Will Hayward was the last man standing at this year’s Big’s Backyard Ultra, named for Laz Lake’s dog, Big. But there was a woman still standing, and that woman, Maggie Guterl, became the first woman who ever won this war of attrition in Tennessee (while everyone else got a DNF). Hayward, who is 51 years old, has written a highly entertaining race report that gives readers a pretty good idea of just what it’s like to run repeated loops for days and nights on end, and then to concede defeat with joy and relief.
The Backyard Ultra tests the mental and physical limits of humans. Runners complete a four-mile (6.4K) loop every 60 minutes, until only one human remains. Each hour, everyone begins the next lap at the same time. Once the second-to-last runner drops, the one remaining must complete the loop they are on in order to win. There isn’t always a winner. With the loop measured at 6.4K, everyone who makes it to 24 hours has run 100 miles. The trail loop switches to a road loop during the night, for reasons Hayward explains in the post (having to do, basically, with Laz’s sadism–he wants a long race, and running repeated trail loops in the dark tends to make people drop faster, meaning the race is over too soon).
Hayward is a New Zealander living in Hong Kong, and he won Big Boar’s Backyard Ultra in Hong Kong in April to qualify for Big’s. He was excited to meet big names like Amelia Boone, Guillaume Calmettes (the 2017 winner) and Gavin Woody (who finished third last year), and surprised himself by easily outlasting them. Hayward decided, at one point, that he would quit after 36 loops (230K), to avoid running through a second night on the hard road surface.
Big's Backyard Ultra 2019: Race reporthttps://t.co/5DFNApTKMY
— Will Hayward (@willhayward_nz) October 29, 2019
But his crew had other ideas, so he kept going. He found the second transition from trail to road extremely challenging, since the harder surface hurt more. But it meant he was now in the top 10, everyone else having dropped. Before he knew it, he was in the final four–with Guterl (who he describes as “a total badass who looks like she just finished a 5K and could go until next weekend”), Canadian ultrarunner Dave Proctor, who started his own backyard ultra in Alberta this year, and Katie Wright, another Kiwi who had won a similar race in New Zealand.
IT'S WILL, HE'S BACK!! All is good, all is good. pic.twitter.com/jejqezuaaM
— Leigh Cowart (@voraciousbrain) October 22, 2019
Hayward reports feeling truly terrible by the third (Monday) morning. Then Wright dropped, leaving him with Proctor and Guterl, whom he refers to as “the two elites.” A couple of loops later, he passed Proctor, who dropped a short way into the next loop (number 53). Now it’s just him and Guterl, and Hayward can no longer eat or drink. They can see he is suffering, but everyone encourages him to keep going, and he starts walking another loop, while Guterl jogs. Hayward wants to quit, but instead he finds some hidden reserve of energy, and rallies. He briefly dares to wonder if he can win. It’s the last trail loop on day three, and it’s now raining. Hayward starts hallucinating, then falls asleep (while moving).
You know how it ends, but it’s worth reading the post to find out what happened.