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Showing posts with label night run. Show all posts
Showing posts with label night run. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

2022 Big's Backyard Team World Championships


Team USA - 2022 Backyard World Champions

Not All DNFs Are Equivalent


  beast coast trail running scott snell big's backyard 2022 team usa world champions coin

The rules of the backyard race format are simple. There can be only one winner. The winner is the person that successfully completes one more 4.1667 mile loop than any other runner in the race. To remain in the race each runner must complete that loop within a one hour time limit every hour beginning on the hour. If a runner fails to complete the lap within the time limit or to be in the starting corral at the start of the next hour’s lap, they are out of the race and recorded as a DNF (Did Not Finish). It is a race format based on attrition with the sole remaining runner being the victor. When a team aspect is incorporated into the format, the sole focus of an individual athlete’s success is no longer centered only on him or herself. It also depends on the success of their teamates. That is what happened in 2020 when international athletes could not travel (due to covid travel restrictions) to Bell Buckle, TN where the Backyard World Championship race is held every year in October. To continue the annual international competition, the race format adapted to a team competition with teams of 15 runners representing their home country in their homeland negating the need for international travel. Teams would run an equal distance course on their “home court” following the same backyard rules with the addition of a simple team scoring system where one point (or yard) is scored for every team member that completes a lap within the one hour time limit. The team with the most points is crowned the champion team that year. Incorporating team camaraderie and representing one’s home country as a group were just a couple aspects that made the revamped team format of the race a worldwide success in 2020. So much so, that it was incorporated as a biannual event being held on even years while the individual world championships would be held on odd years. This report is the story of how I earned a spot on the 2022 USA Backyard World Championship Team and my race in Bell Buckle, TN.
 
Beast Coast Trail Big's backyard Team USA 2022 champions

To make a long story short of how I earned a spot on the US team, I won a bronze ticket race (Backyard Squatch) in August 2021 which earned me a spot at a silver ticket race (Capital Backyard Ultra). Winning Capital Backyard Utra guaranteed a spot for me on Team USA. Earning a spot on a national team to represent my country in an international competition felt like a pretty big deal to me. It also felt like a good deal of pressure to perform well. I hoped to have one of those ideal days when everything just clicks and it feels like the energy flow is infinite. I wanted to have the performance of my life, not just for the sake of the team, but to achieve a performance that I could look back at and say “wow, that was it! That’s one that is going to be hard to ever top!” But, in ultrarunning, as in life, things don’t always go as we hope or plan.
 
Beast Coast Trail Big's backyard Team USA 2022 champions

Beast Coast Trail Big's backyard Team USA 2022 champions
My training mileage leading to Big's Backyard.

Training went splendidly. I followed the same basic plan as I did for the build up for Capital Backyard Ultra with the only major difference being an increase in volume of mileage. I had less hiccups, speed bumps, and interruptions to the training preparing for Big’s than I did for Capital. I had serendipitously met a local runner at Capital (Dagmar - thank you!) that volunteered to crew for me at Big’s. By the numbers (larger volume training) and other factors (crewed versus uncrewed) leading into Big’s, I expected to have a better day there than at Capital. Which is likely a major reason why I come away from the experience feeling so disappointed with a performance that was about on par with what I did at Capital. Of course I can make excuses, which I hate, but there has to be some explanation why things happen how they happen. The best explanation I have, least sounding like a bs excuse, began about two weeks before Big’s when my youngest son came down with a cold (not covid, we tested). The cold made its way through our whole household and I definitely had a remnant cough and some sinus congestion en route to Tennessee for the race. Finding yourself in the cough and cold aisle of a CVS to get cough drops and restock with zinc tablets is obviously not the ideal situation two days out from a multi day race where you’re hoping for the performance of your life, but that’s the situation I found myself in. That’s the hand I was dealt, and I chose to play it.
 

After a couple days of travel, we arrived at Big’s backyard Friday afternoon before the start of the race the following morning. Big is the name of the Race Director’s dog and the trail course is in his backyard, hence the race name “Big’s Backyard”. We got our tent and most of our gear set up and situated with a few hours of daylight left so we decided to hike the trail course. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this course was going to be far more challenging than the Capital trail course. The trail is nearly all pretty technical single track with plenty of roots and rocks to catch your toes on. With tired legs, this is an ever present danger. Add in the elevation change (about 470 feet of gain per loop whereas the Capital trail course had somewhere between 300-350 feet of gain per loop) and you’ve got yourself quite a challenging backyard course.

