Amazon

Showing posts with label trail runner. Show all posts
Showing posts with label trail runner. Show all posts

Thursday, November 9, 2023

2023 Big's Backyard Individual World Championships


scott snell beast coast trail running big's backyard
Prerace photo with my awesome crew man, Marty!
 
DNF Number Two

I’ve run Big’s Backyard for the last two years and both years I put in more training and preparation than I had for any other race. And both years the course sent me home feeling defeated after serving me up with a heaping pile of humble pie. Coming up short of your goals and facing failure can be tough and is usually not a pleasant experience, but it can also be a learning experience that helps us grow and improve in our pursuit. With a few weeks between me and my second DNF at Big’s, I feel like I’ve handled this one emotionally better than the first and I am certain I have learned from this one.

This year’s edition of Big’s Backyard was the Individual World Championship competition, so slightly different from last year’s World Team Competition. The backyard international championship competitions are currently conducted annually alternating between an individual competition (on odd years) held on the original backyard course in Bell Buckle, TN and national team competitions (on even years) run remotely as a satellite competition at the home course of each team. The standard backyard rules apply for both types of competition, but there are some intricate differences between the two types of competitions.

Let me back up a quick second to give a brief description of the “standard backyard” race format for anyone reading who may not be familiar. Basically, it is a race of attrition without a set distance. The race continues until only one runner remains. Hence, these races are also referred to as “last person standing” races. So how are runners eliminated? By not completing a 4.167 mile lap every hour on the hour. Every hour all runners start a lap and must finish before the end of the hour. If they finish early, they must wait until the start of the next hour to start their next lap. With that caveat, this race prevents any runner from building a lead. The cycle of on the hour lap starts continues indefinitely until all but one runner has opted to not continue running or has timed out. The last runner remaining must run one complete lap more than all other runners within the hour time limit before being named the winner. 

Since this was my first time competing in the Backyard Individual World Championship, it felt much different than last year and felt like a pretty big deal to me. I had some really high hopes for my performance and my lowest goal in my set of cascading goals was to improve my PR of 62 yards for the course. Unfortunately, I failed to reach my lowest goal and my remaining goals only went up from there, far out of my reach.


Day 1:
The first day on the trails felt good overall and actually went by pretty quickly. The first 11 hours on the trail felt relatively easy compared to how difficult I remembered the trail being from last year. I spent much of the day meeting and chatting with some of the best backyard runners from all over the world. The rest of the day was spent catching up with the American runners that I ran with as a part of Team USA last year. Some of them I had run with only a few months earlier at Capital Backyard Ultra, but others I had not seen since last year at Big’s. With all of the socializing and just refamiliarizing myself with the trail and my time check points, the first day of trail yards was over before I knew it. It seemed minor at the time, but I was having some intestinal issues and making more stops at the porta potties than I probably should have. I figured it was just nerves and would get better as the race progressed, but in hindsight it may have been more akin to the “pebble in the shoe” analogy where it seems like a minor inconvenience until it leads to a painful blister that really can’t be fixed.

  scott snell beast coast trail running big's backyard

Night 1:
The first night on the road brought back many memories. The sky was clear and filled with stars. The temperature was comfortable for which I was very thankful as it was the extreme drop in temperature and strong winds that I credited with a heavy dose of the blame as to why I quit when I did last year. The road yards really felt like a continuation of the first day. As every runner’s pace changed a bit from trail to road, I found myself still meeting new runners throughout the night which helped pass the time and ward off sleepiness. I never felt too sleepy the first night and as the sun rose on the last road yard, I felt refreshed and excited to go back to the trails.

scott snell beast coast trail running big's backyard
Still early on day 3, I think.

