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

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

2023 Goals Reviewed and 2024 Goals


Enjoy the journey en route to your goals.



It's that time of year again. Time to assess last year's goals and set new goals to work towards in 2024. I figure the best way to do this is to just go down my list of goals from last year.

1. PR and CR at the 24 hr Adventure Trail Run in Triangle, VA. Status: Failed

I made my attempt and came up short of my PR I ran there in 2021. I struggled with some digestive issues, inclement weather, and a lack of motivation, but I still managed to hit 100 miles which was good enough for first place. So although I failed to hit my personal goal, I still went home pretty content with my run.

Here is the full race report.

2. Run Capital Backyard Ultra and be sure to secure my spot at Big's this year. Status: Success

This was my best performance of the year in my opinion. I felt great for pretty much all 75 hours. Then I won an award for a shortened version of my race report that I entered into a writing contest!

Here is the full race report.

3. Run a 12 hour race at the Midnight Squatchapalooza. Status: DNS

4. Run Backyard Squatch again. Status: DNS

5. Run a 200 mile race. Status: DNS

6. Run the individual backyard world championship at Big's Backyard in October. Status: Success… kind of.

Well, I did run Big's Backyard for the individual backyard world championships last October, so in that sense I was successful in that goal. However, just like last year, I felt like I didn’t have the race that I hoped for.

Here is the full race report.

2023 was a mix of success, partial success, a little failure, and a decent amount of failing to attempt. I’m pretty sure I was over reaching when I put together last year’s list of goals. Between professional responsibilities and a super busy family life, there’s only so much time to get away for races. I may still have some lofty running goals for 2024, but there will certainly not be as many. So with that, here are my running goals for 2024 (in chronological order)!


1. Run a 48 hour race - Running a longer timed race is something I’ve thought about a lot since running Capital Backyard last year. I put a lot of that blame for this goal on Victoria Brown who I met and ran lots of miles with there. Victoria is quite an accomplished multi day ultrarunner and triathlete. After chatting with her quite a bit about multi day events, I’m way more interested in them and curious of what I might be able to accomplish. So that is my goal at the 48 hour Dogwood Ultramarathon in Green Bay, VA: to find out how far I can run in a 48 hour period. It’s new to me because although I have run for longer than 48 hours at backyard races on multiple occasions, I have never run for that length of time without the pace restrictions that come with a backyard ultra. I of course have some distance goals in mind (a bottom tier goal of 200 miles, and a top tier goal of hitting 240 miles), but I also have other reasons to be excited for this event. That reason is the fact that my family is planning to join me for this race, something that hasn’t happened since I ran the Backyard Squatch in 2021. And to add to my excitement, my two older boys are planning to pace me for some of my laps during the race and one of them has the goal of running his first half marathon distance while pacing me! I am really pumped to start my running season off with a race experience that I am so excited about!

2. Run Capital Backyard Ultra - I ran Capital last year to make sure that if my spot at Big's was at risk, I’d have a chance to fight for it.This year is partially the same motivation. Although as of now, I feel like my best performance of 75 yards during this two year qualifying period makes my at-large spot pretty safe. The rest of the motivation to go back and run Capital for a third consecutive year is simply that it is an amazing event. Sarah Smith, race director, does an amazing job organizing the event and making sure all of the runners are so well cared for to have their best performance possible. I have greatly enjoyed my long days of running there and all the people I’ve met there. Besides the running and the impressive food spread, I’d say the people are right up there with my top reasons for wanting to go back again. Last year, only my second year there, felt like a reunion. I don’t think I’ve felt that accepted in such a short amount of time anywhere else in my life.

3. Run Bob's Big Timber Backyard Ultra - Why would I plan to run another backyard this year? Like I said earlier, I think my at-large for a spot on Team USA at Big’s is pretty safe this year, so the fact that Bob’s Big Timber is a silver ticket event isn’t a major motivating factor for me. The real reason is all because of a stupid belt buckle. I heard from Levi Yoder, or maybe I read it on Facebook, that the race director of Bob’s Big Timber had special 200 mile buckles designed and made for anyone who breaks 200 miles at his backyard race. Well, so far that has not happened there. It was the day after my race ended at Big’s last year (maybe a bit during the race too, tough to recall exactly) that I was chatting with Levi about this. He had said he intended to go 200 there last year, but no one else running the event was able to continue with him that long. I mentioned that I had considered signing up for it last year and he said I should so we could break the 200 mile threshold. I agreed that if we were both there the race director would very likely get to hand out at least two of those buckles. So that’s why it’s all about a silly belt buckle. I’m being a bit sarcastic there. It is about more than the buckle. I’ve greatly enjoyed all the trail miles I’ve run with Levi, so why not run another backyard with him? Not to mention, I look forward to meeting and running with lots of new folks at a different race to add some variety to my running schedule.

