American Runs 450 Miles In 108 Hours To Smash Backyard Ultra Record
If you’ve never heard of the Backyard Ultras, then it’s time to bring them to the front of your mind – especially since a mind-numbing new world record has just been set for this extreme running phenomenon.
Harvey Lewis, a seasoned American ultra runner, has just exceeded what most humans deem possible and completed a staggering 450 miles in 108 hours to set a new all-time best at the Big Dog Backyard Ultra in Bell Buckle, Tennessee.
Setting off at 07:00 local time on Saturday 21 October, Lewis eventually came home to clock his world record four and a half days later on Wednesday 25 October.
(For context, 450 miles is the same distance, as the crow flies, between The Running Channel’s office in London and places such as Inverness in Scotland and Hamburg in Germany. So yes, that is quite some distance to run.)
What are the Backyard Ultras?
For many, running 450 miles in a single race is incomprehensible – so why do runners like Lewis choose to do it? And what kind of route do they follow to complete such a distance?
The Backyard Ultras were born in 2011 as the brainchild of Gary ‘Lazarus Lake’ Cantrell, with the first – and now flagship – event being the Big Dog Backyard in Tennessee, where Lewis seized the new world record this week. There are now various Backyard Ultras across the world, all of which attract an increasing number of ambitious endurance athletes year on year.
The concept is mad but simple: participants must run a complete 4.167-mile loop on the hour, every hour, as many times as they possibly can in one go. The obscure 4.167-mile distance is known as a ‘yard’ in the Backyard Ultra world, and was created as such because it equals 100 divided by 24. This means that a full, 24-hour day involves a neat (and somewhat nasty) 100 miles of running.
As soon as runners are unable to complete a full loop within the allocated hour, they are eliminated. This process continues until only one runner remains and that runner is able to complete a final, solo victory lap.
Laps for days in Tennessee
Extraordinarily, Lewis wasn’t the only runner to keep going for more than 100 hours at this year’s Big Dog Backyard Ultra. In total, six competitors went beyond this milestone, with three of them – Lewis, Ukraine’s Ihor Verys and Poland’s Bartosz Fudali – all breaking the previous world record of 102 hours achieved by Phil Gore at the Dead Cow Gully Backyard Ultra in his home country of Australia in June 2023. Gore was one of the six runners to surpass the 100-hour mark this time in Tennessee, too.
Meanwhile, France’s Claire Bannwarth was the last woman standing at the 2023 Big Dog Backyard Ultra, having worked her way through an incredible 60-hour shift at the race. This is 12 hours longer than the French women’s Backyard Ultra record that Bannwarth set earlier this year.
Around the same time that Bannwarth drew her race to a close, Gary Cantrell, race director of the Big Dog Backyard Ultra, took to social media to express his happy disbelief at the growth of this unusual event. He said: “In 2019 the winner of Bigs [the Big Dog Backyard Ultra] did 60 yards. Right now we have 31 people out on the 60th yard. I think that is what they mean by exponential growth.”
What’s next for Lewis?
So, if you ever feel bored of your regular running route, just imagine running the same loop 24 times over the course of an entire day, for four and a half days straight… That’s quite some claim to fame for world-leading Lewis, who may well be eager to endure even more miles over the months and years to come.
Have you ever challenged yourself to a Backyard Ultra? Or is it something on your running bucket list?
Image credit: Mike Trimpe