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Herdys Frontyard Review 2024

Last Friday I ran a race.


Kind of a race.


It's called a Backyard Ultra Marathon. This is where runners cover 6.7km (actually 7km for this event) every hour on the hour until there is one person left.


The event is known as Herdys Frontyard Ultra, "frontyard" as it is located right here in Perth city and not out bush like most "backyard" ultras.


After last year Herdys become the biggest backyard style ultra event in the world, with this year surpassing participation numbers again with 367 entrants.


367 nervous, fearful and excited runners ready to toe the line and see what they're made of.


Starting at 4pm we have an hour to cover our distance, rest for however long we have left before gathering again in the starting corral and heading of again and again, and again. You catch my drift.


After last years effort of 18 hours (130 odd kilometres) my goal for this year was 24 hours which totals 100 miles.


This year I started my preparation a bit earlier giving myself plenty of time to build a big aerobic base. From October 2023 to race day in mid May I completed seventeen half marathons, two marathons, two 50km training runs, and a 80km backyard event to total roughly 1300km.


Whilst my prep was a bit longer this year, the average kilometres per week was pretty similar, however this year I managed to do a few longer, more ultra specific runs.


I was thrilled to get through this amount of work it's still a lot less than serious ultra running contenders. Something I'm well aware of.


After checking the weather at the start of the week we were in for some heat through the whole weekend with day time temps 30+ and no respite through the night with minimums still in the 20's. Controlling core body temp would become an even more important factor.


Through the first few laps I felt good, it was definitely hot and sweaty so I made sure to not extend myself too much with the pace in order to keep my sweat rate, heart rate and core temp nice and stable. I was aiming to give myself roughly 10 minutes to rest and refuel through these first few hours. All was going to plan. I was drinking about 2 scoops worth of tailwind (carb powder) each lap totalling 200 calories, plus a fruit puree pouch, a sandwich here and there, some lollies and plenty of plain water. I felt more than adequately fuelled, if anything a little full.


After 2 or 3 laps the sun had set and it was into the night shift. It was good to get out of the direct sun but it was still hot & sweaty especially when we were sheltered from the breeze. My pace slowed a touch through the later hours and during my diminishing rest I did try to shut my eyes and drift away albeit for only a minute of 2. This probably only lasted 3 or for rounds. There isn't much sleeping to be had in one of these events.


I'll be honest most of the night time seems like a bit of a blur before things started getting interesting at around 3am. During lap 12, so about 80kms in I began feeling like what I can only describe as being asleep at the wheel. After 7 or so hours of running and following the domed beam of a headtorch, it seemed like every time I would blink I would lose awareness, kind of like my eyes couldn't focus on the ground in front of me. It was a weird sensation, something I've never encountered before. It was a tough lap to finish and I decided I needed a pick me up. For me, during an ultra that comes in the form of Coca-Cola. The perfect hit of sugar and caffeine.


There was only a couple of hours of night time left at this stage and I knew once the sun came up I would feel a little more spritely as my circadian rhythm picked up the slack.


However, with the sun rising up came my next challenge. I was getting way too hot.


As we ticked passed the 15 hour/100km mark my biggest focus became cooling myself down.


After each lap Kelly would meet me at the finish line with a bottle of ice water which I would chug down immediately. Once we were back in our camp area I would place bags of ice on my head, neck and stomach to provide some sort of relief. Whilst it was only a few minutes at a time, it was helping and during my laps it was something I really looked forward to during each break.


I was now pretty much only consuming coke and fruit pouches.


By lap 18, an equal PB from last year, the heat was really kicking my ass so I did a couple of laps carrying my hydration pack filled with ice packs. This might have been my saving grace as it seemed to cool me down considerably through the midday period. It felt nice have all that ice sitting on my back and as it melted I started pouring it on my head about half way through the lap.


Lap 18 to 21 was probably the toughest period mentally as I was into unchartered territory and felt so close yet so far from my goal of 24 hours. I knew if I could get through 21 I could almost roll the last 3 laps into one and get the job done. That's sounds easy enough until you realise it's still another half marathon and 3 more hours. But that's kind of what I did, compartmentalised the last 3 as "the finish". I was still getting back with roughly 5 minutes left, a safe little buffer which gave me confidence that my pace was still sufficient enough at that point of the race. I didn't need it to be faster but also didn't want to get to cute with it and risk timing out, that would suck.


I used a variety of walk run strategies throughout the event. For the first half of each lap I used landmarks for my walk/run split. After that I would use my watch, varying running distances between 400m to 1km before a short walk, this was dependent on how I was feeling most of the time. The running distance did get shorter as the race went on but I would then adjust the walk so the entire split was relatively similar throughout.


As we started lap 22 all dressed up in our pretty tutus ( a tradition started at backyard races here in Perth) I finally felt like I was on the home stretch. My plan was to slow down just that little bit more and roll the last 3 laps together. I didn't really need to sit and rest, just down another coke, grab some fruit and go. A slight early arvo breeze brought a little bit of relief and the heat became less of a factor. Plus I was nearly there!


At the beginning of lap 24 there were 23 runners out of 367 still going. Last year I totalled 18 laps and placed around 65th so I was pumped to make a 6 hour improvement and be in the top 10%. Not that I was too concerned with what anyone else was doing. This is what makes ultra's different, for most people at least, it's more you versus you than anything else. Sure the upper echelon is competitive but for most regular runners, we are just stoked to finish and hopefully get some sort of personal best.


As I strolled around for my 24 lap, my watch ticking passed the 170km mark I felt mostly relief that I was about to be finished. I didn't have any great epiphanies or feelings of euphoria or that my life had changed or anything. Upon finishing I'm extremely proud that I got the job done and joined the 100 mile club. Yet once again I am completely humbled by witnessing what people are capable of. The winner went on to do 53 hours!



By the way, I'm AJ Smith - a father, husband, and gym owner in Golden Bay, Western Australia. I create to share my passion for all things fitness. My goal is to help people achieve their potential and become stronger, fitter, and happier versions of themselves.






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