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Are Backyards the Future of Running?

Updated: Jun 13

Last week saw the seventh hosting of the Suffolk Backyard Ultra - hosted by our dear friend Lindley Chambers.


For those that may not know this is a is a form of ultramarathon race where competitors must consecutively run the distance of 6706 meters (4.167 miles) inside one hour and then be prepared to start for the next hour.





The event continues until you only have 'one last standing'. In a beautiful twist this person must complete one full additional lap 'on their own' inside the hour to be crowned the winner - otherwise there are none. The person who is the second to last finisher (and hence the person that has pushed the potential winner to the furthest that they can) gets given the unique title of 'Assist'.


During the Pandemic (when there were no races and when social distancing was a key component) the idea of creating a Backyard format (and a global virtual version) rocketed. It became a huge sensation as some of the best ultramarathon runners in the world took on the format for the very first time.


Back to Suffolk and the previous winning performances of one to two days was now being thrown out the window. In 2021 John Stocker and Matty Blackburn took the two person dual to new heights with John finally taken the final lap and 81 hours (called Yards in the sport) - 543KM.


The founding father of the Backyard is the infamous Laz - Gary Cantrell - (who is also the creator of Barkley Marathons) in 2011. Each year Laz hosts the Bigs Backyard World Championships in his 'own backyard' of Bell Buckle Tennessee. In 2023 the legendary Harvey Lewis won this event in the now World Record of 108 Yards. There are some incredible podcasts that Harvey has done since where he beautifully shares how he prepares and executes these events - highly recommend the Rich Roll one here





Over the last few years Camino has coached several athletes to take on a Backyard.

We really love the format for the following reasons:


  • we see athletes go from a longest distance of marathon to 100 miles in a way that suits many runners

  • the format is safe - it allows you to be experiencing night time running and long distances in a safe environment





One of our athletes Shree was taking on this format for the very first time and also attempting his first ever ultramarathon. Over 5 months Shree followed the plan (kept his speed levels high with Hackney Half and London Marathons) and with a world class crew he set about breaking some huge goals. We are deeply proud of Shree and grateful that he has taken the time to write down his Backyard reflections.


Thank you Shree x Big Camino Backyard Love.

See you all at Longbridge and other Backyards soon x


SHREE:


"Reflections on Backyard Ultra:


I have just returned from running my first ever Backyard Ultra Marathon (SBYU). For a rookie runner like me, it was an exciting journey of self-discovery.  I started with an empty slate and finished with memories to cherish for the rest of my life. I am penning my thoughts & experiences in this blog, not just to share them with you, but also as a letter to myself, for posterity’s sake. I am neither an accomplished writer with a flair for words, nor is English my first language. However, I am writing this blog with the words coming from my heart. I have enjoyed writing this and hope you love reading it.  

 

The Race Day:

 

I could barely sleep on Friday night in anticipation of the big race.

I got up early in the morning, only to find that my friend Jeev (more about him later) was fully prepared already. “Good-morning, let’s go make some history!” He greeted me cheerfully. 

 

One by one, Ashish & Charles turned up in the next 10 minutes. My dear friend Anshuman drove over. We stuffed everything from folding chairs to food to foam rollers in the boot and left London. It was a couple of hours of driving on that crisp and sunny morning, and we finally reached Knettishall around 9:30 am.

My dear friend and fellow runner Michael Harper had already pitched a tent for us. The bustle of the campsite and people stretching in their running shorts gave me some last-minute anxiety. Sensing my nerves, Michael wanted to diffuse the stress. “Let’s go & say hello to a few legends”, he said. I went around starry eyed with him shaking hands with phenomenal runners like John Stocker, Matt Blackburn and Hendrik Boury. There were many champions on that campsite, from the previous race winners to ex-world record holders. Even though I had exchanged emails and chats with some of them and spoken to them over the phone in the past, meeting in person was an electric feeling. In spite of all their super-human abilities and records, their deep humility and groundedness helped me connect with them instantaneously. Life takes us in strange directions, I thought. How else could I end up here?

