The World's Most Sadistic Endurance Race
November 10, 2018 10:25 AM   Subscribe

Courtney Dauwalter takes on Big's Backyard Ultra Gary Cantrell clanged a bell at 6:40 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 20, signaling 70 runners to jog off into the woods on his farm in Tennessee. They had an hour to complete a 4.1667-mile loop trail. Easy. Most of the group finished with 15 minutes to spare. The bell clanged again at 7:40 a.m., and they ran it again. And at 8:40 a.m., and 9:40 a.m., and every hour after that until, one by one, they quit. There was no known finish line. The race went on, day and night, until the bell clanged and only one runner answered.

Big’s Backyard Ultra is a last-man-standing race devised by Cantrell, a.k.a. Lazarus Lake. He’s the chain-smoking provocateur/mastermind behind the Barkley Marathons, adding Big’s Backyard Ultra to his collection of devilishly difficult programs in 2012. It’s named for his pitbull, Big: “The event, hosted by a dog, in which humans fight to the death,” he quipped.
posted by MovableBookLady (35 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
 
Barkley Marathons previously and previously and previously.
posted by Chrysostom at 10:33 AM on November 10, 2018 [1 favorite]


good lord just reading this made my knees swell up

also more events in general should be hosted by a dog
posted by poffin boffin at 10:52 AM on November 10, 2018 [13 favorites]


Having a race start that early on a Saturday feels like a conspiracy to keep me from exercising. You want me to run? Yeah, ok. I guess. At what time?! And you want my kidney too???
posted by Brocktoon at 10:53 AM on November 10, 2018 [2 favorites]


All this talk about being hosted by a dog, and yet I see no pictures of him- for shame!
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 11:00 AM on November 10, 2018 [7 favorites]


I want to be known as a chain smoking provocateur/mastermind with a collection of devilishly difficult programs.
posted by bleep at 11:14 AM on November 10, 2018 [24 favorites]


Oh my god.
posted by Songdog at 11:21 AM on November 10, 2018 [1 favorite]


there is a concept in mathematics called tetration, which replaces the use of exponents when they can't get you very far when talking about astounding large numbers.

using knuth's arrow notation, this is how i feel about this race

fuck-no↑ ↑ fuck-no
posted by lalochezia at 11:22 AM on November 10, 2018 [20 favorites]


wow, just wow, just wow, just wow
posted by twoplussix at 11:41 AM on November 10, 2018


I know adding Battle Royale modes to everything is trendy because of Fortnite, but I did not expect it to go this far.
posted by allegedly at 11:46 AM on November 10, 2018 [8 favorites]


I have a good friend who ran this! Her goal was to run 100 miles in 24 hours and she did. She's amazing! She runs actual marathons as part of her training for other races.

She's also a primatologist and took up running, and then ultra-marathoning, because this is less of a terrible slog than grad school.
posted by ChuraChura at 11:49 AM on November 10, 2018 [31 favorites]


It's like someone read The Long Walk and thought to themselves, "yeah that seems like a pretty good idea, but what if we make them run instead?"
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:02 PM on November 10, 2018 [15 favorites]


In track cycling, there is an event called the elimination. Every 2 laps (of a 250-meter velodrome) or every lap (or a 333- or 400-meter velodrome), the last rider across the finish line is eliminated from the race.

It's quite an experience.

Actually, at the elite level, it's sheer terror - to be flying around at 35+mph, banging elbows in a dense pack, as there's a wave from behind, riders sprinting into gaps that don't exist, trying to prevent their back wheel from being last across the line - hoping to survive long enough for the field to whittle down until it's possible to start riding with the slightest sense of self-preservation, but if you make it that hard it's hard to sprint again, every thirty seconds or so. Again. And again. Until it's just down to two people and really it's just a test to see who can accelerate one more time. I've won eliminations - and I've gotten second place in them - and both experiences are abject brutality.

But it only lasts for ten or fifteen minutes.

Big's Backyard Ultra seems... worse.
posted by entropone at 12:05 PM on November 10, 2018 [31 favorites]


It's like someone read The Long Walk and thought to themselves, "yeah that seems like a pretty good idea, but what if we make them run instead?"

