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Showing posts with label ultra. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ultra. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

2022 Capital Backyard Ultra - Why Not Me?


Scott Snell Beast Coast Trail Running Capital Backyard Ultra

Author's Note: Towards the end of this report, I incorrectly stated that if I had shared my water bottle with another runner it would have been against the rules of the backyard format. Laz brought it to my attention that it is NOT against the rules for a runner still in the race to provide aid to another runner still in the race. It is only OUTSIDE aid that is not permitted. 

I first applied for a spot to run at Big’s Backyard Ultra on 3 November 2018. I finally secured my spot at THE backyard race of backyard races after running 254.167 miles straight in just under 62 hours at my most recent race, Capital Backyard Ultra. It’s all still a bit surreal that I’ve finally achieved a goal I set for myself nearly four years ago. It was a long, challenging path that tested me, but that’s the purpose of goals: to motivate ourselves and to make us the best version of ourselves possible.

Let me rewind one second for anyone who is not familiar with a “backyard” format race. It is an elimination style race 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.

First set of clothes ready to go the night before the race. 

Capital Backyard Ultra was the fifth backyard format race I have run (Run Ragged - 2019, Last Idiot Standing - 2019, Keystone Backyard - 2021, Backyard Squatch - 2021). My goal for the first four was identical: to be the last person standing or to find my limit on that given day under those circumstances. My goal for Capital was slightly different. Capital was the most competitive backyard race I have run with the most stacked field of talented, experienced backyard runners. I still had hopes of being the last person standing there, but realistically I knew that this would be the toughest backyard competition I ever faced. I gave myself a B goal to stay motivated and mentally in the game during the race in case things started looking grim. That B goal was to go “far enough” to earn a spot at Big’s this fall as an at large entry.

Since COVID travel restrictions prevented international travel for a world competition at Big’s in 2020, the race was reorganized to follow a biannual cycle. On odd years, the world’s best backyard runners would meet in Bell Buckle, TN to determine an individual world champion. On even years, all countries choosing to participate would assemble a 15 person backyard team running concurrent satellite backyards in their home country. The same backyard rules apply, but teams earn points for every yard completed by a team member until the team only has one runner left. How a spot on the team is earned varies between countries. For the US team, six spots are awarded to the winners of six silver ticket races (Capital Backyard being one of them) while the remaining nine spots are filled as “at large” entries based on a runner’s best backyard performance during the selection period. Securing an “at large” entry based on yards leading up to Capital would have required somewhere around 50 yards, certainly no small feat considering my best backyard performance thus far had been 36 yards. And to think, that was just my “I guess this is good enough”, B goal. Go big or go home, right?

Capital Backyard Ultra is held at Meadowood Special Recreation Area in Lorton, VA, just outside of Washington DC. It is a younger event with 2022 being only its third year. The first two years it used only a single trail loop, but this year Race Director, Sarah Smith, was able to organize a paved night course so the race would follow the standard backyard format of a trail course for daylight hours and a paved course for nighttime hours. The day loop is a mix of crushed stone bridle path and dirt single track, all completely runnable if you are so inclined. If I were to rate it on a technicality scale with 1 being the lowest and 10 being the highest, I’d give it a 2. With a total elevation gain of 300-350 feet per loop, it is mostly pretty flat with easy hills. The steepest is about a quarter mile from the finish with a longer and steeper sustained climb of about 100 feet. The night course consisted of two separate out and backs on a paved bike path that had even gentler hills with a total elevation change of only about 75 feet. We would run the day loop from the 6 am through the 7 pm lap then switch to the night loop at 8 pm.

Feeling fine 25 miles in!

My training was based on building volume with very little attention to elevating intensity of runs. The vast bulk of my training miles to prepare were probably between 9-10 minute miles, an easy conversational pace for me. The goal of my preparation was a gradual and consistent build up of volume. I took my December mileage, what had been an easy running month not following any kind of training schedule, and calculated my average daily mileage. This average daily mileage figure would be my baseline mark to improve on over the next four months of training. The goal being to increase average daily mileage each month over the previous month from January until May. There were a few speed bumps and challenges along the way (documented in earlier blog posts), but overall the training plan went great and I hit my mileage goals every month. After a little taper period in May, it was time to find out if this plan I concocted had any value or if it was just another one of my hare-brained schemes.


I made the drive down the Friday before the race, leaving around noon to try to beat what I expected to be bad traffic around DC. It wasn’t early enough to completely avoid it, and what should have been a four hour drive became a five hour drive. It could have been for worse though with DC traffic being what it is. The drive time also included an unplanned stop at a Dollar General. As I was driving I panicked when I realized I hadn't packed a chair. I certainly didn’t want to go however many hours this race was going to last without having a chair, so I made the unscheduled stop as soon as possible. I got settled into the hotel I had reserved that was about 10 minutes from the race and prepped everything I could in advance to have a smooth morning. Once my initial running outfit was laid out and all of my running gear that I would need during the race was neatly repacked, I grabbed some dinner and tried to stay off my feet as much as possible. I usually don’t watch much tv at home, but when staying in a hotel by myself I tend to turn it on just so it isn’t too quiet. With my belly full and laying in bed waiting to feel drowsy enough to turn off the lights, I was watching a documentary on the Wright brothers and how they approached tackling the problem of flight. I had two major takeaways from this documentary that I would apply to my race.

