadfastness waned over a little during the event.

The course record stood at 64.5 miles, which seemed a little soft to me and I was certain it would go down this year. If I wanted to be part of the group I would have to run 16 laps or until midnight to actually break it and run 68.8 miles. 8AM rolled around and we all took off. My plan was simple, check out the course on the first couple of loops to figure out the best strategy to find a rhythm that would take me around the loop in 55 minutes, allowing me just enough time to drink a bottle of fluids (I would alternate Nuun Electrolytes and Sword Endurance) and eat half of my homemade Banana Dark Chocolate spread tortilla wraps.

I also consumed a Honey Stinger gel after every loop. This strategy worked perfectly, I never bonked and never got dehydrated. In the later hours, I would eat potatoes with salt, potato chips and Oreo cookies to avoid a caloric deficit in the cooler overnight hours.

Most of us ran the first loops with a wind breaker and/or sleeves and gloves. I would keep my gloves and sleeves for the entire duration of the race. Other than that I just wore my Altra racing singlet and my favorite running shorts along with the pair of Altra Lone Peak 4.0 that already took me through the Matterhorn Ultraks, UTMB and the Jungfrau Marathon, all without ever changing the shoes or my CEP merino socks, which are definitely a winning combo for me these days. Not a single blister during my 35 hour adventure at UTMB that included hours of rain and mud.

The first few laps were uneventful as everyone tried to figure out this race. I chatted with Shannon "Sharpie" Sharp and David "DDr Pepper" Dye in between laps as they were always a ways ahead of me on every loop. The smack talk started early, there were comments of peeps already looking tired. After the first few laps, I fell in with ultra runners extraordinaire Nathan Holland and Ryan Meulemans and we spent the next hours together, challenging each other to pace the perfect lap. We actually managed a couple of times. We would use "landmarks" to check our pace. There was the turn, the overlook, the house and the stomp. We always knew when we needed to slow down or pick it up a bit. That and the trail banter made the hour tick by much quicker.

Of course, once major difference between this type of event and a regular ultra is that you either run near your competition or you'll at least see them again every hour at the start. This gives plenty of opportunity for smack talk. Ryan started us off, sharing that he was ready to go for 2 days or longer if needed, which I followed up with a "I already took Monday off from work". We had a lot of fun with it, but I'm sure not everyone within earshot appreciated it:-)

It became clear after a few hours that lots of runners were in it for the long run. When Nathan called it after 12 hours, there were still 13 runners lining up for the next lap. After 16 hours, there were still 5 of us left. When everyone lined up again for lap 17, I said my goodbyes and called it a day. I was completely fine physically, I just had no desire to go out for another lap. It took only 3 more laps to declare a winner, Ryan Meulemans, who laid down a great performance. When it was all said and done, 9 runners tied the current course record and 5 runners broke the course record.

As more runners become aware of this LMS format and event, numbers are only going to get bigger. 100 miles should be doable for someone next year, unless the RD decides to drop the time limit sooner than he did this year.

Thanks to everyone for putting on an excellent event, I had a blast.

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