Actually, in The Long Walk, the required pace was 4mph, or 15 minute miles. Exactly the pace required by Big's; only stopping wasn't allowed; you couldn't "bank time" like Big's allows. I've always been annoyed about that detail King missed, because 3 mph is a more realistic human walking speed. (Though, to be honest, I quite hate everything about The Long Walk, and much prefer Landis' A Walk in the Sun as a proper telling of this story prototype.)
posted by Xyanthilous P. Harrierstick at 12:45 PM on November 10, 2018 [2 favorites]


Wow, Jesus. It's interesting that psychologically people choose to drop out between rounds rather than mid round. What's that about? I guess starting a thing is just harder than continuing a thing?
posted by latkes at 1:14 PM on November 10, 2018 [2 favorites]


I love these crazy format races. Reminds me of this one in Queens I read about.
posted by Hutch at 1:15 PM on November 10, 2018


It's interesting that psychologically people choose to drop out between rounds rather than mid round. What's that about? I guess starting a thing is just harder than continuing a thing?

I think it's more like... "Sure, I could do another loop. But the winner will probably be doing another 25 loops. I know I can't do that. I could maybe do another 5. But it's a DNF whether I drop now or do more. I couldn't do another 25. What difference does it make it I do 5 more or drop now? Ah, fuck it, I'll drop now. I've done my best."

The mental side of this must be immense! I gather that those who do well just focus one loop at a time. Once you start thinking too much ahead and wondering what your limit is, you're already starting to think about dropping.
posted by maupuia at 1:21 PM on November 10, 2018 [4 favorites]


The mental side of this must be immense! I gather that those who do well just focus one loop at a time. Once you start thinking too much ahead and wondering what your limit is, you're already starting to think about dropping.

so somebody with anterograde amnesia might actually have an unfair advantage in this race. if there are drugs that can cause it without harming physical performance, would they have to be prohibited PEDs for this event?
posted by vogon_poet at 1:28 PM on November 10, 2018 [4 favorites]


This is like that episode of battlestar galactica where the cylons showed up every 33 minutes. Which runner do you have to sacrifice to make it stop!?
posted by moonmilk at 1:44 PM on November 10, 2018 [5 favorites]


so somebody with anterograde amnesia might actually have an unfair advantage in this race.

Funny you should say that--Diane Van Deren is an ultramarathoner who had a surgery to correct seizures, which, among other things, messed with her ability to judge the passage of time, which she says helps her to run ultras. There's no "Oh god I've been running for how long?" for her.
posted by damayanti at 2:20 PM on November 10, 2018 [22 favorites]


Having a race start that early on a Saturday feels like a conspiracy to keep me from exercising.

Heh, if 6.40am is early, you probably want to stay away from ultra-running, 3 or 4am starts aren't uncommon, especially for 100-milers.
posted by Pink Frost at 2:55 PM on November 10, 2018


I would stick to the contest where the last person standing with their hand on the pickup truck wins it.
posted by JackFlash at 2:56 PM on November 10, 2018 [4 favorites]


> lalochezia:
"fuck-no↑ ↑ fuck-no"


fuck-no↑ ↑ fuck-no ↑ ↑ fuck-no
posted by Samizdata at 4:07 PM on November 10, 2018


Why don't we just build these tiny ultralight generator sulkies they wear, connected to a belt?
posted by Samizdata at 4:16 PM on November 10, 2018


I am reminded of those dance marathon contests they used to have: "human endurance contests in which couples danced almost non-stop for hundreds of hours (as long as a month or two), competing for prize money".

Except that those were hugely popular to watch, while this is more of a private suffering.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:20 PM on November 10, 2018 [2 favorites]


People who do these crazy types of things -- including those of you in this thread of course -- give me heart to continue on doing what I am doing, my daily commitment of riding that bicycle 11 miles a day, day in day out. I'm coming close to 1000 days without missing a day. Without my knowing that there are ppl who are doing way more crazy things than I am doing, it would be oh so easy to give in, lay on the couch reading or watching a movie or whatever else on cold days or rain days or even just days that I just don't want to hold to the commitment, for whatever reason.

My spirit animal is David Goggins, who is clearly insane, barking mad w/r/t keeping to what he says he's going to do, no ifs, ands, or buts allowed. It was after reading about Goggins that I determined to start riding the bicycle; I committed to 30 days riding the Town Lake hike/bike trail after I happened to not only see a mirror but really look at it, actually *notice* the big wad of goo encircling my waist and saying "Um, nope." Then, when I hit 30 days, I really couldn't see any valid reason to stop but plenty of valid reasons to hold to it.