The first being the idea that the Wright brothers didn’t approach flight as a singular large problem to be solved, but a multitude of smaller problems to be systematically addressed. It’s the same for a backyard race. The big picture and overarching goal to run one lap more than anyone else is made up of many smaller problems that must be managed: time management, pacing, nutrition, hydration, sleep management, gear management, sock changes, shoe changes, attitude, mental acuity, course navigation, temperature, headlamps, blisters, chafing, electrolytes, etc. Many little successes can lead to a big success, and likewise many little failures can lead to overall failure. The second takeaway was their mindset of attempting to master flight. As the documentary put it, it was simple. Their attitude was “why not us?” I heard it and I thought the same thing about my race tomorrow. Of the 57 runners in the starting corral that could be the last one standing, why not me? I would tweet that thought out at some point during the first morning of the race, not realizing how important it would be in about 30 hours or so.

The first 24 hours and hundred miles of my race went pretty much exactly as planned, uneventful. It felt like an easy pace that I could do forever for the whole first day and first night. There was lots of shade all day in the woods so temperature never became an issue. I never felt too sleepy overnight and felt refreshed and motivated when the sun came back up and it was time to switch back to the trail course. It was after four laps around the trail course that I hit my first stumbling block. It wasn’t anything major, just muscle soreness and some overall aches and pains from the wear and tear of running over 100 miles. I knew it would become painful at some point, but at this point I knew I still had a long way to go and expected that I had to keep moving for at least another full day before there was any chance of reaching my A goal. The thought of how bad the pain could get and how long it could last messed with my head a bit. I vocalized it in an attempt to get it out of my head and sent my wife a text that simply read “Love you. Hurting” at 9:58 am on Sunday morning.

Scott Snell Beast Coast Trail Running Capital Backyard Ultra
First shoe change for the first night loop. 

The day rolled on and we continued to accumulate miles, our group of runners seeming to maintain its numbers. With 32 of the 37 runners continuing on after hitting the 100 mile threshold, it was pretty safe to assume that the runners sticking this out had their eyes on the prize. But there could be only one to hit that mark. The slightly warmer weather the second day seemed to wear on other runners, but it didn’t bother me much. Every lap I cooled down under my pop up and refreshed my icy bandana like clockwork. This was the part of the race to be patient and persistent. I was well aware that this could and likely would go through a second night so there was no reason to do something careless and blow my race at this point. They say patience is a virtue. In backyard racing it is a necessity.

Trail runners are a different breed of runner. The most entertaining part of the second day had nothing to do with me or my race. Another runner who I believe was nearing the end of their race decided to drink a beer during one of the afternoon laps. She was definitely having some fun with it this lap. About a mile in, she came bombing down one of the hills yelling “Move b!tch! Get out the way, get out the way!” and passed everyone, guzzling her beer on the next flat stretch. It had me laughing and thinking how much more fun trail running is than road running. I’m not sure if the group reaction would have been so jovial had someone done the same thing to a group of runners at a crowded big city marathon.

As day two wore on into the afternoon, lack of sleep and overall fatigue started getting to me. There were still so many runners left and I didn’t know how I would handle a second night of running. I began to lose hope. Prior to the race, I had scheduled an hourly tweet to coincide with the start of the first 48 yards. I had every intention of going that far and beyond leading up to this race, yet here I was about 36 hours in and beginning to feel hopeless. I wanted to stop and just go home. I began to feel like a failure. Here I wasn’t even going to make it to 200 and would have to tweet some sorry excuse of an explanation why tweets were still going out as if I was still running. I began planning my exit from the race. I’d bring my phone out for the first night loop and call my wife. I was sure that after I told her how tired I was and that my walking felt wobbly and I was starting to dream every time I closed my eyes she would tell me to just come home and be with my family. But she didn’t. She told me to drink an iced coffee and to keep going. She also reminded me of my tweet, “why not me?” I didn’t have a good answer or even a decent excuse, so I continued on. This was my second phone call to her during a backyard when she convinced me to keep going when I had been ready to give up.

Scott Snell Beast Coast Trail Running Capital Backyard Ultra
Staying cool in the shade with an icy bandana.

It was at some point during the second night that I had my most stressful moment of the race. I was changing socks and as I went to put my transponder back on my ankle with the velcro wrap I realized it was only a velcro wrap and the transponder was missing. I panicked. Would I be disqualified? I started searching frantically around my cot and on the ground as the two minute whistle blew. Nothing. I went up to let Sarah know. Thankfully, there was a backup timing chip on my bib. Catastrophe avoided, I headed back out and before I finished that lap, another runner would find my transponder on the ground and get it back to me.

I was pushing through the second night with renewed determination. Our group seemed to steadily shrink in numbers during the night providing additional motivation as the wee hours of the morning passed. The sleep deprivation was getting bad for me though. I could not walk a straight line for the life of me and every time I closed my eyes I felt like I began dreaming. My solution: jog slowly and keep my eyes open. This worked, but I knew I needed sleep. My greatest fear of sneaking in a nap was that I would sleep through the warning whistles and the bell and my race would be over. I came in from a loop when I thought I had a few extra minutes and asked a race volunteer to wake me at the whistles if I didn’t wake up on my own. Laz, who had appeared at the race the first night, was within earshot and helped me get a second race volunteer as a back up to be certain I didn’t oversleep. I felt good about laying down, but as soon as I did, the three minute whistle blew. No nap this time. It was the 4 am lap coming up and I decided this was my best chance for a good nap. I pushed the pace for the first time of the race and finished my lap in 43:47. I lined up my volunteers and prepped everything to go back out. I laid down on my cot, put my towel over my eyes, and was out. I awoke to the three whistle warning and popped up waving to the volunteers to let them know I was good. I chugged a little iced espresso and went back to the starting corral to tell Laz how great the 10 minutes of sleep was.