Beast Coast Trail Big's backyard Team USA 2022 champions

Day 1 - October 15 AM

The race started with the trail loop at 7 am. This particular race location requires runners to complete 11 day loops (7 am - 5 pm) before switching to the night road course beginning at 6 pm for 13 night laps. That is one of the quirks of the backyard team format international competition; each team is on a unique course in their homeland with varying lengths of daylight hours. Some have more day course laps than night course laps and some vice versa. Some have more runnable courses with less elevation change. It's not an even playing field, however, what plays to the strengths of some runners is a weakness of others. It’s a bit of a luck of the draw as to how your running strengths align with your country’s home course.
 
Beast Coast Trail Big's backyard Team USA 2022 champions tent
This was home for the duration of the race.

A few minutes before the start of the first yard, Laz (the Race Director) called all of the runners out for a pre race briefing going over all of the rules and reminding us he would make no exceptions in enforcing them even if it would be severely detrimental to our team effort. That is the essence of backyard racing: the rules are simple and must be strictly enforced. Shortly after, Laz was ringing the cowbell that would signal the start of every yard on the hour, every hour until there were no runners left in our competition. As he rang the bell, Laz shouted “Happy Times!” with what seemed to be a mix of emotions covering the ranges of excitement, joy, and anticipation of how the race would play out and what all of us runners would achieve.

The trail course of Big’s is actually only a little over 3 miles so to get the required 4.1667 mile distance it begins with a short out and back on the road course. It was during this initial road out and back that Harvey Lewis (a very accomplished ultrarunner and a bit of a personal running idol to me) called in our team for a little team building and strategy talk. It was real now! I was on Team USA with Harvey Lewis!

The trail course was a bit challenging on the first day, but having hiked it the evening before it wasn’t a surprise for which I was grateful. I’d much rather be aware of the challenges stacked against me rather than be surprised by them. The miles and yards rolled by smoothly while I took in calories between and during laps with no issues. The goal of day one here was the same as the goal of day 1 at any backyard: stay steady, be patient, and cause as little stress to the mind and body as possible.
 
Beast Coast Trail Big's backyard Team USA 2022 champions

Night 1 - October 15 PM

The overnight portion of any long distance race always presents a set of challenges not faced during the daylight hours. The sun sets and darkness sets in and head lamps are lit. Your body’s circadian rhythm reminds you that this is when you should be preparing to rest after a long day outdoors, but that’s not an option in the backyard. I feel like the need for rest is more intense or at least more apparent during a backyard race than a standard point to point race. During a standard race the goal is to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible. Depending on the timing of the race and daylight hours, point B could be reached before the sun rises. Having a finish line to target is a huge mental motivator to push hard and continue onward. The physical output intensity of a standard race is greater than a backyard. During a standard race you’re pushing your body harder to edge that line of moving as quickly as possible without breaking, whereas in a backyard the goal is to restrain the body from even approaching over exertion, keeping the pace as calm and relaxed as possible while still allowing a few minutes between laps to not feel too rushed. The backyard allows the mind to realize that the body is tired and in need of sleep while also holding the body in a state more ready for sleep with a lower heart rate than standard races. Maybe not during the first night, but it can be a recipe for disaster as the race continues.

The first night of most backyards probably produces a greater loss of runners than any other portion of the race. But this backyard was not a standard backyard, this was the International Backyard Team competition and although one team member (Brady Winkles) developed a knee injury overnight, our team had no drops during the first night.
 
Beast Coast Trail Big's backyard Team USA 2022 champions

My night was uneventful other than battling some standard drowsiness. I attempted short naps between laps more frequently than I had at any other backyard since I had crew support at this race, but honestly I’m not sure if I ever actually slept. I made what I believe may have been a mistake towards the end of the night. I attempted to run a fast lap (37:55) in hopes that I could manage to get a bit of a longer nap, but the faster pace raised my heart rate too much and I mostly just spent that interloopal period lying on my cot with my eyes closed waiting for my heart rate to recover. I believe the negative mental impact of that failed strategy was far greater than the physical. It was the same strategy I used during the second night at Capital and it worked perfectly there as I got a solid 10 minute nap and felt refreshed before the sun rose for the third day. As the race continued, I would find many things that went right at Capital would present greater challenges at Big’s.
 
