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Strong Canadian contingent powering through Big’s Backyard Ultra

Dave Proctor is out, but a number of other Canadians are still trucking along in Laz Lake's backyard ultramarathon

After 30 laps and over 120 miles, more than 100 runners remain in the 2020 Big’s Backyard Ultra field, including 10 Canadians. Despite losing Dave Proctor after 24 laps, the Canadian team is in a tie with Sweden for second-most runners, just behind Belgium with its 12 remaining participants. The U.S. has nine runners left, including Amelia Boone, Courtney Dauwalter and reigning Big’s Backyard champ Maggie Guterl. Due to COVID-19, many runners couldn’t make it to Bell Buckle, Tenn., for this year’s run, but race director Laz Lake made it virtual, making it possible for 300 runners from 21 countries to participate. The race is still in full force, and with more than 100 athletes still running, it could be a while before a winner is declared. 

How the race works 

The event is a last-runner-standing race. It began on Saturday, and ever since, runners around the world have been running 6.7K every hour. Runners have one hour to complete each lap. If they can’t make it back before the end of an hour, they’re given a DNF. If they do make it back in time, they can use however many minutes remain in the hour to rest, eat or do anything else they need to do. Normally, this is an in-person race, but following the success of the virtual Quarantine Backyard Ultra, Lake decided to open it up to anyone worldwide. There are in-person races being held in the various countries participating, and all runners are starting their laps at the exact same time.

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Team Canada

The Canadian team may have lost Proctor, an avid ultrarunner and multi-time treadmill world record-holder, but they still have a strong group that includes Matt Shepard of Valleyview, Alta. Earlier this year, Shepard attempted to break the 129-year-old Canadian six-day running record of 870K. He ran an impressive 551K in six days, although he fell short of his ultimate goal of 1,000K in the almost week of running. Shepard was not too down after his failed record attempt, though, and he and his team noted that even the best ultrarunners in the world have faltered from time to time. He knew he would be back, and the Big’s Backyard Ultra could be his chance for a big result. For a full list of the Canadian team, head to the event website and look at the race leaderboard.

Maggie Guterl at the 2019 Big’s Backyard Ultra. Photo: Instagram

American juggernauts 

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Boone, Dauwalter and Guterl are certainly among the biggest names in the field. Boone is an obstacle course racing world champion and seasoned ultrarunner, and she will be looking for redemption after last year’s run. In 2019, she finished in 33rd place at Big’s with a final distance of 181K. She has already surpassed that total this year, and she’s on her way for more after 30 laps run. So far, she has only run two laps over 53 minutes, and she closed her 30th in 52:45, giving her plenty of time to rest before the start of Lap 31. 

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Dauwalter is one of the greatest ultrarunners of all time. She has won so many of the world’s biggest races, including the UTMB, Western States 100 and many more. Although she has had a few laps north of 54 minutes, she has been running consistently, and her last lap was clocked at 51:46. Finally, Guterl, the defending champ, is the runner to beat in the race. In 2019, she ran 402K to take the win. She has struggled the last couple of laps with a pair of 57s, but as she proved last year, she can run for a long, long time. 

To follow along live, head to the Big’s Backyard Ultra Facebook page. The overall standings can be found here.

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