Day 2:
My legs felt good to start the second day of trail running and I didn’t feel too sleep deprived for having run through most of the night. I was still feeling good at this point of the race. I think it was at some point during the second day that I tried to address the intestinal issues I was still having. I took some anti diarrhea medicine to help treat it. I also stopped taking the gels I had been eating hourly and cut off the coconut water I had been drinking between yards. The thought was that I may have been taking in too much sugar or the coconut water was acting as a laxative. I’ve used coconut water at plenty of other backyards and never had these issues, but I had brought a different brand for this race. Ultimately, I don’t know what the cause was, but we were trying to resolve the problem as quickly as possible which meant getting rid of the two readily apparent possible causes. As day two continued, fatigue began to set in and the overall difficulty of completing each yard seemed to be mounting with every yard. I continued grinding and looking forward to the switch back to the road even though I knew it would bring with it the challenge of a second night of sleep deprived running. For those last few day yards on the trail I couldn’t stop thinking about how the trail felt more difficult this year on the second day than it did last year and what an extreme change I had in my perception of difficulty in just 24 hours. My perception of the trail difficulty had made a full reversal: from much easier than I remembered to tougher than I remembered.

Night 2:
It was during the second night that the thoughts of how I was not going to have the race I had envisioned began to materialize more completely, seem more real, and become much more difficult to suppress. I was feeling more sleepy than the first night but not getting much sleep in the few minutes I closed my eyes between each yard. I didn’t feel like I was working super hard, but still I was only coming in with about 7 to 8 minutes to spare. On top of it, I was still having some gastrointestinal issues, so much so that after one of the middle of the night yards I had to make a quick impromptu underwear change (please don’t ask for details, it was bad, but could have been far worse). The second night presented far more challenges than I expected going into this race. Thankfully, I was able to overcome them and survive to see another sunrise thanks in big part to the persistence of my crew and the other runners. My crew man, Marty, did all he could to keep me focused, fed,motivated, and on task even when my attitude in the crew area was pretty crappy. The other runners I ran with during the second night helped keep me motivated to continue pushing at a decent pace as well as keeping me engaged in some conversation to avoid falling asleep while running. The three runners that stand out for me that I ran with when I most needed someone to run with were Jivee Tolentino (who I chatted with for the first time during the second night), Thembinkosi Sojola, and Jason Bigonia. I can’t express how valuable it was to me to share those miles with them in the wee hours of the morning as I was desperately looking forward to the sunrise.

scott snell beast coast trail running big's backyard
Morning of Day 3, when I was overdressed and still had my headlamp on.

Day 3:
After the second night, my legs were feeling pretty shot and I was uncertain how they would react when we switched back to the trails. I had the same worry last year, fearing my legs would be dead when they hit the trail again and I would time out on the first trail yard of the third day. With that worry in my head again, I hit the half mile road out and back section at a relatively faster pace to bank some time before the remainder of the day course that is all single track trail with some sections that are a bit on the technical side. It surprised me again this year, just like last year, how good my legs felt getting back on the trail after the second night. Other than being overdressed for the weather (I had failed to change out of my long sleeve shirt and kick off my running pants that I had put on as temperatures got a bit lower during the second night) the first yard of day three on the trails was honestly one of my most enjoyable. As I ran that yard, I started to think that maybe things were starting to turn around for my race. Even though I had to make another emergency roadside bio-break (all the while one of the camera drones hovered above my head) on the last road yard, I thought maybe that was the last of my digestive issues. Maybe day three will finally be the smooth sailing yards that I had expected early in the race.

scott snell beast coast trail running big's backyard
Post race interview.

The next few yards got a bit more challenging, but I was still completing them with 3-4 minutes to spare. That went on until yard 54. Early during that yard I got a bad feeling in my stomach. I thought I was going to vomit and my race was going to be over as I assumed I would likely time out after I emptied my stomach. Only a few moments later, I realized I wasn’t going to vomit but it was about to come out the other end. After I took care of business, my stomach felt better but I was unsure if I would complete the yard before I timed out. I knew I’d have to work for it so I immediately started pushing the pace. It was a struggle, but I made it in almost a full minute before the three minute whistle. Unfortunately, pushing the pace to make up that lost time took a toll on me physically and stressed me out. Which was basically the story for the remainder of my race. I’d go out easy to start the yard in an effort to try to recover from pushing hard during the second half of the previous yard. It felt like I was in a backyard death spiral for the last four yards of my race and I was panicking. It felt like my race was slipping away and there was no way to save it.

scott snell beast coast trail running big's backyard
A post race chat with Laz and Sandra. 