Beast Coast Trail Big's backyard Team USA 2022 champions

Day 2 - October 16 AM

Although our team would make it through night one with no losses, Brady would have to tap out early during day two due to his knee injury. He would complete 25 yards before timing out on his 26th.

The second day of trails felt like more of a struggle for me and required more effort than the first day, but that is to be expected when you have over 100 miles on your legs. The elevation change was definitely having an impact on me as most of my training is on extremely flat terrain in south Jersey. By midday my quads were letting me know just how unprepared they were for all of the climbing and descending on the trails. As the day laps wore on, I found myself falling in line with a group of teammates right behind Harvey Lewis. I did my best to just turn my brain off and just focus on his feet as I ran behind him. Sometimes the best thing to do during a long ultra is turn off the mind and just follow the footsteps in front of you. It helped get me through some challenging laps during that second day.

Beast Coast Trail Big's backyard Team USA 2022 champions

At one point when I was hurting pretty bad physically and feeling extremely sleep deprived and drowsy I asked Harvey in a pretty general way, “what do you do when it starts to hurt really bad?” I think he responded with a few questions asking what hurt and how it hurt. I answered that it was mainly my quads just feeling spent. He came back with some tips and possible solutions to improve the situation: stretching between laps, making sure I’m taking in enough electrolytes and fluids, and more generally to think of someone important to you while you’re running through the pain. The advice helped me get through some low points during that day as our team approached a second night of running. It would also be one of the highlights of my experience of running Big’s. Just little old Scott out running trails and getting advice from one of the best backyard runners in the world.

Beast Coast Trail Big's backyard Team USA 2022 champions

Night 2 - October 16 PM

The switch back to the road course was a welcome change after the second day of trail running. It rained intermittently during the second day making the trails a bit muddy and the rocks slick. Sure footed, mindless running of the road was a relief after a day of concentrating on uncertain footing on the trails all day. Sleep deprivation is obviously intensified during the second night after the sun sets. This is when the field really dwindles to a few serious runners with their eye on the ultimate prize during a normal backyard, but again, this was not a normal backyard. All but two (Kevin McCabe who was suffering from nausea and vomiting for 8-10 hours before ending his run with 38 yards and Justin Wright who was battling an injury sustained on the trail during the day would fight on to complete 44 yards) of our 14 remaining team members would survive the cutoffs the entire second night. It’s not to say there weren’t struggles, myself included. I found myself chatting with teammates more during the second night than the first. It was in part to encourage them when it seemed they were struggling and as a means to keep myself awake and as alert as possible.

At one point while I was bobbing and weaving while walking (possibly sleepwalking) a headlamp came up beside me. It was Cody Eubanks who I hadn’t chatted with much earlier in the race as his pace was typically a few minutes faster than mine. He pulled up and invited me to run with him so we could keep each other awake and on the road as we struggled through the wee hours of the morning. I had been turning my headlamp off for portions of the road laps overnight hoping that it would help me to fall asleep faster between laps. The trade off is that I felt even sleepier while running in the darkness. With Cody’s headlamp next to me I woke up a bit and turned mine on as well. The dual headlamps help stave off some of the drowsiness that night. The conversation with Cody helped chase off all remaining drowsiness for a few stretches of that second night as we ran the next few laps together. We chatted about coffee at one point and that’s when I realized I had a package of chocolate covered espresso beans I had not even opened yet. I became irrationally excited about them at that moment. I invited Cody to stop at my tent during the next interloopal period and join me for some espresso beans. In retrospect, that espresso bean party at my tent kinda felt like closing down the bar and inviting all your drunk friends back to your house. Then all of your sober roommates (in this case your crew, sorry for the unexpected extra runner you helped take care of at that point, Dagmar) see you arrive and are just saying “WTF” to themselves.
 