The sun came up on that lap and I felt like I was having a fresh start. Nap, a new day, sunrise, morning espresso, approaching the 200 mile threshold, life was so good right now! The next interloopal period was the transfer back to trails. Laz approached me as I returned to my area to change my shoes. Since I didn’t have a crew, he was informing me of an update regarding spots for the American team. Based on his calculations at that point, he told me that we were only a few laps away from earning a spot on the at large list and that the top four finishers would make the cut. Well that was great news and motivation to keep going, which I believe is exactly why Laz was telling us this. With that information, I knew I just had to maintain and expected the heat of the third day (which was forecasted as the hottest day of the race so far) to narrow the field substantially.

Scott Snell Beast Coast Trail Running Capital Backyard Ultra
Backyard advice: if offered a prerace donut, say yes!

Seven of us completed the lap to mark 200 miles total. My first 200 miler! I was pumped for it, but that’s not why I was here. I had hoped that some of the runners were just holding on to hit the 200 mile mark and we would have only the final 2-3 runners go back out. No such luck; only one runner called it at 200. The remaining six of us continued on for all the glory and those four Team USA spots. Ryan Metivi would do four more laps and stop at 216.66 miles. Five runners remained and only one away from having an at large spot. Keith VanGraafiland would drop after only one more lap and stop with 220.83 miles. It was down to the final four and we all had, at least for the time being, an at large spot on the team.

This topic came up amongst Jason Bigonia, Keving McCabe, and I. It definitely felt like a mind game as we all confirmed with one another that we had all at least secured at large spots. My thinking was still “why stop now?” I’ve gone this far for this long to have an at large spot, but a guaranteed spot with the silver ticket for the win may be just a few laps away. “Why not me?”, I repeated to myself.

Day three continued on and the heat began to play a role. It was the first day that the heat started bothering me and making me uncomfortable. I envisioned myself passing out and busting my teeth out on rocks on the ground. Kinda scary, but I kept going, receiving an ice bath at the end of every lap and refilling my hat with ice for the next lap.

I had no true hallucinations, but my mind was seeing images of familiar objects formed from random objects along the trail, much like seeing animals in the clouds as they pass overhead. It's a common phenomenon even for people who aren't sleep deprived. There's even a word for it: pareidolia. Yes, I was curious enough to look that up. At the time, it made me feel like I had been transported into a 3D world of one of the old Highlights magazine hidden object search and find pages. It wasn't disturbing and I chalked it up to an effect from my sleep deprivation.

A view along the night course, just before dark. 

I hit one more rough patch during the third day. It wasn’t mentally. I felt great mentally. This was life now. Constantly moving and preparing to move. One yard at a time and nothing else mattered. It happened in the last mile or so of a lap where my legs just felt physically shot, probably somewhere around the 55 hour mark. I trudged in willing them to move sluggishly to finish that lap, thinking to myself that it might be the next lap that I time out. As I started the next lap, I wasn’t sure if my legs would carry me back in time. I feared it would be my last lap regardless, so I figured I might as well bomb the downhills and not worry about blowing my legs up at this point. It seemed they were already blown. I’d do whatever it took to get one more lap in within the hour, even if it meant destroying my legs and ending my race. That’s when something strange happened. After bombing some downhills on my shot legs, miraculously, they were reanimated and moving fine again. I was shocked! I guess they just needed a bit of a wake up call? With my legs revived, I was confident I could make it to the night loop again.

However, before the night loops began, the final drama of the event would begin to unfold. It began lap 58. Jennifer Russo had only had three interloopal periods greater than five minutes since crossing 200 miles. Her last two loops (56 and 57) had only allowed her about four minutes and and three minutes respectively. It was definitely a little too close for my comfort level. Jason went out fast for lap 58 then slowed to a casual walk after about a quarter mile. It happened so suddenly, I slowed down to ask if he was alright. He assured me he was fine, so I continued on. Kevin, who had looked so strong and determined the entire third day, went out slower than normal this lap. I didn’t see him again until the out and back where he was looking like he was hurting terribly and asked me for electrolytes. I didn’t have anything to give him. I just had my bottle of Long Haul and a SIS gel pack that I was about to eat. I apologized and continued on. Then I saw Jennifer back even a bit farther than she normally had been. I asked her about Jason and she told me he turned back. Suddenly, it felt like this race had gone from never ending to almost over. I thought to myself, “Jason turned around, Kevin doesn’t look like he can run, and Jennifer might time out this lap.” I didn’t want to get my hopes up, but the thought crossed my mind that this could potentially be my last lap and I could be back to the hotel by dark and order a pizza! I wanted that so bad. I tried not to get overly excited and remain patient. I finished my lap and prepared for my next one as I had for the last 57 hours.

The start of lap 59. Jason had walked back on 58 and Kevin had timed out. Suddenly it was just Jennifer and I. She had come in with only 2:39 to spare and had to hustle to get back out. It was looking grim for her, but backyards are unpredictable and people have come back from what looked like a hopeless downward spiral. I focused on what I had to do and took it one yard at a time. Jennifer came in with 1:41 to spare that lap. During the hectic rush of prepping her to go back out for yard 60 and hustling her into the starting corral, somehow she went to the corral without her water bottle. As a crew member got her attention and Jennifer reached for it, the bell rang. The time for aid had ended and she was forced to go out for lap 60 without any hydration. At this point, I thought the race was over and was seriously concerned for her safety. I had been drinking about 20 ounces of fluid every lap in addition to what I drank between laps. Feeling truly concerned, I tried to make sure she was going to be ok for this lap. I wanted to offer my water bottle, but that would be considered aid and against the rules. She assured me she would be fine and very confidently and without hesitation told me she was NOT going to time out on this lap. I trusted her word was good and went on to run my lap. Good to her word, Jennifer came in with 1:35 to spare. We were going out for night loops.