I had fallen at least a few minutes behind the pace necessary to complete my 57th yard before the halfway point. I’m still not sure how I fell so far off pace so early in that yard, but that’s where I found myself when I caught up with my fellow Team USA member, Levi Yoder. I think we both knew that we were in some trouble at that point, so we both worked together to pick up our pace and push one another. It felt like we pushed really hard for the last two miles of that yard; like red lining and going into a kick to cross the finish line. In reality, we probably barely broke a 10 minute mile if at all. Based on checkpoints we passed as we were hammering, I was estimating we’d complete our yard somewhere between the second and third whistles. We managed to cross the line about one second before the two minute whistle. I’m not sure about where Levi’s mind was at the time, but I was pretty certain my legs would be dead after that push. Levi and I left the corral at a shuffling pace for yard 58, but I think we were still laughing at the time at how ridiculously hard we pushed to complete that last yard. We walked the road out and back debating whether to even go back out on the trail. We agreed to force ourselves to run back through the starting corral on the way to the trailhead. We managed that, but when we got to the start of the trail we both stopped. We had a short discussion about how we would have to hammer the next three miles to complete the yard before the cut off which felt like an impossibility at the time. And so we both pulled the plug right there, turned away from the trail, and walked back to the starting corral.

scott snell beast coast trail running big's backyard
First time sitting down to relax after the race. 

The feeling of mixed emotions hit soon after as everyone in camp started clapping and cheering for us as we walked back. I was still in the midst of laughing at how the last yard ended when the reaction from everyone at camp suddenly reminded me that it was all over and my race was done. Relief, regret, joy, and disappointment all at once. Even now, nearly three weeks later, I still wonder what would have happened had we continued down the trail. Would some spark of life for a fight to survive and continue have ignited and powered my legs to complete one more yard? I don’t know. I don’t think so, but I like to think it would have at least been a possibility. That’s often the attraction and aversion of the backyard format, in my experience. Each race leaves you questioning. Did I do enough? Could I have done more? Where did it go wrong? Where can I improve? When can I try again?

scott snell beast coast trail running big's backyard
About half of 2022 Team USA - Jason Bigonia, Levi Yoder, Dan Yovichin, Rick Kwiatski, Scott Snell, Keith Van, Kevin McCabe, and Piotr Chadovich

Lesson Learned:
I want to preface this lesson with a quote from a fellow runner at Big's this year and a member of last year's US Team, Dan Yovichin, - “We’re just ordinary people doing extraordinary things.” I think I got it right, or at least close to right. I recall him saying it last year, but this year it hit me a little differently and applies to the major mistake I made and what I learned from it. I made my big mistake before the race even started, before I left home for Bell Buckle, the seed for it probably germinated and began to take root during my training runs between Capital and Big's. What was my great folly? I failed to prepare myself for the fact that accomplishing extraordinary feats is extremely difficult.

scott snell beast coast trail running big's backyard jennifer russo
A post race brew and chat with Jennifer Russo.

I went into this race overconfident. Then when it got hard, it was shocking. I had been telling myself while preparing that I could definitely make it to the third night and then it would start getting tough. All the while, diminishing the facts that running through two consecutive nights with minimal sleep is tough, covering 200 continuous miles on foot is challenging regardless of the pace, and maintaining normal bodily functions while adhering to the backyard race format time requirements can present additional challenges. So when things got tough and I started struggling more than I expected to during that third day, I wasn't prepared. I panicked. Which I believe made matters even worse, mentally and physically, as I felt like I had lost control. The feeling of panic was at least partially caused by my overconfidence and the unexpected shock of how much I was struggling earlier than I had planned. This concept of a misalignment of actual and expected demands in relation to our capabilities is a topic Steve Magness discusses at length in his book Do Hard Things. I read the book in part to prepare for Big's, so there was no excuse for me to make this mistake other than it is an easy trap to fall into. Magness explains how this blunder often plays out when a goal begins to feel impossible to achieve, stating that we’re more likely to “abandon our pursuit” because why try and continue to suffer if it will just end in failure anyway? Rather than me relaying the information, here’s a short quote from the book:

“When we are overconfident, we set ourselves up for failure. This isn’t idle conjecture: researchers have found this phenomenon in everything from competing in sports to deciding whether to stay in a relationship or quit your job. It’s easy to feel confident in the beginning but when we come face-to-face with the reality that we might fall short of our goal, we experience what psychologists call an action crisis.”