Beast Coast Trail Big's backyard Team USA 2022 champions

Day 3 October 17 AM

Towards the end of the second night, I began losing hope that my legs would be able to complete the trail loop within the time limit. I voiced this to teammates and crew and got encouragement all around. I was committed to giving it a go. I didn’t want my race to end by choosing to not go out for a lap. I wanted to keep going until I timed out. Thankfully, after the first trail lap, it felt like my legs got a little spring back in their step and I felt more confident I could complete the trail loops on that third day without timing out. The shift back to trails was not as forgiving for all of our team. We lost both Cody and Jennifer Russo on the first trail lap. Jennifer barely missed the cutoff and was maybe 15-20 seconds away from completing her lap when the bell rang. Cody was a bit farther back and our team congratulated him on a race well run as we passed him making his way back on the trail. With their losses, our team was down 6 runners and 9 runners continued on into day 3.

After many hours and several days of hearing Laz howl “Happy Times!” at the start of every yard, it began to sound more like a purely sadistic yell to me than anything else. The excitement and joy was gone; now it was just hurting. I did my best to fight on through it and stay positive, but it was getting really tough. Food wasn’t attractive anymore. My mouth had begun to break out and felt like I had mini canker sores covering the insides of my lips. I was experiencing heartburn like I never had during a race before and all the Tums I ate didn’t seem to help but for a brief portion of each lap. I was losing the mental battle and I knew it. The sleep deprivation intensified. I attempted to chat with teammates, but I wasn’t sure if I was actually saying anything out loud or just thinking of saying it in my head. Making it back from the loops with about 5 minutes to spare began to feel like a challenge. I told myself just to hang on and the night loops should get easier. If I could just survive the day trail loops. My cold congestion started bothering me more and more during day 3. I found myself taking running breaks to move to the side of the trail to hack up phlegm from my sinuses. We lost Levi Yoder and Jason Bigonia after laps 52 and 54 respectively, reducing our team to 7 runners by mid day. During a standard backyard, losing a runner is motivating in a sense as it puts you one position closer to being the sole survivor of the race. But with the team format, it is more of a punch to the gut as you just lost another teammate.
 
Beast Coast Trail Big's backyard Team USA 2022 champions

Night 3 October 17 PM

We entered our third night with 59 yards completed, about 245.8 miles. My personal backyard record is 61 yards. Surpassing that was a personal goal for me going into this race. It was well within reach at this point, but I was fighting a complete lack of motivation to continue and an onslaught of apathy about the race in general. I believe I had lost the mental battle at this point. I actually just wanted to quit and not go back out for another yard although I knew I would regret it. Dagmar was able to reason with my unreasonable attitude enough to get me to commit to at least getting a new PR of 62 yards. Those last two laps were ugly. It was a lot of walking and feeling sorry for myself. Then reminding myself that I had to pick up the pace to make it in and get that PR. I came back from my 62nd lap torn. I had bettered my PR and now I could quit and be happy and proud. But that’s not the case for me with the backyard. I knew I couldn’t refuse to go back out without feeling like a total piece of garbage. Thankfully another runner’s crew member had found out I was planning to drop out and wasn’t going to allow it. He made me lay down for the few minutes I had between laps, threw a pair of running pants on me (temperature had dropped when the sun went down that night), put a water bottle in my hand and pushed me into the corral to go back out for another yard. Dying in the chair is unacceptable in my backyard ethos. If your race is going to end, at least go out fighting and let it end by timing out on a lap.
 

And that is how my race ended on the 63rd yard. I started out, legs feeling stiffer than ever before. I pushed them to run. It hurt, but they began to pick up the pace. Then I was unexpectedly walking again. I repeated the cycle until I hit the half mile mark at 8 minutes. That made me worried. I would have to increase my pace to make it back in time. The cycle of walking and mentally pushing my legs to run continued until I hit the 1 mile mark at a little over 20 minutes. Then I realized my pace had slowed even more even with my attempt to pick it up. And I realized I would not complete that lap within the cut off. I stood still for a few moments looking at the night sky, then the ground, wondering if I could hammer out a 10 minute mile uphill to give myself a chance of making it back in time. I even made the attempt to run a bit more, but my legs wouldn’t have it. They refused to pick up the pace and I didn’t have the mental capacity to convince or force them to move. With that, I knew my race was over and I began my cold, sad walk back on the dark road.

