MVP Backyard Ultra – Last Man Standing 2021 Report

  • Location: Brimbank Park, Victoria, Australia
  • Distance/Time: 201.18km/30 hours
  • Date: 5-7/02/21
  • Overall Place: 4/56
  • Full Results

Well, that was something different. When I first heard about the concept of a backyard ultra I told myself it was stupid and I’d never do it. I told myself the concept of running 6.7km (4.1mi) every hour on the hour until everyone gave up except one, leaving the last man standing was stupid. It was stupid because it’s not a “proper ultramarathon”, because you stop and start. However to be honest, looking back I was telling myself this because I was scared of doing one. I was justifying to myself and making excuses as to why I shouldn’t and wouldn’t do one. Why was I scared? Because it would challenge something I based my self-worth on; mental strength and willpower. I was scared that I’d give up, and my will would be broken before someone else’s. Theres only two two options with backyard ultras; give up or win, if your lucky you might get timed out and be too slow. However I identified this fear and ego driven thought pattern and once I did knew what I had to do, I had to be courageous and take the challenge on. To grow I have to take on what challenges and scares me, so thats what I did. With the Delirious W.E.S.T 200 miler being postponed due to COVID-19 I now had the opportunity to take on my first backyard ultra, a blessing in disguise.

The event took place at Brimbank Park, Victoria, Australia on Friday night at 7pm. It was forecasted to be rainy and stormy that night however we got lucky and it pretty much missed us completely. The conditions were a little humid in the afternoon but cooled down by night, it ended up being quite pleasant. I arrived at Brimbank Park super early at around 4pm due to a coordinated appointment in Melbourne city (15 min drive from Brimbank) a couple hours before race start. Once I arrived at Brimbank I could see Brett Saxon (race director and owner of Trails+) along with his team had already made a significant start with setting everything up. I parked the car and was greeted by a familiar face, Zack!! Zack and I had run the first 20km of Wilsons Prom 100 (100km) together only 2 months ago, we then ran a good 15km together during the back half of Two Bays Trail Run (56km) only 3 weeks ago. At this stage I’d call Zack a good friend, and I was looking forward to running my first backyard ultra with him. We had planned to push each other, to do one more lap than each other as the race went on. After a chat we grabbed our gear; arm-chair, esky full of food, extra shoes, spare change of clothes, blankets, head torches, etc, found the athlete marque area and started organising our living set-ups for the next couple days!

Trails+ had done a great job for the set up, from the starting lap pen, undercover athlete marques, first aid marque, hot food marque, it was all placed together well, helping to create a snug atmosphere and just 50m away from a cafe! After Zack and I set up our living area it wasn’t long before all the other competitors showed up and started their own set-ups. It went from deserted marquees and silence to a gathering of excited runners and their crews! My excitement was building too, once it hit 6pm it really hit me, we were about to be running for 24 hours at least, a new and exciting experience was about to go down. Zack and I passed the time talking to other competitors, everyone was excited and anxious of what was to come. We were all happy to be their and were keen to get started.

I want to quickly add in addition to Zack I had a couple other close friends attending the event; my weight training partner Cam, and work mate Tian were both participating in the event whilst another legend Mel, was crewing for Cam.

Before we knew it, it was 6:45pm and Brett got everyones attention to give the event briefing. Brett went over the 3 loop course; it was a mix of asphalt urban trail and gravel urban trail running throughout Brimbank Park. There was a few hills but nothing too crazy, for an urban trail it was a nice course. Brett also made us aware we had some experienced runners amongst us; Kay Bretz winner of the 2019 Australian Ultra-running performance of the year, who ran 259.670 km total in the 2019 World 24 hour Championships in Albi, France, he’d also placed second at Delirious W.E.S.T 200 miler. Kay wasn’t the only runner with an impressive resume amongst us, there was place getters in some of Australia’s toughest ultramarathons such as Down Under 135, Oscars Hut 2 Hut and GSER100 to name a few. Not only this but much of field were ultra running veterans in their own right with numerous 100 mile and 200 mile races under their belts! So this was going to be interesting.