4. Run with Team USA again at the 2024 Backyard Team World Championships - If you read either of my race reports on my two experiences (2022 and 2023) at Big’s Backyard, I think I’ve been pretty forthright and honest about how I feel about my performances there. The bottom line is that I feel like I still have not achieved what I am capable of at Big’s and I still have my best performance at Big’s in the making. I have no excuses for the last two years there. I believe I came up short of what I am capable of there and have come home disappointed both years. This year, my goal is the same as last year: to do my best with no excuses.




Scott Snell
14 January 2023


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:




Thursday, June 8, 2023

2023 Capital Backyard Ultra - Father of Four, Ready for More... Ultrarunning

 
beast coast trail running scott snell capital backyard ultra

When my wife and I found out we were having another child to join our already family of five, I can honestly say I was shocked. I also selfishly thought of how it would affect my training and my running goals. I’d say I panicked a bit fearing that my ultrarunning days were more or less over or would at least have to be put on hold for a few years. Thankfully my race at Capital Backyard Ultra relieved any still persisting panic and alleviated my fears. After incorporating training around the birth of my fourth son and caring for his older brothers with ages ranging from 2 to 11, I put that training to the test and managed to come home to my two month old baby and my amazing wife having exceeded all of my expectations of what I was capable of and having achieved all of the race goals I set for myself. Long story short, this proved to me I was still capable of running backyard ultras competitively even with my family life becoming busier and more hectic than it has been the last few years.

 beast coast trail running scott snell

So what does training for a backyard race look like for a busy father of four that works full time? The key ingredients for me are consistency, volume, and flexibility.
 

Consistency: Getting in the miles day after day. Yes, I do take rest days, but usually it's one day a week. Some days are longer, some shorter, but I don’t do a huge number of “long runs”. Typically, my daily runs usually range between 6-13 miles. Personally, I feel like I get better fitness training by running three consecutive days of 13 mile runs rather than running 39 miles in a single run and taking a couple rest days before and after it.

Volume: Increasing volume of easy paced runs has been my primary goal of training since becoming focused on the backyard format. I aim to have a consistent build of volume leading up to a big race. I do this by setting up a 3-4 month training cycle focused on gradually increasing volume. I simply run consistently, then look at the daily average of miles per day for the baseline month. I then aim for an increase in the daily average mileage every month until the month of the race. I used this method for the first time last year as I trained for Capital Backyard Ultra. I ran a PR of over 100 miles and was the last one standing at the race last year, so that pretty much sold me on this method.

Flexibility: Life is busy and responsibilities get in the way of training. When that happens being rigid is not going to benefit a training plan. Adapting and finding a way to incorporate the desired mileage around other responsibilities has become my standard method of operation. Some days that means I run even slower than normal miles pushing my sleeping two year old (that most likely has a lollipop that has fallen out of his mouth stuck to him somewhere) in a jogging stroller. Would I have rather run my normal trail route? Yes, but road miles with a stroller are better than no miles. On days that I have not had an opportunity to run until 9 pm or so when the kids are asleep for the night, I view it as an opportunity to train my mental fortitude. Yes, I’m tired and I would like to go to bed for the night, but I ask myself “Are you too tired to run one more yard?” And the answer is always a simple “No.” So I push myself out the door to run and remind myself that I am building mental toughness for that time during a backyard when I feel so tired that I don’t think I can do one more yard. I remind myself that this is how you get one more yard, by choosing to start it, as much as you may not feel like it.
 
beast coast trail running scott snell capital backyard ultra
The view from my aid station.

I want to move on to focus specifically on my race experience this year at Capital Backyard Ultra, but before doing so let me give a brief description of the “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, more or less taking away the advantage of speedy runners. 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. This leaves the possibility that there could be no winner (which has happened) if several runners go out for a lap and they all time out.
 

