The 2020 version of Big’s Backyard Ultra was a wild ride that took place partly on Canadian soil. The 2020 event was a hybrid, meaning that runners from 21 different countries got together to compete virtually against the rest of the world. The Americans ran in Tennesse, where the race has historically taken place, but everyone else created their own basecamp in their home countries. For the Canadians, it was in Kelowna, B.C.
Team Canada finished third overall, behind the Americans, who came second, and the first-place Belgians. Stephanie Simpson of Montreal was the highest Canadian finisher. She completed 43 hours of running, landing her 21st overall. The next-longest Canadian runner was Matt Shepard, who ran 42 hours, and third went to Chelsey Topping, who ran 40 loops (even though those who didn’t win, technically DNF’d).
Dean Johnson is a Lethbridge, Alta., ultrarunner, coach and race director who was a commentator for the live stream of Big’s. While Johnson didn’t stay awake for the 72-hours-plus of running, he managed to catch most of the event. Johnson says he’s run in-person Laz Lake races in the past, but this year’s version was something special. “For the Canadians, there was bad weather and lots of rain in Kelowna, which didn’t make for a pleasant start. Dave Proctor was so cold he had to drop after only 24 hours. In any country dealing with bad weather, we saw results drop off around the 40-hour mark.”
Despite a large contingent of the Canadian team and organizers being Alberta natives, Kelowna was chosen as the site of the Canadian race. Johnson says this was due to their favourable climate and the ideal loop they plotted. “Team Canada was selected pretty last-minute. They only had three to four weeks to plan, so they took some of the top Canadian names and sent them invitations. Some accepted and some didn’t. The loop was exactly 6.7K and very scenic.”
The race format
Johnson is one of the co-ordinators of Alberta’s Lost Soul Ultra, and as a race director himself, he thinks this particular event is genius. “It’s almost like cross-country running, where it’s partly about your best runners, but also about the back of the pack. Teams have to take as many people for as long as they can, and then the last two finish it off. It’s truly a great race format.”
The last-person-standing rule
In this particular Laz race, there’s an interesting rule that warrants some explanation. Once a country is down to one runner, that person must finish their final lap, but run no further. Johnson explains that Laz doesn’t want these races to go on forever (just for days). “Laz feels that once you win, you win. This makes it a team event, where the second-place person is staying in the race just to help win for their country. The top two runners are forced to work together.”
Full results from the 2020 Big’s Backyard Ultra can be found here.