 

Into The Unknown:

 

Until three years back, I wasn’t even aware of the last-man-standing race format. I stumbled upon it accidentally. It was the summer of 2021, and a friend from my running club sent me a live race tracker from the Backyard Ultra. I quickly checked the rules. The format of the race was simple. Participants had to run a few miles every hour on the hour until they could no longer carry on. One by one by one, the runners drop until there is only one runner left standing. The last runner remaining wins the race, and everybody else gets a DNF tag. The farthest anyone had managed to run the race anywhere in the world had been 75 hours in 2021 (312 miles).

 

The British race had entered its fourth day. All runners had dropped except two runners, John Stocker & Matt Blackburn who were tantalisingly close to smashing the world record. Over the next few hours, they formed an amazing relationship of respectful adversaries and kept pushing each other hour after hour after hour. The world record was long broken, and yet they kept on going together. When John emerged a winner, a new world record of 84 hours was formed. I was glued to my screen for hours watching them fight everything from blisters to exhaustion. 

 

I was immediately hooked to distance running.  Exchanging contact details through Lindley, the race director, I built a pen-friendship with both John & Matt. Under their influence, I progressively ran longer distances, from marathons to 50km.

But I had never thought of running the Backyard myself. The last-man-standing format was too intimidating for my average running capabilities. When my friend Michael suggested signing up for the 2024 race in autumn last year, I just laughed. I shall last just 6-8 hours, I exclaimed!  

 

But Michael convinced me to sign up for the race, for the experience, if nothing else. I had no experience of preparations for the Ultra race format. Googling it yielded me varied views and opinions on everything from race gear to nutrition. This was truly an unknown territory for me. Again, Michael came to the rescue. He suggested speaking with David Bone from Camino Coaching. 

 

I had encountered Dave at some races and events but had never thought of having a personal running coach. To be completely honest, I was fairly sceptical about the value a coach could add, in a world where information is available for every imaginable search. But speaking with Dave was encouraging. He spoke with a strange combination of a laid-back style and laser focus determination. I signed up for coaching in January right after our first chat. David reviewed all my past running data and built a primary training plan. 

 

Having never run beyond 45 miles, I asked him if I could even dream of lasting 24 hours/100 miles in Backyard. “Without a shadow of a doubt,” he calmly replied. “Stick to the plan and we will get you there!”

 

 

Effortless Stride, Effortless Pace:





 

Over the next few months, I followed the plan as closely as possible. I tend to be very quantitative in my mindset, and so would always like going over and analysing the numbers. I always had a lot of questions for Dave, from heart-rate to steps-per-minute - was I doing it right? Dave explained to me the importance of slower runs at a conversational pace. There seemed to be one issue: I seemed to understand only 2 speeds: sprint or a very slow jog. From February to April, I tried pace variations. I was running one day with Dave & Frank Bingham, a friend I met through Camino who was training for LA-to-Vegas Ultra. Frank told me his running mantra: ‘Effortless stride, effortless pace’. Dave then explained how to scan the entire body-form from toes to head to check running with a relaxed style. I was clenching my arms and hands into fists. Initially It was hard to follow this mantra but slowly I learnt to lose the focus on the numbers and enjoy running effortlessly. The next month, I ran 5 races in 5 weekends starting with the London Lea Valley Ultra organised by Caminos and finishing with the London Marathon. Effortless running was showing a difference: Even after running 4 long races in 4 consecutive weekends, I could get a PB in the London marathon!

As months passed, my confidence increased to be able to last beyond a couple of marathon distances in a single run. I went for night time course recce in May to experience firsthand (or is it firstfoot? 🤔). Two of my dear friends, Jeev & Ashish both joined me for an all-nighter mid-week run. I feel grateful to have such amazing friends!