Day 1: After experiencing several multi day backyards, day one becomes a bit of an obligatory process. And honestly, with the depth of the field at Capital this year, I was viewing the first 48 hours as an obligatory process. It’s more or less a thinning of the herd, separating those there that have the capability and drive to be the last one standing from the rest of the group. Although it takes 24-48 hours for this process to play out with the caliber of backyard runners assembled for this race, that doesn’t mean it has to be a boring process. I spent most of the first day meeting new people and catching up with folks I had run with before. A good number of the runners I already knew were my teammates that I ran with on Team USA last year at Big’s: Kevin McCabe, Jennifer Russo, Keith Van, Justin Wright and Levi Yoder.

It had been a few months, but we were running together again, although this time not as a team but individuals. We all had our own reasons for being there and running the race. I believe Keith and I had pretty similar motivations. One motivator Keith had that I didn’t is that he currently has the most miles accumulated at Capital. As long as he runs the race and puts in a solid performance, he will likely be able to hold on to that record. Neither of us really needed to run this race. We both were pretty safe on the Big’s at large list with a performance of 62 yards. So it was something else that drove us to run this race. I believe our common motivations were first, just to run with our teammates again, and second, to assist them in earning a spot at Big’s this year. You can only go as far as your assist takes you in the backyard and to secure a spot on the at large list to Big’s this year will likely take a performance of over 60 yards which is no short order. Justin and Levi were both seeking performances to break onto the at large list as their best performances thus far for the qualifying period fell short. Kevin and Jennifer were both already on the at large list with performances of 57 and 60 yards respectively. While that puts them both on the at large list, it doesn’t leave a lot of breathing room and leaves the opportunity for a few big backyard performances to knock them off the list. I believe both of them were seeking to at least better their standing on the list.
 
beast coast trail running scott snell
My aid area for the duration of the race. 

I arrived at the race uncrewed (again) and spent the first day getting into a routine. I got my aid area set up and tweaked a few things throughout the day to make it flow a bit easier. Being uncrewed at Capital is pretty manageable for the first 24-48 hours if you’re a self sufficient runner. After that, things can start to get a little hectic or your brain just can’t function as smoothly due to the sleep deprivation and exhaustion. So, thankfully, I had a plan this year. A runner I had met at previous races and that volunteered at my last 24 hour race was running Capital. This runner is 72 year young Marty Fox. I chatted with him before the race and he agreed to crew for me when his race was finished and he had a chance to rest. The timing would be nearly perfect for him to be ready and rested to help me when I would start needing help.

Night 1: The first night was smooth and uneventful, just as you want it to be for a multiday backyard. I didn’t feel too tired that first night and didn’t use much caffeine either. The pace continued to feel easy to come in with 9-10 minutes between yards. I laid down a few times the first night to rest my eyes, but I don’t think I got any real sleep. The biggest challenge for me that first night was the temperature. It felt pretty chilly to me overnight and between each yard I was bundling up in my sleeping bag which made the start of every yard feel even colder.
 
beast coast trail running scott snell

Day 2: The sun rose again and the day warmed, rejuvenating me and most of the other runners as we finished our night laps on the paved path and returned to the trail for another set of 14 day yards. I don’t think we had lost many runners at this point. I know we lost my soon to be crew rock star, Marty, as he set a new PR for himself with 20 yards!

With the lack of sleep and just being physically worn down from running over 100 miles, day two just begins to feel like a grind. But all you can do is bear it and soldier on, hoping you ran that first 100 miles smart enough to allow you to run the second 100 miles relatively comfortably. That’s the name of the game in the backyard, minimizing damage. There will be cumulative damage, for everyone. It’s the ones who handle it well and minimize it as much as possible that will be able to continue to compete for the ultimate prize.
 
beast coast trail running scott snell squat party capital backyard ultra
A few impromptu squat parties occurred throughout the race in the starting corral. 

The biggest disappointment for me on day 2 started between loops when I saw from my chair Kevin shake Keith’s hand and then turn to look at me and start heading in my direction. I already knew what was happening, Kevin was calling it quits. He shook my hand and confirmed my suspicions. His head wasn’t in it this time and he was walking away. Keith and I did our best to talk him into going back out. My line was “it can all turn around in one yard.” I feel like we almost had him convinced to go back out with us, but it seemed his drive was gone and there wasn’t any fight left for him in this race. Once it became pretty apparent to me that he was done, I gave him a hug and wished him the best as we prepped to head out for another yard. The backyard is rigid and makes no exceptions. Either you’re in or you’re out. And once you’re out the race plows on without you. Those continuing to run are left to speculate about what caused the other runners to end their days. I would think a lot about Kevin for the next few days, wishing that I had something better to say to reignite a fire for him to continue.

