Are you among those runners who have seen or heard the term backyard ultra but aren’t entirely sure what it is or what it relates to? Well, as with all things trail and ultra running, we are here to explain it in our latest blog “What is a Backyard Ultra?”

First of all, what is it?

A backyard ultra is a type of ultramarathon where runners must complete a 4.167-mile (6.7 km) loop every hour, on the hour, until only one runner remains.

But why 4.167 miles?

This seemingly arbitrary distance is derived from the need to complete 100 miles in 24 hours. The race continues until only one runner is left who can complete a loop within the allotted time. This format, popularized by Lazarus Lake (also known as Gary Cantrell) of the Barkley Marathons fame, has a deceptively simple structure but requires immense physical and mental resilience.

The details of the race:

  • Hourly Start: Every hour, runners start a new loop. If a runner fails to complete the loop within the hour, they are out of the race.
  • Rest Periods: Any time remaining after a runner finishes a loop is their rest period. For example, if a runner completes a loop in 50 minutes, they have 10 minutes to rest, eat, or tend to any needs before starting again.
  • No End in Sight: The race continues indefinitely until only one runner completes a loop within the hour. The last runner standing must complete one more loop than the second-to-last runner to be declared the winner.

The Appeal: Backyard ultras attract a wide range of participants, from seasoned ultramarathoners to those looking for a new kind of challenge. The format levels the playing field, as it’s not necessarily about who can run the fastest, but who can manage their time, energy, and strategy the best.

Mental and Physical Challenges

Of course, as with any run of significant distance, there are many challenges both mental and physical which include:

  • Endurance: Runners must be prepared for potentially days of continuous running with minimal sleep.
  • Strategy: Deciding how fast to run each loop and how to utilise rest periods is crucial.
  • Mental Fortitude: The repetitive nature of the course and the uncertainty of how long the race will last test runners’ mental toughness. With one loop, an out and back or a point-to-point, the route is more stimulating, unknown and sometimes a little easier to cope with. Knowing what is coming over and over again can be mentally demanding.

Community and Camaraderie

One of the most appealing aspects of backyard ultras is the sense of community. Unlike many competitive races, backyard ultras foster a spirit of camaraderie. Runners encourage each other, share stories, and support one another through the grueling hours. The race environment often feels more like a gathering of friends than a competitive event.

Famous Backyard Ultras:

  • Big Dog’s Backyard Ultra: The original backyard ultra, held in Tennessee, USA, and organized by Lazarus Lake. It remains one of the most prestigious and challenging events in the backyard ultra circuit.
  • Satellite Events: Inspired by the success of Big Dog’s, similar events have sprung up worldwide, each adding its unique twist to the backyard ultra format.

The current record holder for Backyard Ultras is Harvey Lewis of USA who completed 108 yards (laps) – 724km in total in October 2023.

How do you train for a backyard ultra?

Training for a backyard ultra requires a combination of physical endurance, mental resilience, and strategic planning. To prepare, focus on building a strong aerobic base with long, slow-distance runs, gradually increasing your weekly mileage. Incorporate back-to-back long runs on weekends to simulate the fatigue of continuous running. Include speed work and hill training to improve your overall running efficiency and strength. Mental training is equally crucial; practice running in conditions that mimic race scenarios, such as looped courses and running at different times of the day and night. Additionally, develop a race-day strategy that includes pacing, nutrition, and rest periods. Test different fueling options and rest techniques during training to find what works best for you. Consistency in training, along with a strong mental game and a well-thought-out strategy, will prepare you for the unique demands of a backyard ultra.

Enter a backyard ultra

Looking for a backyard ultra to enter? There are many depending on your location

UK – Best UK Backyard Ultras

US – List of Backyard Ultras

Organise your own backyard

Looking to organise your own backyard ultra – there is help and support out there for those that fancy it. 

Conclusion

The backyard ultra is more than just a race; it’s a test of endurance, strategy, and mental strength. It’s a unique challenge that pushes runners to their limits and fosters a strong sense of community. Whether you’re a seasoned ultrarunner or someone looking for a new way to challenge yourself, the backyard ultra offers an experience like no other. As the saying goes in the backyard ultra community, “One more loop!”