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Showing posts with label Stokes State Forest. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Stokes State Forest. Show all posts

Saturday, September 4, 2021

2021 Backyard Squatch Ultra - Paving a Path To Big's Backyard





“I just have to keep running. I can control that. That’s all I can do.” That’s the conclusion I came to at some point during the second day of the Backyard Squatch Ultra when I was beginning to lose hope and feared it was only a matter of time until I DNFed (Did Not Finish). That was my lowest point of the race, mentally at least, and thankfully it only lasted a couple hours until it passed and then we ran into a second night without sleep.

The story of the race starts about a week before the actual race when I packed the car to head out on a week long camping trip with the family leading up to race weekend. You could say the story starts long before that with when I decided to give up smoking and replace it with running, but that’s a much longer story than I intend to tell in this report. So, I’ll stick with the camping trip the week before the race.

Plans for both the camping trip and the race all fell into place about a month before they happened. The announcement for the race went public about a month before race day. It was only a matter of a week or two before we were informed that our family had been moved off the waitlist and had a spot at the YMCA family camp we we’re hoping to go to in Frost Valley, NY. It seemed to happen quickly and the timing felt serendipitous. Before I knew it, I had plans for a week of camping and a weekend of racing another backyard format ultra to close out the summer with a bang!

beast coast trail running scott snell running gear
All my gear ready to go the night before.

The Backyard Squatch Ultra was NJ’s first official backyard format race. What is a backyard format race? Basically, runners run a 4.166667 mile loop every hour on the hour. If they don’t finish the loop within the hour they are out of the race with a DNF. This continues until there is one runner left standing who is the winner when they complete one lap more than any other runner. If you want to learn more about the details and rules, just google Bigs Backyard. That race and its race director, Laz, is the originator of the race format.

As NJ’s first official backyard format race, I was pumped to be a part of the Backyard Squatch Ultra! I had run Pennsylvania’s first official backyard format race, the Keystone Backyard Ultra, in May where I was the last person standing with 129 miles. I had also run two other backyards, Run Ragged 2019 and Last Idiot Standing 2019, where I was also the last person standing at both. With my streak of performances at backyards, I put a ton of pressure on myself to perform well and do everything within my ability to avoid a DNF at the Backyard Squatch.

beast coast trail running scott snell at the backyard squatch ultra
With my boys just before the start!

My training between Keystone and the Backyard Squatch was pretty much exactly what I wanted to do even though I didn’t know for certain which race I was training for. I knew I wanted to do another backyard before the end of the year, I just didn’t know when or where. The bulk of my training was all below threshold runs, just running what felt like an easy comfortable pace. I don’t follow a schedule. I run when I have time between personal and professional responsibilities. I usually do a long run every 2-3 weeks depending on time available and what I’m training for.

I was a bit worried about my taper period coinciding with a week of camping. We did some hiking and I did a couple short runs during the camping trip and it ended up feeling like a really great taper week. I wasn’t inactive, but my legs got a rest from the normal number of miles they cover. Mentally, it was great for the week before the race to be away and be 100% focused on family time. Usually I get anxious the week leading up to a race, especially a race where I really want to push myself to perform well. With all the activities during the week of camping, I didn’t think about the race anywhere near the amount I would have during an otherwise normal week’s schedule. This was great for me as I felt refreshed mentally, spiritually, and physically before making the drive to Stokes State Forest where the Backyard Squatch was held.

Arriving at the race on Saturday morning felt like returning home after being away on a long trip. I hadn’t run a Sassquad Trail Running race in a couple years and the vibe and community that race director Kim Levinsky has built around her races, or “trail parties” as she calls them, is amazing. As far as I can tell, every runner there is made to feel special by the amazing group of Sassquad Trail Running volunteers.

