The registration for Bubba’s Backyard Ultra opens today! Just for my running goals this year, I don’t think I will be running the race this year, but I did learn a lot about backyards from running the race last year + doing moderately well (#2 woman, 7th overall, 34hours and 1st place woman did 35, first place man did 42).
In this post, I will cover what my theories are behind a successful time at Bubba’s. I think broadly, there are three categories of preparation for the race: physical training, mental preparation, and shit you need to buy to have on hand during race weekend.
Training for a Backyard Ultra is a bit different from training for other ultra events because there’s not a set distance you are guaranteed to run. Things may work out in your favor and you hit your goals, run 24+ hours and run farther than you ever have in your life. Things may also explode terribly, you do trash, and despite the fact you may have run further before, you don’t run as far as expected. I am by no means a coach (plug to my wonderful coach here: ), but I think you don’t have to have a training program with high milage to be successful.
For reference, I only ran about 35-40 miles per week in my training program leading up to BBU 22. I had never ran more than a 50 mile race, and in the 2021 Bubba’s, I ran 70 miles. In the 2022 race, I nearly doubled that number, and ran 119. In 2021, I lived out in Colorado for the summer and logged a lot of trail miles and elevation. In 2022, I did not, and the vast majority of miles were on road, (flat roads, the horror). On paper, the only thing that really changed between 2021 and 2022 was just that was running more consistently, and if anything, my running in 2021 was much more trail focused. However, I think the races that I did in 2022 leading up to Bubba’s were instrumental in my success at Bubba’s.
The three races I did last year were: the Squatchapple 33 miler (New Jersey) the Dirty German 50 miler (Pennsylvania), and the Aliza Lapierre 50K (Vermont). When selecting these races, I mostly chose them because they looked fun and the timing worked out. But looking back on them, I think they were excellent preparation for Bubba’s due to the prevalence on mud on the course for each one.
The thing you need to recognize about Bubba’s is that no matter the conditions that year, it is going to be a muddy race. It is not necessarily the slippery type of mud that makes you hydroplane, moreso the cakey kinda of mud that gets your feet wet and rips your shoes off. And while you can’t run in that style mud very easily, it does require some muscle development and fine ankle motor control to walk on mud.
The year I ran Squatchapple, there was heavy rain in New Jersey the weeks leading up to the race. This led to a course with just absolute pits of mud, ankle deep puddles everywhere. It started raining midway through the race, which only exacerbated the already funky conditions. This race inadvertently became my intro to running in mud for hours at a time.
A similar trend occurred at the Dirty German. Pennsylvania was also getting exceptionally high amounts of rain in the days leading up to the race, and the race itself. I came to realize that the Dirty German is called that because it is typically an extremely muddy race. The rain on the course was so significant that they had to re-direct certain runners on new paths because the river rose too high and flooded certain paths. What was an inches of mud on the first lap became ankle deep mud on the final lap. The nature of the mud changed each lap, becoming more and more runny.
While the Aliza Lapierre 50K had absolutely mint weather, I do think it was a good compliment to the other races because it had the loamy wet soil that you will also experience at Bubba’s. Soil scientists will probably yell at me and say this doesn’t count as mud, but idk its wet dirt so I’m group it in.
Just like how time on feet is used a as a metric in ultra-running for training long distances, I think you should think about time on mud as a metric for training for Bubba’s. Find different types of mud, find races that are likely to be muddy. You don’t need to be logging weekly mud mileage or anything crazy like that, but you should have a sense of how to take care of your feet and navigate through mud.
My next hot take is that mental preparation is even more important than physical training. The thing about backyard ultra’s broadly is that you are going to be in pain. There is no amount of physical training you can do beforehand to avoid the pain. You could be running 120 mile weeks regularly and I guarantee you will still suffer. If you want to be successful, you need to do the preparation to get comfortable with some amount of pain.
I don’t want to come across as some edgelord talking about the purity of suffering and achieving some transcendent monk-like mindset where pain doesn’t register. The goal should be to recognize when the pain you are experiencing is pain that is going to naturally come from staying up 12+hours as a time and running the majority of it vs pain that is a broken leg or something really serious. If it is the former, you need to be able to both problem solve if it is fixable, or zone out and accept it.
Let me give a few example from the race. About 14 hours into the race, I was dealing with a lot of stomach pain. I felt cramped and bloated, and I had lost my appetite. After each lap, I worked on eating bland foods slowly, taking tums, and doing some yoga stretches for digestion. And eventually all these remedies worked (~5 hours of troubleshooting) and my digestive system starting processing again.