Before I knew it I was pressing the start button on my Garmin and we set off! 7pm had hit. Zack and I took off together at a comfortable pace which was significantly faster than the rest of the pack, which we could tell raised some eyebrows. Our game plan going in was to run each lap at a pace that was comfortable at that time, obviously as time went on we expected to slow down but at that moment we ran a pace that felt good. It wasn’t long before we were by ourselves and had completed the first loop of the lap, 10 – 20 minutes later we completed our second loop (so we thought) of the lap, another 5-6 minutes later we competed our third loop of the lap which meant we completed our first 6.7km. However as we looked down at our watches, we noticed we’d only ran 5.5km, we looked at each other “oh shit, we ran the wrong way”. We confided with the race director, Brett who made us realise we missed an additional loop that took us runners around some wetlands during the second loop. Luckily we still had 30 minutes to spare, Brett told us to run back, run the wetland loop and come back, this way we would’ve ran the whole course. We did as he said running backwards past the other runners, almost like a walk of shame towards the wetlands, we confused a lot of runners but quickly made them aware we were idiots, and to keep doing what they were doing. So we ran back, completed the wetlands loop and ran back. We crossed the lap finish line at 42 minutes, so still had 18 minutes before going back out for our second lap. Zack and I joked around, laughing at the fact we just had to run an additional 2km on our first loop, “that’s one way to start a backyard ultra”. I ate some food, continued to joke around about how Zack and I just ran the wrong way on a clearly marked course! It wasn’t long before it was time for lap 2. 7:57pm we were all given the 3 minute warning and gathered in the starting pen once again, then 8pm hit and once again we all set off. It became clear to me at this point that Zack and I were on the same wavelength, my comfortable pace was his comfortable pace which was great because it meant we’d be running together. I was having some stomach issues, trapped gas I assume but talking to Zack helped me draw my attention away from the pain. We were partners in crime. First loop, second loop, third loop all done and before we knew it Zack and I had finished our second lap going the proper way this time. It took us 33 minutes at a comfortable pace, we were talking the whole time and embarrassingly I admit I was farting the whole time too, due to my messed up stomach.

Lap 2 Complete!

I’ll give a quick detailed overview of what consists of a whole lap here; first loop had us running down an asphalt path past a cafe, we’d eventually turn left, then right and make our way along Maribyrnong River before running up a hill and turning right which led us back to the starting area, that was loop one. Loop two had us running down the same hill as loop 1 past the cafe however turning right instead of left, this then led to a river crossing, we’d cross the river, then suddenly make our way up a steep but short hill which led us off the asphalt path and onto a gavel path which led to a nice hill/cliff which we ran straight up, then took some switch back trails down. Once down we continued running straight which led to the wetland loop Zack and I missed on the first lap, once you’ve run around this loop you take a left which leads you back onto an asphalt path which quickly takes you back to the starting area, thats loop two. Loop three was practically loop 1 except in reverse. Combine all three loops and you’ve done the 6.7km lap. The course would be best described as an urban trail, the path is either asphalt or gravel and theirs plenty of infrastructure, however you’re surrounded by wildlife, rivers and trees. Rabbits, bats, wallabies, snakes and kolas were all spotted whilst on course.

Alright so lap two was done, and Zack and I had established our routine. Eat, go to the toilet and talk, we had plenty of time to spare!! It wasn’t long before we lost daylight and night fell upon us, our head-torches came out and our excitement rose for some night running. 3 laps, 4 laps, 5 laps, 6 laps, 7 laps, time flew by. We ran, we ate, we talked and we laughed, we felt good, everything was going well until it wasn’t. At around lap 6-7 my right quad starting killing me like it was being stabbed in-between my quad muscle and the kneecap. I felt it from lap 4-5 slowly starting to creep up and get worse on me. I assume it was mild quad tendonitis, I tried rubbing deep heat onto it, I stretched it, I even tried changing my shoes but nothing was easing the increasing pain! It was around lap 8 were I become serious concerned that maybe I’d have to pull out, my quad was seriously killing me. This is were I decided I’d have to change the way I was running and start compensating because pulling out was not an option. I restricted the bending of my right knee and focused on using my hip flexors more so than my quads, I also led the downhill with my left leg so most the pressure would be focused on my left (good) leg, which I payed the price for later on. These changes seemed to work, the pain stopped getting worse and it became manageable.

Lap 7: Ultra Confirmed

Before I move on from the night I need to mention a few things; first thing thank you to the volunteers who stayed up all night to support us and to one in particular who was cooking the best toasted cheese sandwiches and hot potatoes with butter and salt! The hot food was so uplifting! Coming back from a lap tired at 1-2am in the morning to a delicious toasted cheese sandwich was superb! Second thing thank you Zacks partner Jodie, it was great having your company in between laps and the support you showed Zack and even myself was amazing, especially so late at night! Last thing thank you Mel for staying up all night, having that extra support in-between laps was super beneficial and greatly appreciated.

12 hours later we were re-introduced to the sun, that first loop without the head torch was appreciated big time, night running lost its excitement real quick! Zack and I had run 80km together, side by side, all through the night and were both feeling pretty good. Running with Zack throughout the night was fun, Zack was chasing rabbits off the path, we stopped a few times to have a look at glowing lights within the grass which turned out to be spider eyes! We even stopped to have a look at some decently sized fruit bats and kind of s**t ourselves when we heard that crazy yelling noise koalas can make (you know if you know). We pushed and pulled each other along throughout the night, I had a few bad laps, he had a few bad laps but we helped each other get through each one. We were averaging 35 minute laps which means we always had plenty of time to chill out, eat and rest the legs, we still hadn’t walked any of the course. 22 people had pulled out throughout the night including my mates Cam and Tian. It got me thinking a little, what were my goals for the race? “To keep going until I broke” I told myself, however with arrogance deep down I’d assumed everyone would’ve had enough by 24 hours. So really in my mind I wasn’t expecting to actually run until I broke, I had no belief the event could last all weekend. This ended up biting me in the a**.