The race used two courses, a mostly single track trail lollipop loop for daylight hours and a mostly paved road out and back for night laps, both starting from the Stony Lake Day Use Area. The trail loop was all runnable with a few more technical sections and a little under 400 feet of elevation gain. The trail loop started with a quick descent down to hop on a road for only maybe a few hundred feet to cross a bridge before getting back on a single track trail. The first mile was the stick of the lollipop and was a gentle, non-technical uphill on the way out. At the “Y” that started the loop of the lollipop the trail began to descend through a slightly technical section with some rocks but still runnable. The trail then dumped us out on a short, maybe half mile, rolling downhill section of road before turning back on to a trail. This was about the halfway point, roughly two miles, of the lap. The next half mile or so of trail felt more like a fire road with a gentle incline. It was runnable, but I always hiked it and ate a gel at that point. Then you crossed a small bridge and went through a little rock garden which was the most technical part of the course. From there it was mostly short, gentle ups and downs of non-technical single track until returning to the “Y” and having about a mile of gentle downhill that you cruise in on before making it back to the aid station.

beast coast trail running scott snell backyard squatch
My family crewing for me between laps.

With the 10 AM start, we ran the trail loop 10 times (41 miles) before switching to the night road course at 8 PM. These miles were uneventful for me, which is a good thing for this type of race. I just got comfortable with my routine of running about a 55 minute lap then sitting, refueling, discarding my gel wrapper, and grabbing an additional gel for the halfway point of the next lap. I didn’t feel rushed between laps and my pace felt comfortable. I was still taking the time to take a selfie between each lap at this point. My family stayed to see me between laps for the first few hours, then they left for the bulk of the day to have some fun at the nearby High Point State Park and climb the High Point Monument. They returned before we switched to the night course to wish me luck through the night, then they headed to the cabin that we had luckily been able to reserve for Friday and Saturday night only a week earlier. When I returned from the first loop after they left I found a lovely surprise, an inspiring note they left that read “Dear Dad, You got this! We love you go for one more.”

Beast Coast Trail Running Scott Snell The note left from my family going into the first night.
The note left from my family going into the first night.

With the heartfelt message in my mind and knowing that my family was good for the night in the cabin, I left on my first night loop on the road course. The road course is mostly gently rolling hills. Even though it was road and foot placement was less of a concern and trip hazards were few and far compared to the trail course, it did have its share of rough patches and potholes. Let’s just say you needed a headlamp and had to keep your eyes open. This was the first backyard I had run that used a second course for the dark hours, so this was a new experience for me that I was looking forward to. I liked it for the fact that it broke up the monotony a bit and provided a bit of a change in scenery and feel. My main trepidation was how my legs and body would react to running roads after so many miles on the trail. Yes, I did feel the impact more on the road, but it felt like a good trade to be able to run with less concern about foot placement and having the chance to give all those extra stabilizing muscles you need on the trails a chance to relax.

I didn’t give it much thought before the race, but a good deal of runners switched from trail shoes to road shoes for the road course. I brought additional shoes and socks, but I was only intending to change if I was having any foot issues. Also, I was running in my Altra Timps which I typically use for my mixed road and trail runs so I figured I’d just use them as long as they kept feeling ok. Thankfully, they felt good for the entire race so I never changed my shoes or socks.

Beast coast trail running scott snell The single pair of socks (Darn Tough) and shoes (Altra Timp) I wore for the entire race. backyard squatch
The single pair of socks (Darn Tough) and shoes (Altra Timp) I wore for the entire race.

The night portion of the race went well for me. All of my night laps were about a minute or two faster than my trail laps. It was over night that the field started thinning out more noticeably. We lost a few runners during the day on the trail, but when the numbers got lower and most other runners I was chatting with were chasing personal distance records, their absence at the start of a new loop stood out more. The fact that every runner starts every lap on the hour together provides a chance to run with runners you may not normally be near when running a traditional race. In my opinion, this is one of the aspects of backyard races that makes them so cool. If an elite like Courntey Dauwalter or Harvey Lewis shows up at the same race as you, you’re running with them or at least starting every lap with them.

