This was the first year for the Outrun Backyard Ultra, ultrarunner Dave Proctor‘s new backyard ultra near Calgary where the special guest and honorary race director was Laz Lake, race director of the Barkley Marathons. The first year is always a challenge for a new race, but this weekend southern Alberta saw more rain than they’ve had in years, resulting in shin-deep mud, and not one, but two mid-race course changes.
Part of the 6.7K loop was on the Millarville racetrack, which was a sea of deep mud, thanks to the rain. At one point Proctor was forced to move that portion of the course to the inside of the track, where it was not muddy, which was a great relief to the runners who were still in the race. From 150 runners at the start, the numbers dropped to 50, then 30, then 20, then the final two.
All Proctor could talk about after it was over was the heroism displayed by Kevin Barata of Abbotsford BC, who stayed in the race well past the point of exhaustion in order that Matt Shepard of Valleyview, Alta., the eventual winner (whom he had never met before this race), could get a golden ticket into Big’s Backyard Ultra this fall. (Shepard needed at least 32 loops of the 6.7K loop in order to qualify, and if Barata quit before 31 loops, Shepard would be declared the winner and the race would be over, with no golden ticket.)
“When it comes to sportsmanship, I’ve seen some incredible things,” Proctor told us after the race, “but I’ve never seen that level of sportsmanship. Everyone knew what was happening… And when Laz rang the bell to start the 32nd lap, Kevin took one step on the course, hugged Matt and said ‘get the hell out of here.’ Matt ran the final lap in 40 minutes or something, and Kevin fell over, finally allowed to rest. That’s what’s so beautiful about this backyard style [of racing].”
Eventually, the rain stopped. From the dropped down to 50, 20, then 10 warriors. Day came up next day, saw who the real warriors were. 32 hours.
Emilie Mann was the last female standing, with 16 hours/loops. Mann won the 2019 Canadian Long Distance Mountain Running Championship in May.
Laz said Proctor did “a really good job” directing his first backyard ultra. “He had a lot of challenges as race director because of high water and mud–making two course changes mid-event is a pretty good feat,” he told us by phone after the race. “You have to be a race director to appreciate how difficult that is–to be able to move on the fly when you’re trying to stick to a precise distance.” Laz said he was exhausted from lack of sleep and all the sugar and caffeine he’d consumed over the past couple of days.