I went out for lap 61 uncertain how long this was going to go on. I tried to get my legs to adjust to the paved surface after running trail all day as that had been a challenge the first two nights. It felt wonky, but I was confident that I could make it through another night if I had to. I saw Jennifer going out to the first turnaround and she was only a few minutes behind me. At this point, I believed we would be running until after sundown. I hit the second turnaround and started the home stretch back to the start/finish area. Jennifer wasn’t in sight. I was checking my watch and doing some complicated, sleep deprived trail math. How much farther did she have to go and how fast would she have to run it? It was going to be close, again. We finally crossed paths about 0.25 miles from the turnaround. Given the time remaining, it was possible for her to make it back. She stopped briefly to ask me if the turnaround was just ahead as she said it didn’t seem familiar to her this time. She seemed out of it, but seemed to be moving ok. She seemed worried about making it back in time. It felt like we talked longer than we should have. I looked at my watch and wanted to keep moving so I would have enough time to eat a chicken quesadilla after this lap. We parted ways and I made my way back pushing my pace a bit to maintain a cushion. I finished that lap with just 3:30 to spare. I knew she had about a half mile to cover in that amount of time. Definitely possible, but with 250 miles on your legs a 7 min/mile pace becomes far more difficult to achieve, even for just a half mile. I waited nervously until the final few seconds ticked off the clock and Jennifer officially timed out.

Scott Snell Beast Coast Trail Running Capital Backyard Ultra
If you ever meet a legend, be sure to get a pic!

With the race over and as the official last person standing for the Capital Backyard Ultra, Laz congratulated me as did race volunteers and other runners that had dropped earlier and hung out to see the finish. It was all a bit overwhelming at the time chatting about backyards with Laz and it still feels a bit surreal. I was exhausted, but so pumped. This had been the most competitive backyard race I had ever competed in and I won it which meant I had secured a spot on Team USA for the International satellite team competition!

A local runner who had returned after cleaning up and resting, helped me out immensely during the third day when the heat was at its worst and my mind wasn’t functioning at 100%. A huge thank you for that Dagmar! And she didn’t stop there and leave me to sleep on the ground in the field as I had planned. She invited me to use her and her husband’s guest room at their house so I could get a shower and sleep in a bed. It was amazing and I felt like a new person. Thank you so much for your hospitality and generosity, Dagmar and Alex!

As I was getting my things packed up to head out, I realized I needed to get a picture with Laz. How could I come to a race where Laz was attending and posting updates, win it, and not get a pic with Laz? When I approached him for a picture, he was in the process of writing another race update. We chatted some more and I told him how great his updates are and how much fun they make the races to follow online. I know I’m not getting this exact, but he very humbly said something along the lines of how he doesn’t write great stories. You just bring great athletes together to compete and great stories happen. Then he just tells it as it happens. I would disagree, I believe he is a gifted writer with a great and distinctive writing voice.

Scott Snell Beast Coast Trail Running Capital Backyard Ultra
Chatting with Laz at the finish of the race.

When I finally got home, one of the first things I wanted to do was read the race updates from Laz. It turns out that my wife became a fan of them as well over the course of the race. She was sharing them with friends and causing emotions to rise and tears to flow. After reading one of them, my mom called her saying how she would have flown out to bring me water if she had known I needed help. The one in particular that got people was this one:

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

now we are into the 59th yard,

and the strongest field in the US so far in 2022

has come down to 56 year old jennifer russo

and scott snell

(who we have been calling "the crewless guy")

.

scott has had none of the luxuries enjoyed by those he left in the dust.

no personal tent.

no chair,

just a pad on the ground

no crew to tend to his needs and fetch supplies.

just scott...

.

to take care of his dam self.

.

quietly he has survived it all

as all around him the pampered runners fell.

.

and now there are two.

not the likeliest two

only the most resilient two.

.

this is the backyard.

where the race can turn on a dime

no one is out of contention until they give up.

anything can happen...

.

and anyone can win.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Scott Snell Beast Coast Trail Running Capital Backyard Ultra

Thank you Laz for the opportunity to perform in the Backyard. This race format is special,  like no other competition.







Scott Snell                 
8 June 2022




Sunday, April 24, 2022

Capital Backyard Training - One Month Out



Capital Backyard Ultra, which I fully intend to be my longest distance run ever, is only about a month away. This means that the beginning of my taper period is less than a month away and that the longest training plan I have ever used is coming to an end. This training block has been the most gradual, consistent, and intentional training I have ever submitted myself to following. Probably even more so than the plans I used for my first marathon and hundred mile distance races, which were basically the only times I used and followed a training plan. Even in those situations, I didn’t follow the plan verbatim; I used them more as an outline to follow. My plan to prepare for Capital Backyard has been similar. I don’t have specific daily mileage runs at certain effort levels. The whole purpose of the plan I came up with and decided to follow was to build an increased base for sustained endurance gradually without injuring myself.

How did I go about that? It was a pretty simple idea and plan altogether. I took my December running mileage and calculated my average daily mileage for the month (5.94 miles/day). Now, the plan was to just run a higher average daily mileage in January and continue to increase that daily average for February, March, and April. There are no rest days built in, no built in cross training days, no scheduled long runs or speed workouts. None of that typical training plan stuff that a coach would probably include. It has been more or less all based on feel and how my body is reacting and when it is ready to be pushed, using that average daily mileage figure as the target. November and December were supposed to be my “off season” or recovery months after last year’s racing, but we had a pretty mild winter and I really didn’t cut back on running as much as I had intended, so my starting base mileage for this training plan was greater than I originally thought it would be. I thought this might spell trouble for me when trying to incrementally build my mileage each month, but I’ve been able to hit all of my monthly mileage goals thus far without a great deal of difficulty.

Training mileage so far...

