Belgium’s Merijn Geerts and Ivo Steyaert astounded the running world on Wednesday as they surpassed all previous backyard ultra records to run 101 yards (loops) over 101 consecutive hours. Geerts and Steyaert were the only runners left after hour 85, when Japan’s Yukinori Yoshida completed his final lap to take the team win for Japan–but they kept pushing each other for another 16 yards.
Laz Lake blew the starting whistle for the World Backyard Ultra Championships (satellite edition) on Saturday morning at 8:00 a.m. ET, and across the globe, 15-member teams began running laps of 6.71 km (4.17 miles) every hour on the hour, continuing until only one runner was left. Initially, 544 runners representing 37 countries began the competition at satellite locations around the world.
The inaugural satellite event in 2020 featured 21 teams and captured the hearts of viewers worldwide, with Geerts taking the role of the assist to Karel Sabbe, also of Belgium. Sabbe set the world record at the time, running 75 hours/yards (502 km). In 2022, Geerts elevated the world backyard record to 90 yards (more than 600 km).
For years, fans have debated whether it was possible to run the backyard format for 100 straight hours. As the yard count crept closer to that elusive mark, media and fans began to gather at the race location, generating far more publicity than the runners expected (which they later credited with compelling them to make a surprising decision). Geerts and Steyaert ran the 100th and 101 yards together and appeared to be moving easily and in good spirits.
The athletes had been consistently finishing their yards with about 10 minutes to spare, and the 101st yard unexpectedly took them almost the entire hour. The runners seemed prepared to go back out for another yard, and then stopped to hug each other, and appeared to have quit together. In Laz’s traditional backyard ultra rules, one runner must complete a final solo lap to win, or all competitors finish with a DNF (did not finish) result.
After some brief celebrations and picture-taking, the athletes sat down together to explain the conclusion of their race to Lake. While out on yard 101, they decided that with all the distressing things happening in the world right now, they wanted to end this event with positivity. “On this occasion, it was the right decision and a special moment,” explained Geerts. The pair said they knew Lake (the final arbiter) might disapprove of their choice.
91 yards and the Belgium ?? runners have bested the world backyard ultra record and completed 610.6 KM!
Can’t stop watching, even if half the time the screen is mostly blank. ?
— Keeley (@milnekeeley) October 19, 2022
“Well, it seems like a valid decision to me,” Lake said. The notoriously strict race director seemed to be at a loss for words, possibly for the first time ever. “This was a magnificent accomplishment, the whole world will be amazed, ” he finally concluded. “I think all of Belgium is really proud, but this is an achievement for everybody.” Backyard ultras have only existed since 2011, and no one made it to 24 hours at the first event. “Until this weekend, no one knew if 100 yards was possible,” said Lake. “You’ve proven it’s not impossible.”
— Keith (@keithdunn) October 19, 2022
The runners chatted with Lake about the challenges of breaking the 100-hour barrier, and both said they felt they could have continued to run. “I think it would have been easy to do 102 yards, 103, 104…” said Steyaert. Geerts interjected that ‘easy’ was not quite the right word. Lake asked the pair how they coped with tremendous pressure and discomfort for many hours. Steyaert explained that he uses mantras to stay positive, and he greets the inevitable pain as a friend. “I say come in, sit down and have a drink,” he explained. “It makes it more manageable.”
Before signing off, Lake asked Geerts and Steyaert if they wanted to say anything to the viewers of the live stream across the world. Displaying a sense of humour despite having been awake for four days, Geerts shared his thoughts: “Thanks for watching. Doing sports is healthy, but you don’t need to run for 100 hours, just run for one hour.
“There’s a lot of misery in the world and I think sports is a way to make this world a better place. Especially ultra sports, because of the camaraderie,” Steyaert added. The runners thanked Lake for being an inspiration and for creating the event.
“We call it a backyard family because it seems to have brought people from all over the world closer together,” Lake said. “It’s a privilege and a pleasure to have witnessed this.”