Since I read the book, I should have learned this lesson already, but sometimes it takes experience to learn a lesson. At least I hope that this experience has taught me this lesson well enough so that I remember it and do not repeat it at future backyard races.


Scott Snell
9 November 2023


scott snell beast coast trail running big's backyard
Cheering on the remaining runners was almost as much fun as running a backyard.












Sunday, June 11, 2023

Nutrition, Hydration, and Supplements Used for Long Runs




Here is a list of fluids, foods, and supplements that have worked for me to run long distances over the years. They all may not work for everyone, but for the most part, these are the options that I continue to use again and again while running many miles during multiday races. 


Fluids:
Foods I've Brought for Self Support:

Foods Provided at Races:
  • Pancakes and syrup
  • Smoothies
  • Scrambled eggs
  • Quesadillas
  • Pizza
  • Rice balls
  • Bananas
  • Oranges
  • Avocado
  • Chicken broth
  • Mashed potato
  • Pierogi
  • Bacon
Supplements:




Wednesday, January 11, 2023

2022 Goals Reviewed and Examining 2023 Goals


Scott Snell Beast Coast Trail Running

My singular goal for 2022, well it actually began to form midway through 2021, was to earn a place on the 15 person Team USA for the international Backyard Ultra Team competition at Big's Backyard in October. I accomplished this goal in May by winning Capital Backyard Ultra which was a silver ticket event guaranteeing me a place on the team. With my main goal for the year accomplished only a few months into the year, I put all my effort into training to achieve my best possible performance at that competition. In retrospect, maybe that was a mistake putting all of my eggs into one basket. As luck would have it, my son got sick with a bad cough/cold about two weeks before the race and then I picked it up about a week before the race. While I still had a decent performance there (62 yards or about 258 miles), it was not the performance I hoped for and I was just angry the majority of the time for the timing of the virus I contracted. Which I guess is a major downside of focusing all of your effort preparing for such a long period on a single race. All it takes is one poorly timed sickness to destroy your hopes. So, I have decided not to do that again. I will do almost the exact opposite this year and just send it, running all the races I want to run. Which is probably equally bad for different reasons.

Overall, this year I just want to run the races I want to run and let the chips fall where they may. Maybe I'll burn out and be sick of ultrarunning (not likely) before October and the big dance at Big's. But I don’t think I will. The more likely flaw to this plan is either an overuse injury or insufficient recovery time between races to achieve optimal performance. But I don’t care. I’d rather run that risk and have a few races that I’m really proud of, a few that I deem mediocre, and a few that were total misses rather than have one race that I put so much time and effort into feel like a failure. So with that introduction and philosophy behind my running goals for 2023, here they are (in chronological order)!

Scott Snell Beast Coast Trail Running

1.  Set a new 24 hour PR for myself and a new course record at the 24 hr Adventure Trail Run in Triangle, VA. - I made my first attempt at this goal and my first attempt at a 24 hour race in 2021. It was my first race after races had been shut down due to COVID. I believe I am better prepared to achieve this goal this time around. I know what mistakes I made during my first attempt and how I can remedy them. I also believe I am better prepared physically and mentally this time. My fitness level has improved and my mind is better adapted to overcome temporary setbacks within a 24 hour period. I was so close to achieving this goal last time that I am almost certain I will have success this time.

2.  Run Capital Backyard Ultra and be sure to secure my spot at Big's this year. - With the qualifying period for the 2023 Backyard World individual Championships ending in mid August, Capital Backyard Ultra (at the end of May) is one of the final more competitive backyard races likely to produce an at large qualification. Right now I'm sitting at the 56th spot out of 75 spots available. Chances are pretty good that where I'm at is good enough and I will qualify regardless of whether I run another backyard between now and then. However, there are some competitive backyard races between now and then. If I'm pushed farther down the qualifying list, it's most likely I'll be pushed off the list due to at large qualifications at Capital. If that does occur, I want to be in the race to compete for my spot at Big's.