Night 2: We lost a second member of Team USA shortly after the switch back to the paved course. Justin disappeared from the field of runners suddenly. A lot of questions were asked, but no clear, definitive answers came back from anyone back at camp. Obviously something went wrong for him, and it apparently happened suddenly as he seemed in good shape and good spirits going into the switch of courses.

Having run through a second night at two backyards previously, the second night didn’t have me worried. I knew what to expect and had established tools and methods to address the issues that I knew I would face eventually. Drowsiness is usually the biggest issue for me during the second night; short naps, caffeine consumption, and comradery are pretty much the extent of the tools I use to battle that issue. I only had one pretty bad scare due to drowsiness. I was alone on the path taking a little walk break and resting my eyes when I felt a change in the surface under my feet. It had gone from paved to soft, cushiony grass. Obviously I wasn’t walking a straight line and I had veered off the path. I opened my eyes just in time to see I was about to walk into a drainage ditch where a metal culvert came out from under a driveway. It was a pretty good drop and pretty steep. Another step or two and I may have taken a fall into the ditch. I didn’t have much time to react when I realized what was about to happen so I made a little hop over the drainage ditch to the other side towards the road. I shook my head to try to expel the sleepiness then looked at the ditch and thought about how bad that could have been. I got back on the path feeling really proud of my fast athletic reaction to avoid a catastrophe and kept my eyes open for the rest of the lap. When I completed that yard, the first thing I did back at my aid station was down a half bottle of a Stacker 2 energy drink.

We got a bit of rain during the second night, but thankfully I invested in a running rain jacket prior to this race after my lack of preparation left me cold and shivering at the 24 hour Adventure Trail Challenge just a little over a month ago. As a side note, it was Marty, my crew volunteer, who saved me at that race. He was volunteering at the aid station and when he saw me come in soaked and shivering he grabbed his Patagonia Houdini rain jacket for me to wear. And here he was again at my next race, crewing for me and keeping me going through that second night after running his own PR. As a bonus, I also got two additional crew members through Marty. His son, Derek, was running the race crewed by his buddy Jaron. Once Derek called it a day for his race, they both jumped in to help Marty crew me. I felt like I had a full on pit crew attending to all my needs by the time I rolled into day three.
 
beast coast trail running scott snell
The Fab Four on Day 3! Team USA!

Day 3: After 200 miles, the field really started dwindling. At this point, I’d say the odds are pretty good that the only runners left are the ones who are all in to be the last one standing. When you’ve come this far, there’s no reason to quit unless there’s no one left to push you farther or something goes bad for you and you can’t continue. The third day the sleep deprivation really started messing with my head. I had managed a few short naps during the second night, but not like the solid 9-10 minute nap I got last year at Capital. The brain was super foggy which I tried to treat with caffeine, but there’s only so much that can do. I started experiencing a feeling of awake day dreaming that I’ve had on the third day of past backyards. The symptom that really tips me off to know it’s happening is when I’m chatting with other runners and all of a sudden I’m not sure if I actually said something or just thought I did. Or I’ll have an entire conversation in my head with someone running by me and then be uncertain if we actually had the conversation or I was just imagining it. It makes me question reality a bit when it’s happening, but I’m pretty certain it is mainly just a side effect due to lack of sleep.

As runners dropped off, one by one, the day and the race unrelentingly carried on without them. Eventually it was down to four of us, all former teammates from Team USA at Big’s last year: Jennifer Russo, Keith Van, Levi Yoder, and I. We weren’t a team for this race, but there’s no question that some of those team bonds remained. We chatted, we joked, we helped each other out, we even talked about goals for the race. That eventually led to us all agreeing that 72 was a good goal to shoot for together. I pushed a bit further and raised the question of what about when we hit 72 (I was confident I could at that point). Do we continue to work together or is it straight back to the backyard format, every runner for him/herself? It was agreed that in the spirit of the backyard format that we should continue on until only one is left. There would be no finish line or celebration for achieving the benchmark of 300 miles. It would just be one yard closer to a DNF for all but one runner.