When daylight returned and we finished the 24th lap to complete 100 miles we had four runners left in the race. We were all greeted upon our successful completion of that lap with a true Sassquad trail party. There was a unicorn, a sasquatch, and a volunteer presenting us with a 100 mile buckle designed and crafted by Kim herself! Of the four runners, one was hitting the 100 mile mark for the first time ever and was dropping after that lap. Another just wanted to hit 100 and then improve his distance personal record a little more so he stuck around for a 25th lap (YEAH JIMMIE!!!). That left me and Justin Kousky still in the race. Prior to the race, I did a little Ultrasignup stalking and of everyone I stalked I had pegged Justin as the guy who would likely be one of the final two in the race. I had hoped I’d have a good day and I would be the other half of the last two standing and thankfully that’s how the race played out. So everything had gone as expected thus far, but based on Justin’s stellar Ultrasignup record and the many unsupported, lengthy FKTs he held, I had no idea what to expect after this point. I’ve heard it said that these backyard races don’t actually start until after the 24 hour mark, and I would say that is how it felt to me at the time.

Beast Coast Trail Running Scott Snell The 100 mile buckle designed and crafted by Race Director Kim Levinsky.
The 100 mile buckle designed and crafted by Race Director Kim Levinsky.

With just the two of us left, it no longer felt like a trail party. It quickly shifted from a party vibe to feeling like a true competition to me at this point. From what I could tell, Justin had his game face on and was in it to win it, as was I, but in this style of race there can only be one that succeeds.

My lowest point came between one of my laps during the second day, maybe around the 30 hour mark. My wife started telling me about what she had found out about Justin and how good of a runner he is with some really impressive wins and FKTs. I knew this already, but hearing her say it after a night without sleep and over 100 miles on my legs made the idea of going up against him in a last person standing race seem even more daunting. At the time, it felt like my wife was telling me that it’s ok to lose to him because I’m just outmatched. This led to some pretty negative thoughts in my head which is not a good way to be in a last person standing race. I began thinking that everyone there, including my wife and kids, was sure he was going to win. My oldest son had been enthusiastically telling me “You got this Dad!” between every lap. But when he said it this time it sounded sad and defeated like he didn’t believe it anymore. I believed that I was the last person there that thought I had a chance of winning. I went back out to run a lap with that thought in my head. When I got up to go back out for that lap, I said “I just have to keep running. I can control that. That’s all I can do.”

My outlook began to change at the next aid stop when I expressed my concerns out loud to my wife. When I told her this, she said that it wasn’t true. She went on to tell me that Kim had put out a call on Facebook to get more volunteers in because she was expecting the race to go into, if not through, a second night. It was also during this aid stop that Kim came over to my aid area to say that if I wanted any cooked food from the aid station just to let her know and she would get it for me. I asked for coffee. It was too hot to drink more than a few sips at that stop, but my wife loaded it up with sugar and let it cool so it was ready at my next stop. That next stop was a real mental turning point for me. I got a good deal of caffeine and sugar in me from the awesome coffee my wife prepped. I ate a piece of pizza that a glorious volunteer brought (THANK YOU!!!). My wife wiped down my legs, cleaning them of all the trail dust that had accumulated and stuck from all the trail miles. I felt more refreshed and ready to keep going on that 33rd or so lap than I had felt at pretty much any point during that second day.

Approaching the starting corral to head out for that lap I congratulated Kim. She didn’t know what I was congratulating her for at the time and gave me a confused look. I then explained, congrats for her race, NJ’s first backyard, as it had now officially gone longer than Pennsylvania’s first backyard race. We high fived and my mind was in a good spot again and I was happy. I was beginning to feel the wear and tear from the miles, but I was still enjoying them. I was floating through the trail section as easily as the first day; I found myself catching a toe and stumbling a few times. Once I nearly fell, but caught myself by putting my hand down in a patch of poison ivy which thankfully only led to a couple blisters on my wrist and not a full blown rash. I also knew we only had a few more trail laps left before we switched back to the road, and I was pumped to have that change of scenery and lowered concern for trip hazards to look forward to.

Of all the points of the race, my highest was the first road lap for the second night, my 35th lap. I drank more sugary coffee and ate a second piece of pizza just before heading out. I had over 141 miles on my legs, but they still felt ok and I knew they could at least get me through the night loops. I thought to myself “I’m only a 100k away from running my first 200 miler!” This had me pumped! And the icing on the cake, after eating pizza and turning my Aftershokz headphones back on, the song “Pizza Day” by the Aquabats came on! It was too perfect. It felt like everything was in perfect order. I was floating on the road, painlessly and almost effortlessly moving past my previous distance personal record of 129 miles. I was singing along to “Pizza Day” running on a NJ State Forest road in the dark just loving where life had led me.