I couldn’t quite explain at the time what went wrong and I’m still not completely sure. Was it the shock of the cold weather that third night, the sleep deprivation, the lack of stretching, calorie depletion, the phlegm I was hacking up and sinus congestion I was battling, just physical exhaustion, or most likely a combination of all of the above. Lack of sleep and physical/mental exhaustion will take your mind to some strange places, and I went there over the course of my time at Big’s. I had some big personal goals and high hopes going into Big’s, and I failed on several accounts. I wanted to run through a third night and break 300 miles, both of which I failed to achieve. I bettered my PR, but only by one yard. I truly believe that failure is an opportunity for growth and improvement and I hope to embrace my failure at Big’s to improve my future backyard performances.

Beast Coast Trail Big's backyard Team USA 2022 champions
My performance was good enough for 24th in the world out of 555 athletes.

With my race over, I was chauffeured to a hotel where I showered and slept for a few hours in a real bed. I felt a bit more human again the next morning and we returned to the race to clean up our tent and gear just after the two remaining runners had headed out on what would be their final lap. Harvey Lewis and Piotr Chadovich both went out for a 76th yard, but only Piotr would successfully complete it making him the Team USA Champion with 316.67 miles. I was so happy to be back and alert to witness the finish of our team’s race and congratulate both Harvey and Piotr on their amazing performances. With our team’s race over and a healthy lead in the team competition, it looked like we would have the team win, but with several other country’s teams continuing to accumulate points it was too early to celebrate. We took some team photos and chatted a bit about all of the challenges we all endured over the last 3 days or so. We had all suffered together for a common goal: to accumulate more yards than any other team in the world. Some of us faced more challenges earlier on than others. Some of us overcame and bounced back, some of us succumbed to those challenges. But through it all, we worked as a team encouraging one another to push on. Our crews assisted one another sharing resources such as foods, beverages, pain relief supplies, and expertise such as taping and wrapping injuries. True team bonds were formed as a result of our shared hardships. Although it took about another 25 hours or so to be official, Team USA was declared the 2022 Backyard Team World Champions with 860 total yards over Belgium's 788 yard performance as second and Australia's 744 yard performance for third.
 

I am still so grateful to have had the opportunity to compete in this international competition as a part of Team USA! I hate to tarnish our team victory in any way by expressing any disappointment in my personal performance, but that feeling is there. I don’t have any running plans as of right now. I expect to run more backyards and maybe chase some FKTS. Right now I’m not sure where to focus my efforts next. I can say with complete certainty that I hope to improve as a backyard runner and I would love to represent my country as a member of Team USA again in 2024.
 
Beast Coast Trail Big's backyard Team USA 2022 champions


Scott Snell

26 October 2022

















Friday, March 11, 2022

My Cure For Training Slumps: Trail Run Your Way Out of Them


 


Have you ever experienced a perfect or near perfect training build up without any setbacks or obstacles along the way? If so, consider yourself lucky because it is a pretty rare occurrence. Even the most goal oriented and motivated people can find themselves caught up in a training slump. Everything can be going along swimmingly and according to plan, but life happens and unforeseen challenges completely out of our control present themselves. I’m currently working my way through a bit of a training slump at this point as I build to prepare myself for whatever distance I end up running at Capital Backyard Ultra.

I’m about midway through my 4.5 month training plan for what I consider my biggest race ever. There have been a few challenges along the way that could have derailed or significantly set back my training. My family had a bout of the stomach flu for about a week of January. There have been bad weather days that made getting out to get the training miles extra challenging. Up until this past week though, I have recognized the challenges, adapted, and overcome them. As much as I hate to admit it, the cold/congestion I’ve been dealing with for a little over the last week has hit me the hardest.

I got taken down by a bad cold for a couple days and the sinus congestion and runny nose that has ensued has really tested my will to train. I've still pushed myself out the door to get at least a few easy miles, but I haven't enjoyed it and it's not the way I want to train. I'm questioning if I'm exaggerating the impacts of the cold by not just resting, but I don't want to lose fitness in the middle of my training.