A big thank you to the people crazy enough to dream these things up and to the people crazy enough to live out these mad dreams. I can't do what you do but knowing you're doing what you do keeps me doing what I'm able.
posted by dancestoblue at 5:07 PM on November 10, 2018 [22 favorites]


There is something really weird-interesting about pushing yourself way past your breaking point. In that breakdown, where your body is barely under your control and you are no longer thinking clearly there is a strange and unique transcendence.

Fortunately I can achieve this with only about 23 miles of running. No need for ultras. I feel for people who are so fit they have to do 4 or 5 times as much to find this experience. I also feel for people who seem to need to repeat it regularly.
posted by srboisvert at 5:25 PM on November 10, 2018 [5 favorites]


wow

I could theoretically do this to myself using my treadmill and Amazon Prime ST VOY or B5
posted by mwhybark at 5:38 PM on November 10, 2018 [4 favorites]


I want to attempt a singer's version of this
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 9:12 PM on November 10, 2018


Homo neanderthalensis here are some photos of Big Dog and others...

Much respect to these runners!
posted by tronec at 9:29 PM on November 10, 2018


I do endurance cycling and while I enjoy this particular type of suffering immensely, it is hard for me to wrap my brain around the fact that these people don't fucking know when the end will come.

Endurance events are all mental, the physical discomfort is the easy part. So a lot of it is just telling yourself: Yes I am doing this and I am going to stick to the plan and finish. Even if the finish is like, hundreds of miles and a couple of days of nonstop riding away.

Even with a well laid plan and plenty of training you inevitable have some, as we say, 'dark nights of the soul'. But to not know, and not be able to mentally prepare yourself for it, that is brutal.
posted by bradbane at 11:24 PM on November 10, 2018 [5 favorites]


We all did our best, God knows. But we were severely weakened by our training...
posted by flabdablet at 11:52 PM on November 10, 2018 [1 favorite]


latkes: It's interesting that psychologically people choose to drop out between rounds rather than mid round. What's that about?

I took part in a similar race - 7 km trail loop that needed to be done each hour. However, it couldn't go on forever, so whoever finished first for the 24th lap would win, everyone else tied for last regardless if they dropped at lap 1 or 20. (well, slight lie - for those finishing 23 laps, they'd get a buckle for doing 100 miles).

Now, going into this, I'd never run through the night, and my furthest distance had been 50 miles, 80km. I found myself in a group of 5 that started clumping together around 1.5k to the rest of the loop. Around loop 8, the first dropped. The 2nd dropped at loop 10. At loop 11, we needed head lamps. At loop 12, the 3rd of our group dropped (she was the 2nd last woman at that point, so in theory the woman's race was decided, but spoiler; the last woman finished). At loop 13, the two left in our group was myself, and a veteran of multiple 100 mile races. She started leaving me behind as my pace started to decay, so it went from being a fun group run, to a mostly solo slog through the night. I'd already passed my furthest distance, which had been my only goal going in.

Moreover, I'd run a few shorter races with some of the other men - I knew that without doubt I simply could not outrun at least 4 of the man even if I made it the full distance. I.E. I was guaranteed to lose, but I'd already met my only goal for the race. Given that this race was in late July and my body is not made to combat the heat this was a pretty ambitious goal.

Going into this race, I told myself that I was going to run until I got cut. When I was running in the group and we were talking about our goals, I mentioned that I was going to keep going until I couldn't make a loop in the hour. We'd talked about how with some good fast walking very little actually needed to be run. One needed to pull an average 8:30 min/km pace and most of us could walk about 9:30 .

Running in the dark apparently had a larger psychological effect on myself than I'd predicted. I'd run in the dark before, but never really more than an hour-ish, and usually that was actually in the morning in the winters getting up before the sun.

