This past weekend I ran Bubba’s Backyard Ultra in Conway, New Hampshire. For those unfamiliar with the format, a backyard ultra is a type of race where you run a set distance at the top of every hour, and you see how many consecutive hours you can go. The distance is set to be very achievable within the hour, but not something that is so low its a walk in the park. The race then becomes a task of time management to keep aches and nutrition in check and mental endurance since the starting line and finish line are the same place.
I was suuuperrr excited for this race. I figured that it played to my strong suits; eating like shit, functioning on low sleep, and doing something way longer than anyone would normally take. For training, I didn’t adjust my running much other than to just run more miles, and run more consistently in the weeks leading up to the race. I also bought Addie Bracy’s Mental Training for Ultrarunning to work on the mental side of my running, and I think that book singlehandedly made the biggest difference in my performance. It has lots of exercises to work through to identify your purposes for running and what sort of mental weaknesses you have and how to combat them. The book helped me formally think about why I would want to run a race like this and my insecurities around publicly sharing big goals for my running.
At 10am, we lined up. Contrary to most backyard ultras, Bubba’s is only 3.5 miles, which falsely gave me the impression that it might be easier. No. The course is brutal. Its 3.5 miles only because if it was longer it would genuinely be difficult to finish under an hour with moderate effort. The course is super twisty, leaving for few identifiable trail landmarks throughout the course. Running it felt like being on a roller coaster, the background forest just seemed to blur and I was hyper focused on not tripping on a root or slipping in the mud.
The weather for the ultra was not great. It was overcast the whole time, with intermittent rain. As the majority of the course is in the forest, the trees caught most of the rain, but it still soaked the course. It was very muddy, with two particularly nasty sections. One of which required balancing on a mud covered log across a mud pit, and the other required hopping across pre-established planks to avoid the mud. Luckily, the mud was not the Tough Mudder kind, it was more like oatmeal, so any missteps resulted in a caked up foot and not a soaked shoe.
My ulterior motive for the race was also to make more trail friends, and in that regard, this race was a smashing success. I got to met some really cool people who run and hike around the Whites or Cambridge fairly often. The volunteers were all so amazing, and they were so so kind.
Outside of notes about the weather and how nice the people were, it sounds strange for 20 hours but the race really did go by quickly. I aimed to finish each lap around the 49 minute mark which gave me enough time to eat, go to the bathroom, and change, and then it was just rinse and repeat until I was in too much pain to run.
My goals going into the race were to run for at least 24 hours, and to run until my body literally could not anymore. I learned a lot from running this race, and I’m really happy that I did it. It’s given me the confidence that my body can definitely crush a 50 miler, and faith that if I take my training seriously then a 100 miler isn’t too far out of reach.
Looking back on it, and my advice for anyone running this race next year/ things I would do next year would be the following:
- For your crew situation, make sure to have:
- A chair to sit in
- Some sort of tent or shade to hang out under
- Multiple pairs of shoes
- Multiple crew members are ideal to do shift work if you plan on running longer than 12 hours (My boyfriend crewed me and was the most amazing person ever but its a lot to ask someone to stay up for 24 hours).
- A rain jacket
- Tailwind (liquid calories go down way easier)
- lots of new running socks
- blister care first aid stuff
- anti chafing cream (I used squirrels nut butter)
- Change of clothes when yours get sweaty
- A bright headlamp/hip lamp
- CBD Lotion
- Get reallllllyyyy good at powerwalking. Two of the top ten runners were established through hikers, one of which has the Directessima FKT and the other had done Vermont’s Long Trail. The ability to walk at a fast enough rate that you can finish under the hour is a huge advantage.
- Voice Notes or playlists to look forward to. A bunch of my friends made me playlists and my younger brother sent me a voice note and they were so good for morale. It meant a lot to have people rooting for me and having faith in myself while I was in pain.
- Work on overall leg strength — the dreaded acknowledgement I need to start incorporating treadmill training because I don’t live in Colorado and can’t just walk out and get 2000′ of vert in Boston.
Being able to take a weekend off to fuck off in the woods while other people take care of literally everything else for me was an immense privilege. I’m really grateful to my boyfriend for being so supportive and genuinely happy to see me tackle something like this, and to spend his whole weekend looking after me. I’m thankful to the race director and all the volunteers, who ran a very tight ship managing 66 tired runners and greeted us all with stoke the whole time. I’m thankful to Bubba, who was nice enough to let us romp around his backyard for the whole weekend. I’m grateful to have the chance to better understand what my body is capable of, and I’m hopeful to try again next year to have a crack at pushing the women’s record even further (The 2020 women’s course record was 52 miles, I got 70, and the first place woman got 94). If you have the opportunity to go for a backyard ultra, I’d highly recommend it, especially Bubba’s.