The idea of hitting 300 miles was not a shock to me at all during our talk on that third day of running. I had posted a graph I made of my “great expectations” for this race. That graph included the benchmarks of 100 miles, 200 miles, course record (62 yards), personal record (63 yards), American record (86 yards), and World record (102 yards). Having done 258 miles at Big’s last year while still recovering from a chest cough and cold, I was sure I could do 300 on the easier course at Capital while healthy. So I set some big goals to shoot for, to keep me pushing for as long as other runners were willing to go with me. While those big goals were real for me, I wasn’t confident the opportunity to chase them would present itself at this race. You can only go as far as your assist will push you at a backyard. What I was confident of being pushed to was to run through a third night, something I had never achieved before and the mental hurdle that ultimately ended my race at Big’s last year. Last year at Capital a major goal for me was to run through a second night for the first time ever to prepare for having to do it at Big’s last October. This year, I was again using Capital to prepare for Big’s, but this time the test was making it through that third night.


Night 3: The third night began with three of us; Keith had timed out on his 58th yard towards the end of the day to finish with a total of 237.5 miles. After a couple night laps, Levi’s stomach would turn on him. He headed out on his 64th yard, but the lack of a stomach that can digest and process fuel would take its toll on this yard. He would turn back to finish his day with a PR of 63 yards or 262.5 miles, a performance that is pretty certain to earn him his spot at Big’s this October. I was a little ahead of Levi when he stopped running on his last yard. I was pretty focused on getting myself mentally prepared for another night of sleep deprivation and exhaustion. I was battling my own mental monsters as I had just exceeded my backyard PR and not particularly looking forward to another sleepless night of running. It would have been easy to check out with a new PR and a pretty much guaranteed spot at Big’s at that point in the race. With everything going on in my own head, I didn’t do much to push Levi on. I tried to give a little encouragement by telling him that his stomach could come back, he’s just gotta make it through this yard, but honestly I don’t think I could have done or said anything to save his race at that point. He had the desire and the fight to carry on; he just needed a functioning stomach, not a pep talk.

beast coast trail running scott snell, Levi Yoder,  and Jennifer Russo new female backyard world record holder at finish of capital Backyard 2023
Jennifer Russo, Levi Yoder, and Scott Snell -
The last three standing at Capital Backyard Ultra 2023
  
So Jennifer and I were the last two standing again, just like last year. Only this year we were both in better shape to push on through the third night. We had had pretty ideal running weather for the first three days with decent cloud cover and highs in the 70s. It was nothing like last year with brutal heat and full sun outside the woods. We both pretty much ran on our own all night. My pace was just slightly faster and I would come in just a few minutes before Jennifer on every yard like clockwork. I only attempted to pick up the pace for a little extra sleep time for one yard on that night. It worked and I felt like I got good sleep, but I also stiffened up a bit during those extra few minutes of rest, so much so that I decided it seemed risky to do that again. So I just continued to come in with my comfortable 8-9 minutes and fell asleep quickly getting 4-5 minute naps every lap. I was impressed with how well I was sleeping in those short bursts through the night.

Even with the “quality” sleep I was getting, the lack of sleep was obviously affecting my brain function. I didn’t have any full, vivid hallucinations, but shadows and objects in the dark definitely began to resemble other random things. The shadowy shrubs were most often some type of animal. I saw lots of dogs and horses, sometimes full bodies, other times it would just be a giant dog face in the flora. I swear, one shrub along the path took on the shape of an elephant man until I was within a few feet of it when I was finally able to distinguish that it was in fact a bush. They had recently mowed the edges of the path which left a lot of tall grass clippings scattered on the path. Those clippings had dried and yellowed after a few days in the sun and took on the appearance of golden hay. Hay is for horses, at least that’s what my discombobulated brain reasoned. So I kept seeing horse faces in those strewn, dried grass clippings along the path. The fire hydrants along the path were painted silver which kept reminding me of the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz. Before I knew it, every fire hydrant I approached appeared to be the Tin Man wearing a fire fighter’s helmet. The strangest visual miscue I had was just the bare paved path itself. On a few occasions as I just stared down at the path it seemed to take on a CGI rendered quality. It would smooth out and look slatey in a way, like it was a creation of some low quality computer animation using 3D rendered polygons. Thankfully, those didn’t last too long and things went back to the current normal pretty quickly.