Starting loop 15, I started having problems keeping up my pace. The group I'd run with had been consistently hitting 48-49min loops, while complaining that we wanted to go slower. For loops 13 and 14 since I was on my own I started doing 52 min loops, and still finishing ahead of a number of people. Starting loop 15, around 2km in, the 2nd last guy passed me. We see-sawed for about another km, but there's a climb at 3km and he left me behind there. At this point there's a 1.8km stretch of old rail trail at about a 1-3% incline. It seems so flat on loop 1, but that slight constant incline made this seem about 10% on loop 15. I couldn't run. I walked my 9:30 pace, saying I'd run at the 4km marker. My pace slipped to 10:00. And then 10:30. I hit the 4km marker ... and kept walking. About 30 seconds later I cursed at myself a bit and started running, maybe 10 seconds and my body quit. OK, more walking, I'll run when I'm off the rail trail.

After the rail trail there's a nice down hill before the undulating hills start, and despite running downhill is kinda my thing, again I got only a few steps and my body stopped running. I see animal eyes in the woods looking back at me from the reflection of my headlamp, but beyond that and a giant moon in the sky not being able to run at that point on a downhill no less killed my psyche. OK, I told myself I quit after this loop. 105km is over 100, so that's a nice round number to stop. More than 80, so it's all good.

As I think that I quit, so my lap time doesn't matter, there's a bench on the trail at that point as if to mock me. I *really* wanted to just sit. I could make it a 2 hour loop, and it would still be 105km :) But I keep going. Speed walking as best as I can, knowing that I'm losing any time buffer built up from the first 3km of (slow) running. Eventually I get to a tree that I'd noticed around lap 4 was about 5 minutes before the end of my lap. I looked at my watch, 54 minutes. I couldn't walk this in 6 minutes, but by chaos I ran it in 5 14 times that day, I could run 5 more minutes. And, with the actual end in sight, I ran.

On previous loops, to conserve energy we were walking anything with more than a slope of about 10 degrees. I ran every up and down hill. I'd been seriously cooling down on lap 15, and now suddenly my body was dumping out hormones to get this finished and I started to sweat like the sun was up. I ran from the 5 minute point and made it in 4! So now I had 2 minutes to decide if I go one more lap.

I'd said I was going to run until I was cut, but I only made this loop because I mentally cheated my brain telling it this was the end. What's 105km vs. 112 km? That loop was so bad, won't this one be worse? Part of me remembered that part of why this hourly race was a challenge is that one can't have a really bad loop - maybe I had a bad-ish loop, but I could/would recover?

Oddly at that point the main thing my mind wanted to reflect on was watching the steam rise off of my body from my brief rush in the cool night air via my headlamp which was currently in "red" light mode. The fact that I couldn't concentrate and decide on anything ultimately pushed me to continue with my mid-loop decision that I was done.

But yeah, even the next day I still had to wonder how that loop would have gone. And today while writing this I try not to kick myself too much, it's over and done with.

Part of why people quit between loops might be the role of the mind as the central governor, one decides in the middle of the loop that it's the last loop. And that decision alone gives them the strength to finish that loop on time. When I wanted to keep going and tried to run, my body wasn't cooperating. Granted, those attempts were about 20 minutes of walking to gain some energy before my rushed finish. Maybe I could have run it in 5:50, made it back with 10 seconds to spare and then to complete some 55 minute loops?
posted by nobeagle at 5:51 PM on November 12, 2018 [10 favorites]


Wow, really interesting and impressive story nobeagle! Thanks for sharing that!
posted by latkes at 7:07 PM on November 12, 2018 [1 favorite]


Here's a great video of this year's race! Last Man Standing
posted by maupuia at 10:58 PM on November 13, 2018 [1 favorite]


(excerpted from nobeagle post)
Eventually I get to a tree that I'd noticed around lap 4 was about 5 minutes before the end of my lap. I looked at my watch, 54 minutes. I couldn't walk this in 6 minutes, but by chaos I ran it in 5 14 times that day, I could run 5 more minutes. And, with the actual end in sight, I ran.

On previous loops, to conserve energy we were walking anything with more than a slope of about 10 degrees. I ran every up and down hill. I'd been seriously cooling down on lap 15, and now suddenly my body was dumping out hormones to get this finished and I started to sweat like the sun was up. I ran from the 5 minute point and made it in 4!


Holy shit !!!

nobeagle, that is the coolest thing I have read all day. What an experience! What a great story! Thank you for sharing that with us.
posted by dancestoblue at 1:10 AM on November 14, 2018


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