That’s not to say there haven’t been a few speed bumps and challenges along the way. Life happens and schedules become disrupted, but I believe if you’re committed to a goal you’ll adapt and find a way to make it happen. My family went through a one and a half week bout with a stomach flu in January. Snowstorms made it difficult to get out for runs on multiple occasions. Most recently, a case of colds and sinus congestion made their rounds through our household which we still have a few lingering symptoms from and are in what I hope are the final stages of recovery. Through all the challenges, the goal never felt out of reach.

Now that the training is nearly complete, the question remains as to whether it was ever a good plan at all. The backyard racing format is still in its infancy. There is a wealth of data to support the science of good and bad training for most race distances. This is not the case for the unique structure, demands, and strategy of the backyard race format. Whether this plan I followed was good or bad will not be determined until the end of Memorial Day weekend when my race at Capital Backyard Ultra is concluded. I am confident and excited for the race. I have high hopes for my day there. I am excited to run through two consecutive nights. I intend to PR my greatest distance ever run and finally surpass that 200 mile distance milestone then continue to see how much farther I can go before breaking. The ultimate goal is to be the last person standing; that is the point of the race. The “B” goal for me is to push until I break, to never quit, but time out on a lap due to sheer exhaustion and inability to continue the required pace. If I achieve either of those goals, I believe it will provide some validation to my training plan.




Scott Snell
24 April 2022

Monday, April 4, 2022

Capital Backyard Training - Month Three - March





March has come and gone, but training doesn't stop! I hit 244.65 miles in March for a daily average of 7.89 miles. I am right on track for my four month training plan to build up my mileage to prepare for what I hope to be a distance PR (over 150 miles) for me at Capitol Backyard Ultra. My training in March went super smooth. I was a little under my target daily mileage average for the first three weeks, but I knew I had a 42 mile run to celebrate my birthday on my schedule for the third weekend of the month. I was sure that long run would pull my average above my target and it certainly did as I comfortably increased in daily mileage from February to March by 5.64%.



Now I just have to do it again in April then sneak in a long run in early May and it will be time to roll into a taper. I was uncertain about attempting this type of mileage build up as a training plan in January, but with only a month and a half of training time left, everything is going splendidly and I am confident I’ll hit the mileage goal (a higher average daily mileage than March) I have set for April! With hard work and dedication, goals can be reached. Look out Capital Backyard; I’m going to be ready!




Scott Snell
April 4, 2022










Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Capital Backyard Training - Month Two - February





I am already approaching the midway point of my training for Capital Backyard. February’s training went much more smoothly with less speed bumps and worries than January’s training. My only concern during February was that I was overtraining and that I could peak or burn out too soon. Hopefully that doesn’t happen, but so far so good. My training plan to match or exceed my monthly daily mileage average from the previous month until May is working well. I have exceeded my target marks for January (6.19 miles/day) and February (7.47 miles/day). Now I only have two full months of mileage build up left before rolling into a taper period in May.
 

My primary motivation to keep this train on the tracks and continue this training regime is to earn a place on the US International Backyard Team and run at Big’s Backyard this October. With this goal in mind, I will continue to put in the effort and hopefully have the best performance possible come May!



Scott Snell
March 2, 2022




Thursday, February 10, 2022

2022 St. Jude Heroes Fundraising Campaign


Well, at this point I’m well into my training for my first race of the year and only a little over a month out from my birthday run I will use to kick off my St. Jude Heroes fundraising campaign. This year, like last year, I am attempting to fundraise for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital® again through the St. Jude Heroes program. My plan is to basically do what I did last year and hope for better results. Like last year, I’ll kick it off again with a celebratory birthday run where I run my age in miles (42). I’ll follow that up by asking for per mile pledge donations for the races I run this year. If you would like to support my fundraising efforts, you can help in many ways even if you aren’t able to make a financial contribution. Just share this blog post through your social media platforms to help spread the word and hopefully find additional donors. If you are able and choose to, donations can be made at my St. Jude Heroes fundraising page. Want to pledge a per mile donation based on how far I run at the Capitol Backyard Ultra? Fill out this Google form and donate when the results are posted. Want to learn more about this fundraising effort? Check out this blog post to learn more about this and my past fundraising attempts.

Thank you for any and all support!

Scott Snell
February 10, 2022



Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Capital Backyard Training - Month One - January




Best Coast Trail Running Scott Snell


I am officially in training mode for Capital Backyard and am right on track where I want to be with 192 miles for January after today's run! My training plan is to use December's mileage as my baseline and match or exceed my monthly mileage from the previous month until May. I hit that target for January even with record breaking snowfall and a week long bout of the stomach flu in our household. I wasn't sure if it was going to happen with those extra challenges, but I managed to keep this train on the tracks. Three more months of training with tentative monthly mileage goals then it will be time to run some yards before I know it. I am psyched! My only worry is that I may have started out too hard. I question whether I can keep the momentum and energy going for the next 3.5 months. I fear I may burn out in March or April. Earning a place on the US International Backyard Team to run at Big’s Backyard this October is a big goal which requires a big effort. No other way to do it other than to put in the work and grind!

The plan.




Scott Snell
January 31, 2022














Thursday, January 20, 2022

2022 Goals… Errrr...I mean goal. As in Singular.



What are my goals for 2022? I should rephrase that. What is my goal for 2022? Earn a place on the 15 person USA Big Dog’s Backyard Ultra Satellite Team. That’s pretty much it. Pass or fail. All or nothing. A singular goal.

Of course there are building blocks to reach that goal. I’ll run plenty of training workouts, incorporate cross training, and have distance goals for long runs. But I’m not looking at those as goals in themselves. For me, at least this year, those are just stepping stones or progress markers towards achieving the goal.


