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This family has three generations racing the Quarantine Backyard Ultra

The Sutherland family is making the July 11 virtual ultramarathon a family affair, and everyone's getting involved

Photo by: Margaret Sutherland

The second edition of the Quarantine Backyard Ultra (QBU), a virtual ultramarathon that captured the attention of runners all around the world in April, is set to start on July 11. Toeing the virtual start line in Boulder, Colo., and Kamloops, B.C., will be three generations of runners from the Sutherland family. Ryan, 15, will run with his father, David, 47, in Boulder, and his 90-year-old grandfather, Dave Sr., will run in B.C. around a seniors’ centre complex. None of the three Sutherlands have specific expectations for the race, they each say they’re just in it for the experience and to see how far their bodies can take them as they run “together” in different cities. 

Backyard ultra

The format for the QBU is simple: runners have an hour to cover 6.706K. When they finish their loops, they can rest until the start of the next hour, when they do it again. The last person running wins. In April, American ultrarunner Mike Wardian won the QBU after running 63 hours and 422K. David heard about the first QBU after the race was well underway – too late to sign up for it, but it piqued his interest.

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“When I caught wind there was another one scheduled, I knew that I had to do it,” he says. David ran when he was younger, but he got into other sports in his 20s. By his mid-30s, he’d gotten back into running, and over the last decade he has run one or two marathons or ultras each year. 

David, Margaret, Ryan and Alex Sutherland. Photo: David Sutherland

Ryan says he’s “sort of a runner.” He runs cross-country for his high school, and he was training for a half-marathon before the pandemic put the racing season on hold. Finally, there’s Dave Sr., who doesn’t claim to be too much of a runner, although he says he was into middle-distances in his “early years.” He still has experience with endurance challenges, and he was an avid hiker for much of his life, from his time in Scotland, where he grew up, and for many years in Canada after moving here 60 years ago. 

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Race plans

In Boulder, David and Ryan have mapped out a 1.4-mile loop around their neighbourhood. This way, they can circle back to their house for water breaks. The forecast for July 11 in Boulder says temperatures will hit 37 C, and David says they have a backup plan in case it’s too hot to run outside. He or Ryan will run on their treadmill while the other will trace a figure-eight loop in their basement. 

In Kamloops, Dave Sr. will follow a loop around the buildings where he lives. “A couple of loops at a very fast pace takes me 25 minutes,” he says. “Hopefully within the hour I can get five or six laps of that. I did pretty well in the morning, even in the heat.” 

Alex and Ryan with their grandparents. Photo: David Sutherland

At 90 years old, Dave Sr. says he won’t push himself too hard. “I’ll take my son’s advice and I’ll go as far as my body tells me it’s OK.” Ryan shares a similar plan for the race.

“This is my first see-how-far-you-can-go style race,” he says. “So I’m just going to do that and just see how far I can go.” David echos this plan, saying he, too, will go with the flow of the day. 

“I won’t go right to the limit, I want to make sure it will be fun,” he says, although he adds that “100K is a nice round number.” 

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More than just race day 

Originally, it was just going to be the three men racing, but David has convinced his wife, Margaret, and his other son, Alex, to participate as well. It will be a family affair on July 11, which is already a big day in the Sutherland home, because it’s not just race day, it’s the 50th wedding anniversary of Dave Sr. and his wife, who is also named Margaret (although let’s refer to her as Marg). A lot of wives would tell their husbands to forget the race on such a big day, but Marg will be Dave Sr.’s support crew.

Dave Sr. and Marg on their wedding day, 50 years ago. Photo: David Sutherland

“I’ll be downstairs by the door with the drinks and whatever he needs,” she says. Due to COVID-19, the family won’t be together for the celebration, but they’ll have a virtual party once everyone’s finished running for the day, and hopefully before long, they’ll be able to get together again for real.