Day 4: Jennifer and I ran our last night loop together as the sun came up. We didn’t plan it or talk about it. Our paces just happened to match up, maybe mine slowed a bit and her’s increased a bit, but we ran that yard pretty much side by side. I think we both knew at that point, having survived the night, that we were going to make it to 300 which was now only two day yards away. I believe that also meant that we both knew this was going to turn into a battle of wills as the day carried on past the 300 mile mark. At least that’s where my mind was headed.

We both completed yard 72 with little celebration. For a goal that we both worked so long and hard to achieve, the celebration was overshadowed, at least for me, by the knowledge of the battle that would ensue. It wouldn’t end with high fives and cheers of our victory. It would continue until one of us failed. A few fist bumps and a pat on the back from Jennifer as we headed out on yard 73 and the celebration was over. During that yard I began questioning how much longer this would go. I was growing tired both mentally and physically. I wasn’t struggling to complete the laps with 6-7 minutes to spare, but I could feel the wear of three days and three nights with little sleep or recovery time building on me. I began to wonder how Jennifer was faring, she wasn’t showing any signs of weakness at this point. In a way I had hoped she would hit 300 which was a big goal of her’s for a long time, and then her mind and body would just say, “We did it! Time to relax!” But that didn’t seem to be the case. It seemed like we would continue on through a fourth day at that point. That thought excited and scared me. It meant the American record would be well within reach. It also meant one more day until the race ended and I could go home to see my kids. I was starting to miss them and was tired of the struggle of the race. I quietly told Marty this between laps 73 and 74. It was the first time during the race I actually envisioned myself quitting. Thankfully, Marty said the right thing when I said I was ready to go home and see my kids. He asked if I was still with my wife and if she was with the kids. I said yes and he responded by saying just be thankful she’s still around and caring for the kids. We had a bit of an emotional moment, maybe just a few seconds, but it was enough to get me teary eyed. He was right. The kids are in good hands and I needed to just focus on one more yard.


As it turned out, it wouldn’t be much longer until I didn’t have to focus on the race anymore. Jennifer came in from lap 74 with only a few minutes to spare. She didn’t go into her aid tent as she had between every other loop. Her crew had placed her chair outside her tent right at the edge of the corral. My aid tent was right next to Jennifer’s so I could get an idea of how she was doing. This was the first time I had any indication that she was struggling. As it seemed she rushed to get some calories in and prep to head back out, my crew joked with me while I enjoyed some avocado toast with bacon. The song “Get Up, Stand Up” was playing and my crew joked about what an appropriate song it was for the situation. I found it pretty hilarious at the time and started cracking up. It was at that moment that I felt like the race had finally shifted in my direction and could be nearing the end. I made a comment to Marty just before getting up that I thought Jennifer might be starting a death spiral based on how close she cut the last lap and that she moved her set up outside her tent to the edge of the corral. He didn’t confirm if he agreed or not, but just said to focus on my yard.

During the 75th yard I went out ahead as I had been for the day laps and realized Jennifer’s pace had slowed a bit more on this yard. There is a short, maybe quarter mile out and back at about the halfway point of the trail course. After I completed the out and back I passed the trail that leads you to it and caught my first and only sight of Jennifer during that yard. She was climbing the small hill before you exit the woods to run the out and back. She looked like she was struggling, her shoulders a bit slumped. I didn’t see the fight in her that I was so accustomed to. For the last two miles of that yard, I eased off my pace a bit thinking that it could very well be my final yard. Of course I knew that Jennifer had the wherewithal to keep going indefinitely even with only a minute or two between yards (she did that for hours last year), so I didn’t get too comfortable or start celebrating. But something I saw in how she was climbing that hill made me think that her race was coming to an end.

When I got back from yard 75 my crew did exactly what they were supposed to, they got me ready to go out for number 76. There was no celebration or even talk of the race being over. The closest thing to it was when Marty told me he saw Jennifer’s time when she crossed the mid yard timing mat and that it was going to be close. He immediately followed it up with, “you get ready to run another, because she can still make it in!” We went through our normal interloopal process and waited. The 3 minute whistle blew and no sign of Jennifer. The crowd was looking for her to see if she exited the woods yet. I got no indication of whether she was within sight or not. I stayed in my chair. The 2 minute whistle blew. Still no indication of any sign of her. I took the complete lack of reaction from the crowd there that they had not spotted her. With less than two minutes, she should have been within sight of the finish if she was going to have a chance to make it. The 1 minute whistle blew. No reaction from the crowd, just a lot of peering at the landscape in the distance. I stood up and moved into the starting corral pretty sure I was less than a minute away from a win. The last minute seemed to move slowly, but the clock eventually ran out and Jennifer had timed out on yard 75.