 

 

God Sent Crew:




 

They say that great things can be accomplished when good hearts come together, and I experienced that feeling first hand in those majestic hours of the Backyard Ultra. The signs were there from the get-go that my race crew will help me through anything, through the darkest of tunnels. But a little more about them first:

Charles is my work colleague from Toronto. When we ran the London Marathon last year, I had mentioned my tentative Backyard plans. He had promised to fly down and help if I needed him. I didn’t think Charles really would come down all the way at that time but as soon as I firmed up the plans and signed up for the race, he told me he’d already booked tickets. Charles has been a mighty oak of support for me. I had stayed awake just for those 24 hours during the race, but he flew overnight, then made sure to take care of my every need throughout the 25 hours of the race and then took a long-haul flight back for the work week. Charles was no less than an angel as they appear in mythological stories. 


Jeev & Ashish, two of my very dearest friends are accomplished runners in their own ways. Jeev Singh is so dedicated to the sport of running that he moved his family from London to Cumbria to be able to dedicate his time to fell running 7 days a week. Ashish Maheshwari is an accomplished runner who has completed many full marathons running completely barefoot. They have decades of running experience between them. During the race itself, they fine-tuned everything from the amount of electrolyte intake to minute things like choice of socks for each yard. There active planning freed my mental capacity to just focus on running and filled me with a confidence that I wouldn’t accidentally do something stupid to ruin my chances. 


My daughter Shreerupa, Anshuman & Kunal also helped relentlessly with the logistics. As the race day carried on, my body was more and more tired, I was getting incrementally agitated and was discovering aches in the body parts I didn’t even know existed! The team kept their patience with me. In this public post, I want to apologise to them for my ill-tempered words and can only beg for their forgiveness.

 

Bonds For Life:




 

Ultra marathons are long races, as I discovered, not just lengthy for the distance but long for the sheer amount of time one spends with fellow runners. The pace is fairly conversational on these races, and we had a wide range of discussions and struck conversations on broad topics. As the bright daylight turned into dusk which led to a starry night, I asked a lot of philosophical questions to my newly made running buddies. I can promise you that discussing the ‘purpose of life’ with someone sitting on a sofa in a cafe just can’t be more different than talking with them about it while running after having covered 70 miles (& many ahead!) 😅 I am very thankful to these accomplished runners who opened their hearts to me. 




 

We also shared our life stories. From great personal tragedies to little accomplishments, from huge setbacks to chance meetings - many of the life experiences were shared. I feel like a decade worth of living happened in those short 25 hours that I spent on the course.  


When the going got really tough, a fellow racer John Stocker, who is the British distance record holder in this race format, stuck with me for the final 4 laps. We ran side-by-side and he endured my endless moaning & groaning with a broad. He encouraged me to keep going. ‘Just one more lap!’ he would yell. I am thankful for his loving support despite his severe knee pain with the ongoing medical treatment. 


 Shout out to the Marathon Man Gary McKee, who accompanied me on a virtual run-along for the race duration. Every hour, on the hour, he ran 4.2miles in Cumbria just as I would in South-East England. We shared video chats and posts with each other during breaks and his encouraging words helped me in a big way.

Overall, some extraordinary bonds were forged on those gnarly paths that shall last a lifetime. 

 

 

Reflections:




 

As part of my race day preparation, Dave had asked me to consider asking some of my closest family members and friends to write me personal letters. I requested my friends to write these letters with stuff they have deeply felt but never spoken about or whatever else came to the mind to the very core of our relationships. As the race went on, my team gave me these letters after intermittent laps. It was truly a humbling experience to read the letters through the race hours. Some of the things that came out in these letters are so existential that I am thankful for the writers. They not only gave me the much-needed lift but also are treasures for me to go over many times in my life. I am thankful to Dave for this wonderful suggestion. 

 

 

Trust the process

 

This brings me to my concluding thought. When I started preparing for the Ultra, I was sceptical. Coaches told me to “trust the process”. This had sounded quite counterintuitive to me. The scientific urge made me scream: how can you simply trust? Isn’t doubting the very essential starting point before believing? 

 

Now, having gone through this entire journey, that point has become clear to me. Sometimes, by trusting the process, we manifest the outcome. Doubt is not always a healthy starting point. I feel blessed to have trusted not just my close friends and family but most importantly my coach.

 

That trust manifested itself at Backyard Ultra.

Thank you once again,

Shree

"

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What a wonderful account of your first BYU Shree. Definitely memories for life!

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