How does one earn a place on the USA Big Dog’s Backyard Ultra Satellite Team this year? Well, there's a couple ways to get a spot. One is to win a silver ticket backyard race (currently six of them). The other way is through the “at large entry” route, which basically means run one of the top 9 backyard performances (outside of the winners of the silver tickets) in the US and apply for entry. As of now, a top 9 performance is right around 40 yards or 166 miles. I'm registered for Capital Backyard (a silver ticket race), so the plan is to win there or at least do well enough to have a solid shot at the “at large entry” route. We'll see what the day brings… If I fail to secure a spot there or think that my “at large entry” route chances aren’t good based on whatever distance I run, I’ll look into other backyard races to better my chances of getting in via the “at large entry” route.
                                    
Although I only have a single running goal for the year, that doesn’t mean I don’t have other goals I hope to achieve this year. One of which I will mention here since I am incorporating it into my running habit. This year, like last year, I am attempting to fundraise for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital® again through the St. Jude Heroes program. I will basically do what I did last year and hope for better results. I’ll kick it off again with a celebratory birthday run where I run my age in miles (42). I’ll follow that up by asking for per mile pledge donations for the races I run this year. If you would like to support my fundraising efforts, donations can be made at my St. Jude Heroes fundraising page. Want to pledge a per mile donation based on how far I run at the Capitol Backyard Ultra? Fill out this Google form and donate when the results are posted. You can learn more about my past fundraising attempts in this blog post.

Thank you for any and all support!



Scott Snell
January 20, 2022






Wednesday, January 5, 2022

2021 Goals Check




It’s January and the deadline to achieve my 2021 running goals has come and gone. Here’s what I accomplished and the targets I missed.

At my last goal status check, I had already checked two boxes on my running goals list for this year and they were the two targets that I most wanted to complete successfully. Those two goals were (1) to test myself and see what I am capable of at a 24 hour timed event (Adventure Trail Run) and (2) to PR my greatest distance run. Since then, I further improved my distance PR from 129 miles at the inaugural Keystone Backyard Ultra to 150 miles at the inaugural Backyard Squatch at the end of August.

I never attempted the 12 minute aerobic fitness test. After looking at some of my run data, I could see just based on faster paced training runs I was going to fall into the fittest category of the fitness test. It seemed pointless to me to do the 12 minute test of running as hard as I could to prove it. So I chucked that goal away as a poorly planned goal to begin with. I may attempt it this year earlier in the year so I can compare multiple test results throughout the year. The interest is no longer in seeing what fitness category I fall in, but whether I remain consistent during the year.

My long term project and goal to run every single street of Egg Harbor Township still hasn’t increased in appeal to me since my last status check for all of the same reasons: I would rather do my long runs on trails and I don’t want to go out of my way to run on busy roads with high speed traffic. For those reasons, that entire project has more or less been put on the shelf.

The final goal (FKT attempt) was more dependent on what race opportunities present themselves and I jumped at the chance to run Backyard Squatch rather than an FKT. I am getting some more solid ideas that have me excited and looking into planning a longer distance FKT attempt sometime in 2023. Why the delay? Because my primary running goal for 2022 is already decided: Big’s or Bust!


Scott Snell
January 5, 2022





Monday, November 29, 2021

Get Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable

When I got comfortable with an uncomfortable heat index of 109.7°F at Wildcat Ridge Romp.

“Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.” It’s a phrase or mantra you hear or read sprinkled throughout the ultrarunning world. It’s a concept that I’ve embraced and I feel like it has served me well in my ultrarunning experiences. In fact, sometimes I feel that I am more comfortable with being uncomfortable than I am with indulging in extravagant comforts. But what does it really mean and how does one become comfortable with experiencing discomfort? Is it a trick you play on yourself? Do you just learn to lie to yourself really well and believably? Or is it just straight up denial?

When I got comfortable with being uncomfortable at Eastern States 2017.

To me, it is more than just a matter of denying the facts. In the phrase itself we’re acknowledging a feeling of discomfort (“Get comfortable with being uncomfortable”). We’re accepting the discomfort as fact and simply altering our reaction to that feeling. Rather than having a knee jerk, panicky reaction to the discomfort with the question of “How do I stop this discomfort?” we’ve trained our minds to recognize and accept the discomfort and react in a much more metered and controlled manner.

For me it’s usually a process of analyzing the situation and going through a checklist of questions:


1. How bad is this and is it going to worsen?

This is the “don’t fix what’s not broken” stage. If it’s not that bad, just don’t worry about it. Eventually it will probably resolve itself or you’ll just grow accustomed to the minor discomfort. View this as an opportunity to set your baseline threshold for discomfort. If you run long enough, there is going to be some level of discomfort at some point. When that discomfort begins to appear, greet it with open arms. Be grateful it is no longer hiding in the shadows. Use this baseline discomfort as a measurement tool to determine if it’s increasing or just persisting.


2. Is there anything I can do to resolve it right now?

Fix it if you can. The example of debris in your shoe is the classic example of this. Stop and get the crap out of your shoe before it creates a larger problem like a blister. If you can’t fix it now, can you fix it at the next aid station? Is it chafing that some vaseline will resolve? Aid station volunteers are some of the most helpful groups of people I have ever met. I believe they genuinely want to see all runners succeed and they will do whatever they can to assist with that. Just ask for help.


3. How serious is this and am I going to further injure myself if I continue?

This is the million dollar question. Sometimes distinguishing between superficial and serious injuries can be difficult, especially when your mind and body are both exhausted. Phantom injuries can quickly not only justify accepting a DNF, but convince you that it is the smart thing to do. Do your best to assess the pain/injury as objectively as possible. Try to get a third party opinion from someone who wants to see you keep going (like an aid station or medical volunteer) and not from someone who it will hurt to see you suffer (like a spouse, assuming your spouse is not a masochist).

