Race Report – Krayzie’s Midwinter Backyard Ultra

How do you think you would go in a race with no finish line?

You just have to run, until you can't run any more. In theory it is a simple concept. In reality it is probably one of the biggest mind games you could ever play with yourself.

Most people will have heard of a Back Yard Ultra. It is a form of ultramarathon event, comprised of 6706 metre laps (24 laps = 24 hours = 100 miles), where competitors have to start a new lap every hour. So if you finish a lap in 50 minutes, you have 10 minutes of recovery time before you have to start the next lap.

It is basically a war of attrition. The winner is the last person to run a full lap. Everyone else gets a DNF (did not finish).

Jeremy Pelvin is one of the runners I coach. He is based in Christchurch, New Zealand, whenever he isn't travelling around the globe for work.

Jeremy has always liked the long events, but he feels like the BYU format is more "family friendly". His wife and son can stay at the event hub, helping him between laps, while he is off doing his thing. From a logistical perspective, this is much easier than them having to navigate around various checkpoints, hoping they get there on time.

Jeremy has just finished his third BYU in 12 months. He is starting to get a hang of them now in terms of pacing and the mental strategies required to succeed. He ran an extremely impressive 181km to finish in 4th place overall.

Here is his race report

Krayzie’s was my third back yard ultra (BYU) in just over the past 12 months, so I knew roughly what I was in for. In the week leading up to the event I had done a lap of the course as it was only 20 minutes away from my house. I had my gear list all sorted and was slowly getting things organised. I had sorted out sunrise/sunset times and was keeping a close eye on the weather as the week progressed.

With this event being in the middle of winter the two things that I knew were going to make it interesting were the probably sub-zero temperatures overnight and the fact that there is only 9 hours of daylight and 15 hours of darkness.

The night before the event I went out to the event village with my family to set up our tent for in between laps and drop a few things off. With the event starting in the dark at 0730 the following morning I wanted to make sure there was not too much to do. Getting a good tent site is key and I was happy to get a spot about 15 metres away from the starting corral.

I arrived at the campsite the next morning 10 minutes before registration closed. As predicted, it was freezing and dark, once I was checked in, I did a final check of my gear and went and hid in my frozen tent under a blanket trying to stay warm while waiting for the 3 minute start warning.

The start of a BYU is interesting. No one is in too much of a hurry, and for those that haven’t seen the course the first lap is about trying to find the pace that works best for you. The course was a mixture of hardpack singletrack, fire trail and a 1km section of single track along the top of the sand dunes. On the first lap we were treated to a beautiful sunrise coming up over the water.

I arrived back in camp around the 48-minute mark, slightly faster than I wanted to but at a comfortable pace. My wife had arrived and would be crewing me until I was done.

I had set various goals before starting the event with the ultimate aim of completing 30 laps (200km). The first goal however was to make it through the day to watch the sunset.

The day was uneventful, I just spent the day getting to know the course - where the technical pieces were, what lines I wanted to be running in the dark, any potential spots for rolled ankles. I also dialled in my pacing knowing what I wanted to run and where I wanted to hike. I was consistently coming in around the 49–50-minute mark which was giving me a solid 10 minutes of rest before the next lap.

Once the sun went down and the temperature started to drop, I layered up again making sure to have enough gear on to keep warm but not enough that I would start sweating as staying dry would be important. Physically I was feeling good but mentally my head wasn’t really in the right spot.

On lap 11 my son (who is six) and his friend showed up for a couple of laps so that made the time in between laps a bit more hectic but was nice to see them there and so excited by all the activity at the campsite. Around this time, I had a blister forming on my foot so took some time to drain and dry this (much to the kids disgust) and re-tape my feet for the night.

Once my son headed home and the cold really started to set in the task ahead started to feel more daunting. It was already down to around 0 degrees, the tent was frozen at the end of every lap and it was still 11 hours until sun up. At the end of lap 14 (94km) I told my wife that I was over it and had had enough and that I wanted to go home. At the same time my wife had every piece of warm clothing on as well as two blankets and was also freezing. She told me to go out, do one more lap to get the 100km then we could pack up and go home after that.

During lap 15 which is the 100km lap I got talking to someone on the loop, they asked how I was going. I said not that good, they asked if I was sore, no. They asked if I was tired, no. They asked what the problem was, and I said I was a bit cold and a bit over it. Saying this out loud made me realise that I was being a bit pathetic; the point of a BYU is to push yourself to your limits and if I was to give up at the end of this lap I wouldn’t have done that. I thought about how I would have to explain this to my friends and especially my son and that I wouldn’t be setting a good example. We have a saying in our family that you don’t have to be the best you just have to do your best. I was disappointed that I currently wasn’t living up to these values and made a conscious decision to fix my attitude and give it my best.

At the end of the lap my wife was waiting with everything I needed, a warm milo, caffeine pills and some encouraging words. I told her I was finished having my pity party and ready to push on and see what I could achieve. At this time, I also grabbed my headphones and started listening to music for the first time in the event. With the 100km completed the field also thinned considerably so there was more time running alone.

I really tried to dial in now that it was the middle of the night making sure I was conscious of my foot placement and really listening to my body to make sure I was keeping warm and giving it the fuel that it needed. Around lap 18 I started getting tight in the front of my right ankle and in between laps I was trying to stretch this out as well as massage some deep heat into it.

Lap 18 – 24 played out the same. I was starting each lap at the back of the field, and it was taking me around 400m to warm up. I would then make good progress until about halfway through the lap when the pain started to creep back into my ankle. Each lap it was getting worse, if I could land with a neutral ankle position it was fine, any extension or compression was sending pain up my leg which wasn’t ideal and slowly getting worse.

Lap 24 (160km or the 100miles) was the sunrise lap which was a nice change to the past 15 hours of darkness. The field was down to 7 people, and I was excited to see what the new day would bring. Mentally I was feeling good, nutrition was still going well but physically I was starting to fall apart.

At the end of lap 25 it was down to four runners left. The pain in my leg was becoming unbearable, the other three runners looked very strong and would take off from the start line and by the 600m mark where we entered the forest I would already be about 300m behind - I would then not see anyone again until the end of the lap.

I knew at this time that the 200km mark was probably out of reach but was really proud of how I had rallied from the middle of the night. I set out on lap 27 knowing that it would probably be my last lap, the pain in my left ankle was also now in my right ankle and hitting 9 min kms had turned into a struggle. During this lap I went to check the map on my watch to see how far through a certain section I was; my watch went blank, died and then restarted with all my data wiped. I was devastated. If its not on strava it doesn’t count right!?

I got my phone out and messaged my wife that I was done, I started strava on my phone as I wanted to make sure I got back from this lap on time. I arrived back to came at 58 minutes and was joking around with Shaun and George about the last 180km had been for nothing as I had lost the file. They told me that I might as well start again.

I stayed in the starting corral just to make sure the other three guys were still in and when they took off for lap 28 I made the decision to drop out. I felt good about the decision and was proud of my effort. Could I have done one more lap, maybe, but my body was broken and mentally my watch had broken my spirits. I did the first 400m of lap 28 and then dropped out as it looped back around past camp. 10:30am in the morning, 27 hours after I had started and 181km officially completed (only full laps are counted in your race total).

I reported back to the starting area to officially withdraw and get my DNF photo.

The other 3 guys carried on running the rest of the day with the race coming to an end just after sunset on the Sunday evening. For me though it was home for a hot shower and a nap.