Another example would be some knee pain that I felt about 28 hours into the race. This knee pain was the classic runners knee pain, a very targeted pain from the side of my knee. I had felt this pain in longer runs before, and I knew it was something I would naturally experience on longer efforts. After chatting with my crew, I put some CBD lotion on my knee, and made more of an effort to stretch and foam roll after each lap. This brought the pain down from a 6/10 to 2/10, which was much more manageable to run through. Notice how the pain wasn’t gone completely, it was just lowered to be something I wasn’t as aware of. That should be the goal.
The final example was running through the night, at around 3am. I asked my crew to run with me, because I was miserable and cold. Chatting with my crew made the laps feel like they were going by much faster, and it gave me something to fixate on other than my grouchy mood. Sometimes the best solutions for a backyard ultra are the same solutions you use when you’re babysitting a young child — distraction and offer them food they like.
I would recommend buying Addy Bracy’s “Mental Training for Ultrarunning” for more specific advice tailored to your situation. It has some great tips on brainstorming ways to troubleshoot different problems, confronting any insecurities you have about running, and overall just getting in a good headspace during a race.
Shit you need to buy/bring to have on hand during race weekend
Now there are those mythical characters that you hear about that show up to a backyard ultra with just some extra shoes and they rely on the volunteers to help them get food and things go smoothly. It is in your best interest to try to be a little more prepared than that. If you are serious about running more than 12 hours, here’s a list of stuff you should have with you (and I say this as a cheap person, all this stuff is pretty non-negotiable, it makes for a better experience for you and for the people that are nice enough to crew you)
Aid Station Setup:
- Some sort of table
- Some sort of chair for you + chairs for your crew
- Some sort of covering that you can /stand/ under (i.e. a canopy tent is ideal)
- First Aid Kit with an emphasis on blister care + pain killers
- Some sort of cute decoration that makes it more noticeable to find at night (i.e. glow sticks)
- Storage containers for your clothes
- Storage Containers for your food
- Something to cook warm food for you (i.e or even a grill
- Wind cover thing for privacy (when changing) and also so your crew has cover from wind and rain
Stuff to Bring for Your Self
- For every 6 hours, have a new pair of shoes (~roughly)
- For every 6 hours you expect to run, heave a new pair of socks (MINIMUM)
- Squirrels Nut Butter/Any anti chafe stuff
- Down jacket (it gets cold at night)
- Multiple lighting sources (headlamp + hip lamp ideal)
- batteries for your headlamp
- Multiple pairs of shorts + leggings
- Multiple pairs of shirts
- Multiple pairs of Long sleeves shirts for layering
- hat for warmth at night
- Hat for sun cover during day
- Rain jacket
- Running vest for water when you run (or handheld if you prefer that)
- Running watch (imo, the easiest way to track distances on the lap)
- Salty Foods You like (my favorites–> quesadillas, hash browns, salted potatoes, potato chips)
- Sweet foods you like (my favorites -> Rice Krispies, Oreos, oatmeal creme pies)
- Caffeinated Foods/Drinks you like (my favorites-> coke, yellow red bull)
- Non Running Shoes To Wear Post Race (Slip-ons are ideal)
- Tums + stuff to help with digestion
- portable charger to charge phone or watch
- Poles (only if you use them regularly/adept with using them)
- Foam Roller
- Massage Gun
- Massage Ball/lacrosse ball ( great for loosening up feet )
Stuff Your Crew Needs To Bring For Themselves
- Tent to sleep in
- Sleeping bag
- Sleeping pad
- Warm hat + gloves
- Clothes for each day they plan to be there
- running gear if you plan to pace (trail shoes are sufficient)
- Water + Food for themselves
- Card games/books to entertain themselves
- Surprise food creations + surprise snacks for the runner
- Surprise celebrations for reaching certain milestones for the runner
Stuff You Can Make So Your Crew knows How to Troubleshoot With You (Optional but Highly Recommended)
- A document that has
- Salty Foods you like
- Sweet Foods you like
- What your routine will be when you’re back at your aid station (i.e. first check water + refill, then eat food, then bathroom, then any extra time is stretch)
- What you’ve planned as troubleshooting mechanisms
- Affirmations + the ways you like your peptalks
- Anti-Affirmations + the ways you liked to be bullied into doing things/motivated more negatively
- Podcasts + audiobooks + things you can think about to distract you neutrally
- What you’ve packed and where it was located originally
- Some sort of table so your crew can track your intake of water and calories/food
- Pen/Pencil so your crew can write on aforementioned document
I was raised a Coast Guard Brat, so intensive planning and preparation is generally something I gravitate to. All these tips can seem like a lot, but they are just my recommendations (which are totally fine to ignore if you’d like)! Ultimately, Bubba’s is a really fun event and such a great opportunity to meet and hang out with the New England trail community. When it comes down to it, you’re just running, snacking, and chatting for as long as you want, and for me at least, that’s a pretty fricken ideal weekend.