3.  Run a 12 hour race at the Midnight Squatchapalooza. - I've never run a 12 hour race before and this is one of the most local ultras for me. It's also hosted by one of my favorite NJ race directors, Kim Levinsky of Sassquad Trail Running. My personal goal for this race is to run at least a 100k before the 12 hour clock runs out. From what I can tell based on the Ultrasignup results page, it looks like the course record is 25 laps of a 2.5 mile looped course or 62.5 miles which is just over a 100k distance. So, if I hit my personal goal I will at least tie the course record. Of course, if things are going well for me late in the race and it is within reach, I’d love to be able to better the course record and complete 26 laps to hit 65 miles.

4.  Run Backyard Squatch again. - I have multiple reasons for this goal and several achievements I’d like to reach within this goal. This race is also hosted by Sassquad Trail Running, so that alone makes me want to run it again. After running and winning it in 2021, I was invited back by Kim Levinsky to run it again in 2022 but I felt like it was a little too close and would disrupt my training cycle leading up to the Backyard Ultra Team competition at Big's Backyard in October. Although I wanted to run it again last year, I opted not to, hoping it would better my performance at Big’s. That is not the plan this year. Like I mentioned earlier, the plan is just to send it this year and hope for the best. With that mindset, my goals for this race are to better the course record (36 yards) that still stands from the inaugural year (2021). Additionally, I intend to be the last person standing there.

5.  Run a 200 mile race. - After spending the better part of the last two years making earning a spot to run at Big’s Backyard my primary focus, I’m trying to freshen things up a bit this year with some new exciting goals, hence the completely new goal of running a 12 hour race. While running a 200 mile race isn’t a completely new or fresh idea for me to pursue, this year I plan on acting on it. In the past I had kinda dreamt about running a 200 miler. I had always thought I’d sign up for one out west, most likely one of Candice Burt’s races but a few things kept me from acting on those dreams. The first being the cost. When you add up the registration and travel costs you’re looking at a minimum of a several thousand dollar price tag for an adventure that will most likely be a handful of days. I have trouble justifying that with my current household budget. The second primary reason was the fear that I wasn’t ready to tackle the 200 mile distance. Well, after running two backyards last year that went over 250 miles the fear of not being ready for the 200 mile distance is gone. However, the financial limitation is still there so I have been looking at other, more affordable options. As of now, the race I think I will register for to take a crack at the 200 mile distance is the Cowboy 200. Since I’ve already run two races greater than 200 miles, some may justifiably be questioning why I’m pursuing this as a goal this year. The reason is that although I’ve done the distance, I’ve never raced the distance. I’ve only run it in the backyard format where your pace is constrained to not exceed 100 miles per 24 hours. So the real goal within this goal is not to finish a 200 mile race, but to finish it in under 48 hours. Giddy up!

6.  Run the individual backyard world championship at Big's Backyard in October. - If you read my race report on my performance at the 2022 Big’s Backyard team competition, I think it’s readily apparent that I feel like I have some unfinished business there. I intend to be there again this year for the individual competition and do better. It would be na├»ve and maybe a bit foolish to make winning this competition my only goal. Of course it’s the top goal, but these are the best backyard runners from around the world competing here. It is the most competitive backyard competition in the world. Do I believe there is a chance? Yes. Likely? Probably not. Can I do better than last year? Most definitely yes. Outside of being the outright winner, I have a few other objectives that are more likely obtainable. The first being just to improve upon last year’s performance of 62 yards. Simple and definitely doable. Second is to make it through that third night of running and see how long I can hang after that. That will be more difficult, but I believe I am capable of it. My third alt objective and likely the most difficult if I am not the last person standing there is to simply not allow my race to end in apathy again. An apathetic outlook was the final piece that ended my run there last year. I don’t like excuses. Allowing apathy to take hold over the last few hours of my race last year feels like creating an excuse to quit in the moment. If not an excuse, then a defense or escape mechanism at best. It’s not fair to use either after putting so much time, effort, and sacrifice into preparing for this event. It’s not fair to me or others close to me who have also made sacrifices to allow me to not only be there, but to prepare to do the best I can while I am there. So that’s the final alt objective: to do my best with no excuses.