Although the clock ran out on Jennifer’s 75th yard, she had still achieved something extremely impressive, a new female backyard world record. The previous record of 68 yards had been held by none other than Courtney Dauwalter since the 2020 Big’s Backyard. Rather than celebrate at the finish line, Race Director Sarah Smith and I walked back on the course to find Jennifer and congratulate her. She was about a half mile from the finish when we reached her. We hugged and I told her how impressive the run she had put together was and how much I love how much fight she has in her to never quit even when it gets ridiculously tough after 50, 60, or 70 some hours.

beast coast trail running scott snell and Jennifer Russo new female backyard world record holder embrace at finish of capital Backyard 2023

For me, I hit all of my goals and then some this year at Capital. The biggest being that I survived the third night which went relatively smoothly. I also learned a few new fuel options that worked well for me and some pain treatment methods thanks to my Crew Leader Marty. The icing on the cake, a consecutive overall win. That was a big goal to shoot for this year as I knew how deep the field was. I believed it was possible, if not it likely wouldn’t have happened, but I knew I’d have to have a REALLY good race for it to happen. Thankfully it happened and what a great confidence booster to build on leading to Big’s this year. With this performance, I know that as long as I stay healthy, I am capable of a much better day at Big’s this year than I had last year. And that is exciting because I’ll have the opportunity to run and compete with the best backyard runners in the world this October to see how I stack up against them on a common course. The thought of it scares me as I know the most likely outcome is a DNF, but even so, I know I have the potential to hang on into the final handful of runners and I believe there is at least a possibility that I could outlast the rest of the field there. I’ll never know what’s possible for me at Big’s unless I show up healthy and give it my all.

 
beast coast trail running scott snell capital backyard ultra jennifer russo
Jennifer Russo, Race Director Sarah Smith, and Scott Snell at the end of Capital Backyard Ultra 2023!

I would be completely remiss if I did not thank a whole slew of people who made my amazing experience at Capital so amazing.

Of course Sarah Smith, Race Director of Capital Backyard Ultra, must be thanked. The race was created by her, is organized by her, and is a very special event thanks to her attention to detail and personal touch on all aspects of the race. Also, a huge debt of gratitude is owed to the many race volunteers that sacrifice their time and energy to allow us runners to enjoy the race. An extra special and huge thank you to the chefs who provide what I can honestly say without the risk of exaggerating the best aid station food I have ever had at a race. Without an extensive crew of selfless volunteers these races just could not happen.

Additionally, I need to thank Jennifer Russo and the many other runners that ran Capital this year. Without their comradery and her assist, I would not have continued to run as long as I did. I personally really appreciated and liked how Sarah Smith described the finish in a Facebook post.


A more personal thank you goes to the crew that adopted me this year: Marty Fox, Derek Fox, and Jaron Holmes. Marty and Derek are a father and son duo that ran the race this year. Jaron is a buddy of Derek’s and was crewing for him for this race. I had met Marty a few times at previous races and was chatting with him during the race aid set up time on Friday afternoon. He was planning on sticking around after his race ended to volunteer and help out other runners. I asked if he’d be willing to crew for me after he had a chance to rest. I am so grateful he agreed. Marty ran a PR of 20 yards (83.33 miles). Derek ran 33 yards (137.5 miles) being crewed by Jaron. After their efforts and only getting a little rest, all three jumped in to crew me for the remainder of my race. And they were a rockstar crew! I like to think of myself as a pretty self sufficient and independent runner, and I did go the first day and night without a crew, but I never would have lasted as long as I did without their help. I definitely owe those guys for making this run a very special achievement.
 
beast coast trail running scott snell capital backyard ultra
Left to right: Marty Fox, Derek Fox, Scott Snell, and Jaron Holmes -
my rock star crew!

The most personal thank you goes to my wife, Amanda. Ultrarunning certainly seems like a pretty selfish hobby at times. My wife takes on a lot to allow me to get in training runs and then disappear for long weekends to run these races. She keeps the house from burning down while corralling our four boys whose ages range from 11 years to 2 months old. I honestly don’t know how she does it but she does and she still doesn’t seem to hate me when I get home. Without her support, what I now consider my biggest running achievement would not have happened. I love you! Thank you!

 
beast coast trail running scott snell

Scott Snell
8 June 2023