Tarako Backyard Ultra
Posted: May 25, 2023
I completed 12 laps, covering just over 80 kilometers for the day, and I couldn’t be prouder of my achievement.
The Tarako Backyard Ultra (on 13 May 2023) marked my first “go as far as you can” type race, and despite not finishing (DNF), I thoroughly enjoyed the event. Only time will tell if participating in this race just four weeks before the Comrades was a good idea.
My Strava Activity can be found here. I left it on the whole event.
So, what is a backyard ultra?
A backyard ultra is a race where participants must complete a 6.706 km race loop every hour. The race continues until individuals can no longer complete a loop or fail to make it to the start of the subsequent loop. The event concludes when the last person has completed a lap on their own, one more than everyone else. For more details, you can refer to the Wikipedia article here and the race website here.
How did my race go?
Early on Saturday morning, I set up a tent at the starting area, placed my chair in the Pirates’ (my club) gazebo, registered, and eagerly awaited the 9 am start. Approximately 60 people were participating in the race.
The race began after a briefing, and from the start, it felt quite unusual. The pace was slow as many participants adopted the strategy of completing slower loops to conserve energy for the later stages of the race. Despite the slow pace, the atmosphere among the racers was lively, with jokes and conversations filling the air.
I was fortunate to have my girlfriend supporting me at the start. Since there was a farmers market nearby, she brought me a bacon and egg roll after my first lap, which I’m convinced provided a much-needed boost later on.
The first few laps went smoothly, with most of them taking around 50 minutes to complete. I had enough time between each loop to check my phone and refuel without feeling rushed. Given the warm weather, I was glad to have a water bottle to take with me on the course. We shared the course with some hikers, who provided us with encouragement and sometimes another obstacle to pass.
After completing the fifth loop, things started getting tougher. The rest stop felt rushed as I tried to eat and replenish my water bottles. I switched to my road shoes at this point since the trail shoes were causing discomfort.
By this stage, we had become familiar with the course, and each lap allowed us to track our progress using landmarks. We grew accustomed to spotting specific rocks and turns that could potentially halt our race. During the event, I even caught sight of a small snake and a freshwater crab (I promise others saw it too).
As the late afternoon arrived, the atmosphere took on a more festive vibe due to the nearby farmers market. Approaching the end of each lap, we could see and hear people enjoying drinks and dancing at the market. I couldn’t help but wonder if any of them wondered what on earth we were doing.
Around lap 10, my girlfriend returned with a KFC burger for dinner. It was challenging to consume, but I’m convinced it played a significant role in helping me push through the final stretch of the race.
Lap 10 marked my first experience running in the dark, and it hit me hard. I struggled, both physically and mentally. Exhausted, I made the decision to make lap 11 my last. Lap 11 progressed slowly, and upon reaching the finish, I announced my intention to tap out. However, everyone encouraged me to go one more lap. Though reluctant, I gave in to their encouragement, especially when my running friend, Braam, said, “You can’t stop just before reaching 80km.” With a sigh, I embarked on a grueling final lap (lap 12). Similar to the previous lap, I found myself running mostly alone. Despite our slow pace, I couldn’t keep up with any of the other runners.
Before starting this final lap, I asked my girlfriend to pack up my things. So, when I completed the lap, there was no convincing me to go out again. I decided to tap out, which involved crossing out my name on the board, marking it as DNF (did not finish), and ringing the bell to signal the end of my race. This moment provided a perfect opportunity for some photos as I was handed a beer, medal, and T-shirt. I cracked open the beer, sat down, and savoured it.
During this time I somehow said cheers to Donovan (he ended up coming 2nd with 16 laps 107+km!). He was the last Pirate standing.
I had a struggle sleeping that night but was really happy with what I achieved. If you have a chance I would give this weird event a try. The combination of the clock and “short distance” made it quite interesting. Starting every hour is kind of mad and what make this event tough.
The winner was Debbie with 17 laps (114.002 km) and 2nd Donovan with 16 (107.296 km). Debbie was quite amazing (I didn’t really see her during the race, too fast) as she was doing 40 minute laps which gave her 20 minute breaks. This was quite a different tactic to most of the field as we went slow doing 50+ minute laps.
What I packed
- Tent I thought I might sleep over (it ended up being a good place to change clothes and keep all my stuff)
- Cooler box with cold water, energade and some fruit
- Chair (this is the most important thing to pack!)
- A number of energy bars
- Potato chips
- Spare clothes, warm clothes and extra shoes (road and trail shoes)
- The big round rim hat I took was awesome for the sun.
- Chafing was a problem so I will continue to use a lot of vaseline (I might need to experiment some more heavy duty products).
- I think I took too much food. I could have always asked someone to bring me more if I managed to go much further.
- Getting real food down (apart form bars and energy drinks) I think helped even though it was hard to eat.
- I used 2 rehydrate packets during the race, these really helped and I will be using this more.
- My trail shoes suck and need a better version for future long trails (they started hurting me after only 5 laps).
- A seconder is a life saver, I don’t think you need someone there all the time but my girlfriend really helped me organise my equipment and get me ready on the short time between the laps.
- The route was more technical than I expected. There was a mix of single track dirt track, some grass, rocks and the odd tripping hazard. I was kind of hoping for a super flat course where you could just buckle down and shuffle along.
Small tech angle
I tried out the Garmin developer tools and made a simple data field for the event. It was really simple all it did was tell me which lap I was on. Hopefully I can make something more interesting in the future.