Scott Snell Beast Coast Trail Running



Scott Snell
11 January 2023









Thursday, November 3, 2022

Mental Recovery From Big's Backyard


I hit a total of 369 miles for October with 258 run in a single go at Big's Backyard. I'm pretty sure this was my highest monthly mileage ever and I am completely sure that my run at Big's was a distance PR for me. For all of that I admit that I am proud and maybe I shouldn't say it at all but I'm going to anyway. I can't help but be disappointed in myself with how my run at Big's went. It certainly felt like giving up towards the end. And I hate that. What could I have done differently? Mistakes were made. I didn't change from shorts to pants soon enough to deal with the drop in temperature. I didn't stay positive. I lost hope. I didn't use my last resort lifeline that I have the previous two times I was ready to quit at a backyard: to call my wife and say "I'm done." Maybe I didn't have time. Maybe I didn't want the pressure to keep going. I'm still not sure and I may never know exactly where my head was at that point. What I do know is that it's on me for making those mistakes. There's no one else to blame. I take full responsibility. I also know that I'm not happy or impressed with what I did and it's impacting what I had planned for 2023. My primary running goal for 2023 was to make an attempt at the IA crossing FKT. Now I don't know; a "redemption" backyard run sounds pretty attractive. We'll see... Regardless, my plan was to take some time to recover and focus on family time from November and over the holidays until I start training again for a specific goal next year. What that specific goal is, I don't know at this point. I still need to accept what I interpret as a failure. But I am determined to find the good in this situation, to learn from my mistakes and use it as motivation to drive and to train harder towards whatever my next goal is. 


Scott Snell

3 November 2022 




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, September 9, 2022

UCAN Edge Energy Gel and Bar Review



Best Coast Trail Running Scott Snell UCAN


"Disclaimer: I received a variety of UCAN Edge Energy gels and bars to review as part of being a BibRave Ambassador. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Ambassador, and check out BibRave.com to review, find, and write race reviews!"

Sugar Free Energy!? Say What? I Can and UCAN Too!

Scott Snell beast Coast Trail Running

Usually when I see “sugar free” used to advertise any type of endurance sport energy supplement, it’s a turn off for me. I associate “sugar free” with low calorie, which is a negative characteristic in my opinion when selecting fuel sources for long efforts. I look for calorie dense foods that can be easily packed in my hydration vest and consumed on the move. Calorie dense means more calories in less volume and less to carry to fuel my long runs. So when I learned of UCAN sugar free Edge Energy gels I was a bit skeptical. But once I overcame my bias against sugar free fuels, read the nutrition label on the gel packet, and gave them an honest try, I became a fan.


Each Edge Energy gel packet contains 70 calories. This is only slightly less than most other energy gel brands I have tried which have ranged from around 90-120 calories per packet. So not a deal breaker at all. For me, it would just mean adjusting the timing of how frequently I eat a gel during a long run. I usually consume one gel every hour or so. Using UCAN Edge Energy gels would just mean I’m a bit more strict about not going beyond that “one gel per hour” schedule.


The taste of the gels was different from other sugary gels I’ve tried. UCAN Edge Energy gels were certainly less sweet and it felt more like I was consuming some type of actual food. These are both positive traits, in my opinion. I’m always very turned off by overly sweet drinks and foods during long runs. It was nice to feel like I was consuming actual food rather than a packet of syrup.


I was similarly impressed by the UCAN energy bars. Again, not overly sweet, sticky messes being marketed as sports nutrition. The bars were tasty, soft, and easy to eat on the go, fueling the longest test run I did with them (22 miles) without any stomach issues or energy crashes.


As I approach the end of my training block for Big’s Backyard (only a little over a month away now), I’ve been pretty certain my nutrition plan is dialed in and set. However, testing out these UCAN Edge Energy gels and bars has made me question if there’s room for improvement. I believe UCAN products could be another valuable tool in my nutrition tool box while I run at Big’s. I will definitely be bringing some UCAN products with me to Big’s because who knows, it could be what saves my race and keeps me going on day two, three, or even four?


Scott Snell

9 September 2022


See what my fellow BibRavePros thought:


Want to try them yourself? Use discount code: BIBRAVE25 - 25% off, no bundles or subscriptions, good thru 10/9/2022