It’s the reaction to the discomfort that is really important and to me that is what the phrase is all about: YOUR reaction. Of course I am not suggesting that you hobble the last 20 miles or so of an ultra on a broken leg or continue on after suffering a bad fall and showing signs of a concussion. Injury is a valid and respectable reason to DNF. I am not a big fan of another common phrase (“Death Before DNF”) that makes its way around the ultrarunning world. I mean, I like the idea of refusing to quit, but I don’t take it that far. I’m pretty sure people say it because they think it sounds kinda badass, but when you evaluate it a bit more honestly I would hope you realize rather quickly that you are more valuable to someone alive than dead at an ultramarathon. I know that’s the case for me.

So I encourage you to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, but only to a certain degree. You don’t want to cause further injury or do irreparable harm to yourself just to finish a race. Sometimes it feels like a fine line to walk, but I guess that’s part of the fun of ultras. There’s so much uncertainty and so many “what if”s. And that’s part of the reason why I am so drawn to them. They’re challenging and complex in so many regards for achieving the simple purpose of getting from point A to point B as quickly as possible.

Beast coast trail chafing
When I got comfortable with being uncomfortable at Eastern States 2019.




Scott Snell
November 29, 2021

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Night Trail Runs Are Good for the Soul

 


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

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

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


Scott Snell
November 20, 2021

Friday, October 22, 2021

Why I Run Backyard Ultras and Why I'm Dead Set on Running Big's Backyard


Scott Snell Beast coast trail running backyard ultra finish

My three key reasons why the backyard race format attracts me:
  • The pressure and excitement of having a hard cut off time constantly looming.
  • The opportunity and motivation to push yourself beyond what you thought your limits were.
  • Reaching a deeper state of being.
This past weekend I followed along online via tweets and facebook status updates as runners ran a 4.1667 mile loop every hour on the hour beginning at 7 AM Saturday and into the following week at the original backyard ultra, Big’s Backyard. The backyard race format is simply a matter of elimination where the winner is the last runner remaining after all other runners have been eliminated as a process of attrition. Every runner must complete the loop within the hour and start another loop at the beginning of the next hour. Any runner that fails to do either is eliminated. This continues indefinitely until one runner is the last one standing and the winner. After 70+ hours of running, three runners remained in the race (eventually Harvey Lewis would win it with 85 laps or 354.2 miles). It was then that the thought occurred to me, “many people would consider this to be torture.” I have a differing opinion. Watching these athletes push themselves to and beyond the point of exhaustion and knowing that they volunteered themselves for that experience out of their own free will only filled me with inspiration and awe. It also gave me a whole lot of FOMO and stoked my fire to earn my spot at Big’s in 2022.

I certainly have not made a secret of my intentions to run at Big’s. However, I don’t think I have ever explained in depth why I set this as my “A” goal above all other racing or FKT goals. Before explaining why running at Big’s became my highest priority goal, I feel the need to explain how I became interested in this race format to begin with. It began with an interest in Laz as a person and as a race director. Running the Barkley Marathon never really piqued my interest. The race and format interests me, I just have never had any intent at the time of learning about it or since to run it myself. His backyard format race though immediately made me wonder how long I would last and how far I could go. Then seeing records broken and competitors dig and push the boundaries of what I thought was possible I became increasingly intrigued with the format and wanted to test myself at it.

To my benefit, and likely in large part due to Courtney Dauwalter’s amazing performance at the 2018 Big’s, the backyard format started gaining more attention and received much wider coverage. This led to numerous backyard format races popping up throughout the US and eventually worldwide. In 2019, a backyard format race, Run Ragged, that was pretty local to me was announced. I registered for it and a question on the registration form was “How many laps do you plan to run?” I answered as honestly as I could at the time with my knowledge of backyards and my goal for the race, “One lap more than the second to last person standing.” Yes, maybe it was cocky, but I was going there with the intention of winning.

After doing just that and assessing my experience at Run Ragged, I didn’t know if I even liked the format or if I would ever do another. What the format introduced me to that I had not experienced previously was the feeling of chasing cut offs. I’m not trying to brag as I am by no means an amazingly fast runner, I would consider myself a middle of the pack runner at best, but I had never feared missing a cut off at any standard set distance races I had run. I had never felt stressed to make it to an aid station with the clock counting down to a cut off time. My first experience with that was at Run Ragged as that is essentially what a backyard format is, a 4.1667 mile loop with a one hour cut off. You are always within one hour of missing a cut off no matter your average pace. This was a form of stress new to me while racing and a completely novel experience. At first, I didn’t think I liked it, but over time and with more experiences, I have come to enjoy the excitement this sort of pressure to perform brings to racing.

As an additional beneficial effect of the relentless and never-ending pressure of looming cut offs, the backyard race format also provides an opportunity and motivation to push yourself beyond what you thought your limits were. Everyone has their own reasons for running in general and anyone who gets into ultrarunning usually has additional reasons for pursuing that niche of the running world. A major reason why I was attracted to ultrarunning was to find my limit and to see what my mind and body are capable of when pushed beyond what I accepted their limits to be. After several years of running set distance ultras, I felt like I was still pushing myself, but not to the point where I was questioning if finishing was possible. After the first couple 100 milers, I no longer questioned if I would finish. It simply became a matter of when. That reason alone drew my attention to backyards. Since there can be only one finisher, everyone else will find their limit on that given day. That’s what attracted me to ultras to begin with, to find my limit. The backyard format could finally deliver that to me so it was only natural that I would gravitate towards them. After running several backyards (Run Ragged, Last Idiot Standing, Keystone Backyard Ultra, and Backyard Squatch Ultra) and being the last runner standing without having found my limit, I concluded I needed to go bigger and enter bigger backyard races with deeper fields. What backyard could be bigger than the originator of the backyard format, Big’s Backyard? My mind was made up, I would run at Big’s. No more being a big fish in a little pond, I wanted to run with the big dogs at Big’s.


