Comox Valley runners race virtually

The backyard ultramarathon is a new style of running race that has recently grown in popularity.

The backyard ultra has a simple concept: each hour, on the hour, runners must run a 6.7 kilometre loop. Participants can take as much time as they like within the hour, but they must be back at the start line to start their next loop at the beginning of the next hour. There is no set distance or time for the event. The race keeps going until there is a single person left who completes the final lap, and they are then declared the winner. This event was invented by Lazarus Lake, of Barkley Marathons infamy.

Now the event has evolved to become a variety of virtual backyard ultramarathons. The original virtual race was called the Quarantine Backyard Ultramarathon, and it took place on April 4. The race had over 2,400 participants across the world, including some top professional athletes. The winner was Mike Wardian, who ran an astounding 63 laps for a total distance of 422km. Two locals took a stab at this event, each putting in an outstanding effort in this gruelling event. Jordan Brietzke finished a whopping 27 laps, or approximately 180km. He was also the fourth Canadian in the overall standings. Graham Forsyth also had a solid day, running 14 laps to complete just under 100kms.

The amazing performances by these local runners inspired Wayne Crowe of the Comox Valley Road Runners to organize a local Virtual Backyard Ultramarathon on May 3. Steve Blacklock was a participant and the MC as he hosted a live stream for the event. A total of 42 runners decided to take up the challenge, with participants running anywhere from one to 18 laps. When the event took place, Karen Weller was still on quarantine due to a recent return to Canada, so she decided to run the event on an 85m loop around her house. She did so many laps that she wore a track into her yard.

“For a virtual race, I actually felt very connected to all the other runners participating: either through Zoom, Facebook Live, or Strava,” said Cathie Collins, another participant of the backyard ultra. “It brought a smile to my face picturing all of the other runners all over the Comox Valley running their loops.”

Eventually the numbers were whittled down until five runners made it to 12 laps (80k). These brave souls were Danny Keyes, Derek Brenchley, Marion Bryan, Sami Bouma and Crowe. The runners continued to crack one at a time, until only Derek, Marion and Wayne remained at lap 15 (105.5km). At this stage, Derek bowed out to leave only Marion and Wayne vying for the win.

Crowe said after the event, “How long would it go? Marion and I did a 16th lap as the darkness and cold closed in. After eyeing each other up on Zoom we both loaded up with headlamps for another lap. After having a good talk with myself (…) I dropped out after 17 laps. Certainly beat my goal of 10 laps!”

Bryan then completed her victory lap for a total of 18 laps (120.6km).

Excellent job to all runners in both events. Congratulations to all of the participants.

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