By morning I started to run out of food, I’d eaten a whole loaf of bread with peanut butter, a packet of lollies, quarter a bag of mixed nuts, 3 bananas, 3 carman bars and 2 protein shakes throughout the night, not to mention the toasted cheese sandwiches and potatoes given to me by the volunteers. As mentioned above I thought this would be over within 24 hours, maybe earlier so I didn’t pack food for the whole weekend. However luckily I have some great friends, and before Mel and Cam went home Saturday morning they went out to the shops to replenish my food stock! Thank you guys! In addition to this Zack and Jodie were always offering me food, bloody legends!! So with night over and 12 hours done, lap 13 and 14 followed, my quad still hurt and would for the rest of the event however I managed. Zack and I continued to feel pretty good, we were pretty tired early morning/late night and we had some bad laps but as a whole we were feeling good, especially as the sun rose. As we got to lap 15/100km I couldn’t believe Zack and I were still consistently hitting the same pace and running together, it really started to feel like clockwork. Start the lap, turn left, turn right, run up, run down, it felt like we were factory workers working on a well oiled machine. The consistency boosted our mood and the fact we still felt good after 100km definitely added some confidence.

Lap 15: 100km in the bag

I’d like to add another thank you to Brett, volunteers and spectators; your positivity and smiling faces made the event so very special! The other thing that was pretty special was our 13th lap, it was 8am and Saturday morning which means Park Run. The Park Run start line was at the cafe only 50m away from the starting pen and as we took off for our 13th loop all the Park Runners stopped and cheered us on, seeing 50+ smiling faces all cheering gave our tired brains a boost!! So thank you Park Runners!!

13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20. The laps and the hours just flew by throughout the day, each lap merging into another making it hard to recall what happened on what lap. Zack and I were still running together and had been all day, however at lap 20 Zack and I started to slow down a little, walking the hill on loop 2 for the first time. This was also when I knew I wasn’t going to win, the worst thing that could happen happened, I became satisfied! We were staring down 24 hours/100 miles and I was happy with that, I knew I had no business winning at this stage, Kay (the Australian Ultra-running performance of the year 2019 winner) looked too relaxed, he was sleeping and looked as fresh as a daisy. I hadn’t slept for 34 hours and was just starting to suffer the consequences, this in conjunction with being satisfied, hurting my quad, no longer being interested in pushing my limits and having a big race schedule coming up made me lose my edge, although I was still running I already made the decision I wasn’t going to keep running to win. Anyway it started to get pretty warm and we were getting hot, I got out my cap and soaked it in water to cool me down, Zack and I were also given some ice which we put in our water bottles, our liquid consumption increased significantly. Zack being the legend he is also bought us an ice coffee each and a donut, this was nice but the heat was really affecting us. Eating became difficult and I came the closest I’ve ever been to throwing up! Luckily after lap 20 (3pm) it started to cool down. I remember it was around this lap Zack and I just looked at each other as we sat in our chairs, completely exhausted, we couldn’t eat and were in struggle town, it really felt like we were on our way out. The problem was we were still running each lap under 40 minutes so still had a lot of laps left in us, I offered some snakes to Zack but he couldn’t stomach anything, I managed to get down 4-5 but knew this wasn’t enough to keep the fire burning. I should mention Zacks relatives had been coming down to support Zack all day/afternoon, that was great. Its’ great to be surrounded by such positive, supportive people, thank you guys!! Anyway we dragged ourselves to the starting pen for what felt like the thousandth time and started the next lap, it felt like we were flogging a dead horse, the dead horse being our bodies. The downhill spiral had begun!!