The other major attraction of the backyard format for me (at the risk of sounding all new age and hokey) is that it encourages the runner to seek out and embrace a transcendental state of running. It allows the physical act of running to act as a key to access a spiritual or nonphysical realm. I’ve said many times that endurance running is only a physical feat to a certain point, then it becomes a mental challenge. This statement is even more true of a race without a set finish line. The idea in itself seems a bit supernatural to begin with: to run continuously for an indefinite distance or time. Most rational people (runners or not) would likely have an issue with this concept. I embrace it for the fact that I am so in love with those short episodes of time while running where I lose track of time, pace, and miles; I feel like I’m floating effortlessly and not even thinking about running or effort. They start and end unexpectedly. I don’t think they can be consciously induced; they seem to just happen for me. I don’t even notice that I’m having one of those episodes during it; it always occurs to me after it’s over and I look at my watch wondering where the time went and how I covered so many miles unknowingly. I think Harvey Lewis was describing this state immediately after winning Big’s this year when he said at times he was running pain free and felt like he could run forever. I believe he called it reaching “running nirvana”. What better way to attempt to achieve a state of “running nirvana” than to run beyond the limits of what your logical and rational mind has accepted as possible?

So far, this post has covered my key reasons for being attracted to the backyard race format. I haven’t specifically state why I made Big’s Backyard my goal race to reach. I hinted at it with the topic of running more competitive backyards with deeper fields, but there are other backyard races out there that have resulted in some pretty impressive distances run, much farther than I have ever gone or thought possible. Why did I pick Big’s over others? An additional motivating factor for me is to earn a spot as a member of the USA National Backyard Team, representing the USA running with some of the best backyard runners in the world: Courtney Dauwalter, Maggie Guterl, Harvey Lewis, and Michael Wardian among others. The only opportunity to achieve this is at Big’s. I think most kids dream about achieving the pinnacle of success in some sport, whether it be winning the super bowl or an Olympic gold medal. I had these dreams as a kid too, but none of them panned out. Now I have an opportunity to reach what I would say is or at least near the pinnacle of backyard ultrarunning, to earn a spot on the USA National Team. I believe I am capable of achieving that so in my view I’m doing a disservice to myself to not pursue it.

Scott Snell
October 22, 2021








Saturday, September 25, 2021

Ramblings On Backyard Ultras and the Undefeatable Human Spirit





I usually plan out my blog posts. I usually don’t put together a formal outline, but I at least have an idea of one in my head and will put at least a few notes or bullet points down on paper prior to beginning to write just to make sure I don’t forget to include any of the major points I intended to cover. This is not one of those posts. Tonight was the first night of running that it finally felt like the temperature dropped after the sunset. I think it was cooler than it has been since early spring this year. It’s strange when it takes a cool run after dark to realize how quickly the seasons are shifting from one to the next. Time doesn’t wait. Night to day, season to season, and year after year. It’s relentless. During this run while thinking about time relentlessly pressing on, I decided I would write this free form, unplanned blog post just to see where it led and what end result would be produced.

The main thing I thought I would write about was how I currently have no races on my schedule and I’m pretty much ok with it. I’m at the point after my last race (almost a month) that I would usually start experiencing some of the post race blues without having the next goal to conquer on my calendar. I’m not really feeling that as much this time or the need to sign up for anything. I’m guessing the reason why is because although I’m not registered for any races as of now, I know I have a race on my agenda next May, the Capital Backyard Ultra (CBU). I earned a guaranteed spot at CBU by winning the Last Squatch Standing this past August. The winner of the 2022 CBU will receive a guaranteed spot on the USA team at the 2022 Big Dog’s Backyard International Satellite Championship. It is a momentous race for me. It is a chance for me to earn a spot to represent the USA in an International competition of the best backyard runners from around the world. It struck me during my run tonight that this could be the most important race of my life. With that thought in my head, I vowed to make the months leading up to it my most focused months of training ever.

If I train hard and smart January through May, I know I’ll be ready for CBU physically. But the mental side of backyards can break you and end your run just as quickly as any physical issue. I was considering a gym membership to increase my running miles starting in January when weather can make outdoor running less enjoyable in my opinion, but I’m not so sure. I began to think that forcing myself out the door in freezing temps and running through slushy streets may help me nurture that determination that’s needed during a backyard ultra to get up and go out for another 4.167 miles when your mind and body may be advising otherwise. I mean that’s all this format is after the physical aspect, just a mental battle between the logical part of your brain that knows this must stop at some point and the other side of your brain that refuses to quit even though your muscles have been relaying the message to your brain that they’re spent.

I can’t explain what it is that keeps other runners going in these backyard races. I’m not even sure what it is for me all the time. I like to think it’s a reflection of my well honed sense of determination. I’m not the greatest or most talented runner, but I am a pretty determined person. I like to think it’s a display of the undefeatable human spirit to not accept defeat even if it seems the mind and body have accepted defeat. I feel that I was on the precipice of that situation a couple times at backyard races. Somehow, I found the will and desire to keep pushing on even when my brain was providing me logical justifications to quit and body parts were signaling their surrender.

I don’t know what will happen at CBU. I hope to have a good day. I hope to run my longest distance ever. I hope to be the last person standing. But hope can be lost quickly during a backyard ultra. The mind can be defeated in unforeseen ways. Some aspects are not in my control. What I can control is my training and my goal for race day. My training will be on point. I am committed to making that happen. My goal is simple, to go out for every loop on the hour until I am either timed out or I am the last person standing.



Scott Snell
9/24/21