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Showing posts with label ultramarathon. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ultramarathon. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

2022 Big's Backyard Team World Championships


Team USA - 2022 Backyard World Champions

Not All DNFs Are Equivalent


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

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

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

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

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

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

Beast Coast Trail Big's backyard Team USA 2022 champions

Day 1 - October 15 AM

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

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

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

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

Night 1 - October 15 PM

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

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

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

Day 2 - October 16 AM

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

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

Beast Coast Trail Big's backyard Team USA 2022 champions

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

Beast Coast Trail Big's backyard Team USA 2022 champions

Night 2 - October 16 PM

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

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

Day 3 October 17 AM

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

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

Night 3 October 17 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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


Scott Snell

26 October 2022

















Friday, September 9, 2022

UCAN Edge Energy Gel and Bar Review



Best Coast Trail Running Scott Snell UCAN


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

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

Scott Snell beast Coast Trail Running

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


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


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


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


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


Scott Snell

9 September 2022


See what my fellow BibRavePros thought:


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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.

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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