2020 was one of the strangest and most difficult years on record for many runners. But there was no lack of inspiring performances, events and people who made the running world a little better. In a series of stories, we present a few who we feel deserve recognition.
Best Trail Performance of the Year
Team Canada at Big’s Backyard Ultra World Championships
The pandemic version of Big’s Backyard Ultra, the last-person-standing race normally hosted by Lazarus Lake in Bell Buckle, Tenn., was a world championship event with teams running together in their respective countries (and the U.S. team running on the course in Tennessee), starting on Oct. 17. Fans around the world followed the action on Zoom as participants ran 6.7k loops (referred to as yards) every hour until they either failed to finish a yard in the allotted hour or failed to line up for the next one. Runners use whatever time they have left between yards to eat, change gear or nap. A new rule this year stipulated that when a team was down to two runners remaining, the first to drop ended that team’s race.
Team Canada runners were physically distanced at the start line, and crew members were masked at all times. Race director Ryan Kershaw and team member Dave Proctor hand-picked 10 men and five women from across Canada to race in Kelowna, B.C., where unexpected steady rain and near-freezing temperatures turned the event into two days and nights of shared misery. But Kershaw predicted correctly that the Canadians, selected for their ability to keep going well past their limits of pain, exhaustion and even injury just to keep the team in the race, would end up on the podium, and the result was a heroic third-place finish behind Team Belgium (with Karel Sabbe taking the overall crown) and Team U.S.A. (national champion Courtney Dauwalter).
Despite having packed for better weather and needing to scrounge dry gear throughout her race, Stephanie Simpson of Montreal successfully completed a 43rd yard to become the last Canadian standing and national champion. Matt Shepard of Valleyview, Alta., dropped after 42 yards (281.4k), and Chelsey Topping of Lethbridge, Alta., was the third-last Canadian to drop, with 40 yards (268k).
The team also included (in alphabetical order): Kevin Barata of Abbotsford, B.C. (40 yards), Terri Biloski of St. Thomas, Ont. (22 yards), Viktoria Brown of Whitby, Ont. (34 yards), Scott Cooper of Calgary (25 yards), Greg Courtice of Kelowna (32 yards), Wayne Gaudet of Exshaw, Alta. (30 yards), Mike Huber of Vancouver (33 yards), Adela (Del) Salt of Leduc, Alta. (36 yards), Dave Stevens of Nelson, B.C. (35 yards), Myron Tetreault of Calgary (29 yards) and Jeremy Welwood of Winnipeg (27 yards).
Bruce Trail FKT (supported) in 9:17:2:25, Queenston, Ont., September 2020