Lap 24: 100 miles locked & loaded

Lap 21, 22, 23 all done and we actually started to feel better after that 20th lap, as it cooled down we got a second, third, fourth and fifth wind! And at around lap 23 we finally were able to get in some solid food. Jodie bought us pizza!! This definitely uplifted our mood and our next lap felt the best for a while. However it wasn’t long before we started feeling it again, Zack more so than me and as the sun went down for the second time and our head torches came back out our moods seriously dropped. I had already told myself I wasn’t going to be able to make it through the second night, a self fulfilling prophecy, I texted this to my parents and they thought it best they come up to drive me home. This really sealed the deal for me, I felt horrible of the idea of making my parents stay up all night, waiting for me to pull out because I told them I wasn’t going to make it through the night. To top things off my quad pain came surging back, I was at my wits end with my stomach issues which still hadn’t gone away (I was going to the toilet every second-third lap the whole event!) and Kay was still looking so solid. Deep down I knew I was on my way out and saw I had no chance to be the last man standing, I psyched myself out. Zack and I also stopped running together at around 8pm/lap 26 because Zack was slowing down, I tried cheering him on but he was physically at his end, he had pushed to legendary levels but after lap 26 I could see he was really struggling, and it looked like I’d be by myself for the rest of the event. I felt bad for not running with him, we’d run over 100 milers/24 hours together, we were a team, it was supposed to be just me and him left and I felt like I was ditching him when he needed me the most! But we told each other that when the time came and our paces differed we’d separate, so thats what I did, I still felt really bad though especially because Jodie and his family had been supporting me throughout the whole event! Lap 28 was when it ended for Zack, he completed the first loop of the lap but he had nothing left and pulled the pin, Zack was done 😦 He was the better runner, I was supposed to be out before him. Anyway I finished lap 28 with 3 others, there was 4 of us left. They all seemed so strong and calm, I quickly felt I had no business competing against these guys. I weighed my options, my quads f**ked but I can still run on it, I feel like s**t as I hadn’t slept for 40+ hours and had been having stomach problems for the whole event, my parents had just arrived and were now waiting, I had 3x 100km ultramarathons coming up in the next month and had convinced myself I had no chance of winning. I asked myself what the point was, I’d forgotten my purpose and couldn’t think of a reason to keep pushing my mind and body. Alright I told myself I’ll get to 201km/30 laps and pull the pin, I’d be happy with 200kms. So thats what I did, I dragged myself through the next 3 laps. I had good chats to all 3 of the remaining competitors, all were great people! Kay and Ross were so experienced and wise, I was just soaking in and listening to every word they said, trying to learn from their experiences. Ross had placed and competed in some of Australia’s hardest ultramarathons including Down Under 135, Oscars Hut 2 Hut and GSER 100 whilst I’ve already stated the amazing achievements Kay’s achieved. The chats didn’t help my exhaustion though, I was reduced to a shuffle and was having to keep my bad quad nearly completely tensed and straight at this point, I was also starting to struggle to run straight due to being tired. But I completed lap 29 done and then lastly lap 30. I’d run 201km, I was done, I crossed the line with 10 minutes left and called it a day/night. I’d run 201km and was happy with that, I saw no more point in pushing myself, I actually convinced myself I was doing the mature things to prevent serious injuries with all my events coming up. I took off my bib and thanked Brett for holding a great event, he’d done an amazing job. I then went out to the last 3 remaining competitors, thanking, congratulating and wishing them all the best for the rest of the event, I really was satisfied and appreciative of what had just happened. Then dad and I starting packing up and we hit the road, driving home I nodded on and off, waking up to the pain in my hips, feet and knees, the constant ache was debilitating, I felt like utter s**t but was home an hour later and went straight to bed, still in my disgusting clothes and sweat and salt covered body. What an epic 30 hours!

Finish/Start Line at Hour 30
Photo Credit: Brett Saxon (Race Director of Trails+)

I’m writing this 4 days later and let me tell you I’m no longer satisfied with my result, I had much more to give but as you can probably tell with this race report, I psyched myself out. I also didn’t prepare myself mentally for the event to go that long, I arrogantly thought I’d be the last man standing after 100 miles maximum, or at worst Zack and I. I’m happy with reaching 200km but was disappointed in myself for breaking, its an awesome learning experience. I leant a lot about myself and the kind of mindset required for these backyard ultra events. I’m looking forward to another opportunity to take on this format, to redeem myself. I truly believe this format suits me, I just need to go in with my eyes on nothing but the prize, no distance goal, no concern about others, no concern for other races, just to be the last man standing.

Once again thank you so, so much to all volunteers for setting up all the marquees, for cooking us hot food at 1am in the morning, for always smiling and offering to help us runners! Thank you to race director Brett Saxon and Trails+, once again you’ve created an amazing event with an awesome atmosphere, I’ll be back for 2022. Thank you to Jodie, Mel, Cam, Zacks whole support crew and family and my own family, running is said to be a solo effort but I question that after races like these. Lastly thank you to all fellow competitors, you were all awesome and I loved the few conversations I got to have with many of you! And of course thank you Zack, your a bloody legend and I still can’t believe we ran over 100 miles side by side, even though we weren’t the last ones standing I’m impressed with how long we were able to run together! Thanks for the conversations, the laughs and of course the donut and ice coffee!!

Congratulations to Kay Bretz for being the last man standing with 36 laps/241kms and congratulations too Ross Mcphee with the assist running 35 laps/234kms. You were both legends to talk too and I appreciate the knowledge you bestowed upon me during our conversations on that second night. You both urned the assist and the win.

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