*Trail Run Break*


Well I got out for a trail run tonight and it was the best run I've had in over a week. I still have some congestion, but the sinus headache is gone and my energy level seems to be almost back to normal. Apparently the cure for a training slump is a quality trail run! There's something magical about going out for a trail run a little before sunset this time of year. The trail is soft underfoot extensively cushioned with pine needles. The spring peepers are out singing. Suddenly, the last fading hues of orange and red sunlight are nearly gone beyond the horizon. Gradually everything fades to shades of gray and it becomes necessary to turn the headlamp on. Almost shockingly, the entire universe seems to contract instantaneously to be contained within the range of the light emitted from my lamp. And that is the extent of my world for the remainder of the trail run. The seemingly endless universe returns as I exit the canopy of the trail and the night sky and stars become visible again. A feeling that reminds me of hurtling through a void of space envelopes me as I adjust to my new environment. The foot falls are different on the pavement now. The air and lighting is different here. It's all changed. For the last couple miles I run under the dim moonlight grateful for the clear night sky and the many stars on display.




Scott Snell
March 11, 2022

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Friday, January 14, 2022

Stomach Flu and DISCIPLINE




At first glance, nothing about this run looks special. Maybe "special" is a poor word choice; every run, no matter how routine or average is special in the sense that you're out there running. You're physically capable of that act and mentally motivated enough to do it which in itself is special. So let me rephrase that opening statement. At first glance, nothing about this run looks out of the ordinary. It was a common route and distance for me at a relaxed pace. What makes it "special" for me is the fact that it came at the tail end of about a week of my household being plagued with a case of the stomach flu. Of the five of us, only one managed to avoid vomiting. I spent the week leading up to this run cleaning up vomit, caring for my vomiting kids and wife, and doing my own share of vomiting. 

It felt like yesterday everybody was back to good health and we were finally returning to normal activities; which meant I could pick back up on running after a short hiatus. It would have been so easy to give myself an excuse to not run last night. 

We'd all been sick for a week. 
I needed another day to recover. 
Take your pick.

It was busy day between work, helping the kids with homework, and running them to extracurricular activities; I was ready to call it a night by the time I got the kids fed and ready for bed. It was after 9. I asked myself "are these just excuses? How bad do you want a spot at Big's?" The answers were "yes" and "bad enough to go run tonight." 

Oftentimes, your mind will happily justify the easy path, but it is a short lived victory. And for me, when I allow and accept that seemingly valid reason to not get after it, in retrospect, I usually regret it. Because I usually realize the main factor determining whether you get after it or not isn't extenuating circumstances. It's DISCIPLINE. Only you can gift yourself with discipline and either you have it or you don't.

Scott Snell
January 14, 2022







Saturday, November 20, 2021

Night Trail Runs Are Good for the Soul

 


This was my first run since Sunday and my first night trail run since August. I got knocked down by a pretty bad cold (not COVID, I got tested) this past week and took a few days off to recover. I started feeling crappy and sneezing Monday evening. Tuesday and Wednesday were full blown "I'm sick" days complete with sinus congestion, sinus headache, runny nose, and severe reduction of energy levels. Things started getting better Thursday, but the energy wasn't back and I didn't want to add undue stress to the body while still recovering. Friday felt good other than a bit of stubborn congestion that was still hanging around. I decided it was time to go for a test run. It was the right decision.

It was also my first night run that finally felt like an autumn evening run. The air was cool, crisp, and still. The moon was bright and the sky was clear. The only sounds were my feet moving through the leaf litter and the sniffles from my still slightly runny nose. For having not run in almost a week and just getting over a cold, I moved surprisingly well and with minimal effort. Maybe my legs needed the break too. My headlamp lit the trails I've run so many times in daylight, surprising me how different these trails that I think I'm so familiar with can look after dark. Deer eyes and spider eyes glowed when the light from my headlamp was aimed in their direction. It's an experience that will always remind me of my overnight trip running the Batona Trail when my mind started playing tricks on me in response to all those glowing eyes staring at me from the dark.

It sure did feel good to run again after almost a week of no running and a few days off being sick. And to be able to run the same trails I always run, but in a new way. It's a reminder to me to be grateful and realize how blessed I am to have found an activity I enjoy pursuing with passion and that I have the physical capabilities to do so.


Scott Snell
November 20, 2021