With the switch back to the road course, my pace picked up. So did Justin’s, by a much greater degree than mine. It made me curious and wonder what he was up to. Was it a mind game? Maybe. Then I thought maybe he’s banking some time with the intention of sneaking in a quick nap before the next lap. At that point all I could do was guess. I would find out when I got back.

When I did get back with close to 10 minutes until the start of the next lap, I was shocked. My family and Kim were all standing under the tent that marked the starting line. They were all smiles and all cheered for me as I came in saying “way to go Scott!” I was confused. It was just another lap. We’d been doing this for over 30 hours. What the hell made this one different? That’s when they told me that Justin wasn’t going back out for the 36th lap. I didn’t believe it. He was looking too strong to stop. He had just run his last lap in about 44 minutes. I started questioning it and that’s when Justin spoke up. I hadn’t seen him where he was sitting just to the side of the tent in his chair. He said that he was done and was “officially throwing in the towel.” I started almost arguing with him, telling him can’t quit when he just hammered that last road lap. His mind was made up though. I gave him a fist bump and we chatted a bit, probably more than we had in the last 35 hours of running together. The competition was over and our game faces dropped. It felt like a sudden shift of attitudes towards each other. It felt like we almost instantaneously went from competitors to bros. I was thanking him for pushing me so far and he was telling me what a great competitor I was and how my race plan and execution was all on point. That’s what I love about this race format. It is SO competitive, but there is so much respect and admiration between the runners that are pushing one another to amazing performances. It felt great and I was loving the chat, but it had to be brief. I still had to get back out to complete one more lap.

Beast Coast Trail Running Scott Snell presented award from Race Director Kim Levinsky as winner of the Backyard Squatch Ultra
Race Director Kim Levinsky presents the award.

I went through my normal aid routine and then was sent back out with cheers for my final lap. I decided I was going to empty the tank on this lap and see what my legs could do after 146 miles of running. I ran that entire road and out and back, hills and all. I made it back to the aid area in about 40 minutes flat, surprised that I could still run a 4.16667 mile loop with a sub 10 minute/mile average. After receiving my share of congrats, Kim presented me with the Last Person Standing trophy and allowed my two older boys the honor of putting the “X” on the board they were using to track all the runners’ laps. It felt so great to have my family there with me to experience the finish of a backyard ultra with me! She also let me know that this was the first official bronze ticket qualifier backyard for the 2022 Big’s backyard and wished me luck as I advanced on to the next backyard race on the road to Big’s.

Beast Coast Trail Running Scott Snell at Stokes State Forest
My boys getting ready to mark my final lap as complete!

As the last person standing at a bronze qualifier event, I am now guaranteed a spot at the 2022 Capital Backyard which is a silver ticket event. The winner there is guaranteed a spot at the 2022 Big’s international satellite backyard competition. The winner there is guaranteed a spot at the 2023 Big’s World Championship Backyard. At least that is my understanding of how Laz has adjusted his schedule of backyard races, with Big’s being the US team’s satellite location on even years and the Backyard World Championship location on odd years. If I’ve misunderstood something or got it completely wrong, please reach out to me and let me know. What this all means to me is that I will likely get pushed to go even farther at my next backyard at Capital. This year’s race there went for 57 hours or 237.5 miles. Am I a bit frightened by that? Yes. But does that mean I don’t want to take a crack at bettering my distance personal record and being the last person standing there? Of course not! That’s what backyards are about: pushing yourself to your limit, going beyond what you ever thought you were capable of, and finding an additional fire buried deep in you to keep going when you don’t want to or don’t think you can. I am excited and look forward to digging deeper than I ever have before, becoming animalistic with my sole simplistic purpose being to continue moving forward in spite of my mind and body’s proclamations to stop.

Beast Coast Trail Running Scott Snell wins the Backyard Squatch Ultra
My family with me at the finish! Best feeling ever!





Scott Snell
September 4, 2021