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Backyard ultra world record goes down in Australia

Perth's Phil Gore ran 102 "yards" (almost 685 km) with a crucial assist from New Zealand's Sam Harvey

Backyard ultra record holder Phil Gore

Australia’s Phil Gore pushed through more than four full days and nights on a Queensland trail to run an astonishing 102 “yards”—nearly 685 kilometres—and set a new backyard ultra world record on Wednesday morning (Australian Eastern Standard Time).

In a contest that underscored how individual glory in the backyard ultra hinges on the support of competitors, Gore’s record-breaking run at the Dead Cow Gully Backyard Ultra was possible only through a crucial assist from New Zealand’s Sam Harvey, who kept pace with Gore for 101 yards—the previous world record set by Belgians Merijn Geerts and Ivo Steyaert during the World Backyard Ultra Championships last October.

The backyard ultra format requires participants to start one “yard” (loop) every hour on the hour, until only one runner remains. (Backyard racing is designed so that theoretically, runners can complete the 100-mile distance in 24 hours.) Once all other competitors are out of the race, the remaining runner must complete one final lap, making any record attempt both a team effort and an individual one.

The gruelling closing hours of this week’s history-making race, held on a course that runs through a cattle property about 180 km northwest of Brisbane, coincided with the arrival of the winter solstice in Australia. Gore and Harvey, the last two runners after American runner Harvey Lewis dropped at 90 yards (603 km), endured bitter cold on top of pain and fatigue in their final 11 yards together. Although both runners headed out for their 102nd yard, Harvey turned back almost immediately, clearing the way for Gore to finish the last yard on his own and claim the world record. Gore and Harvey had long since surpassed both the previous Australian record of 76 yards and the course record of 44 yards.

While this race produced a finisher—under backyard ultra rules, the last runners technically DNF if the race ends in a tie—that wasn’t the case in Belgium, when the previous record was set. During their 101st lap, Geerts and Steyaert decided that ending the race together would send a needed positive message at a time when the invasion of Ukraine and other crises were dominating the news. “On this occasion, it was the right decision and a special moment,” Geerts said after both men bowed out of the race.

Amanda Nelson
Photo: Amanda Nelson

Gore’s world record is the latest dramatic turn in what has already been an exciting year in ultrarunning. Last month, Canadian 100-mile record holder Amanda Nelson of Woodstock, Ont., broke her own Canadian backyard ultra record, running 375.51 kilometres over 56 hours at the Race of Champions-Backyard Masters event in Rettert, Germany. Also in May, ultrarunner Jennifer Russo broke the women’s world backyard ultra record of 68 yards set by fellow American  Courtney Dauwalter in 2020 by finishing 74 yards (496.21 km) at the Capital Backyard Ultra in Lorton, Va.

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