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Recap: Herdy's Frontyard Ultra


Last Friday/Saturday I completed my first backyard style ultra marathon at Herdy's Frontyard Ultra at Herdsman Lake just north of the CBD. This style of race sees runners complete a 6.7km (actually 7km with the runners village) course every hour on the hour until there is one person left. As long as you're back within the hour and ready to go at the starting line your good to go for another lap. This also means the faster you run the more rest you'll get. A double edged sword.

The race started at 4pm on Friday arvo with 290+ runners at the starting line. A new world record of participants for a Backyard Ultra and something I'm sure race director Shaun Kaesler and the ultra series WA team are very proud of. One of our awesome Smith's Fitness members Katie joined me to tackle her first backyard ultra and with the help of our loving partners Kelly & Dudley as support, we had a good little team ready to go.

We set up our camp near the starting line, got all our supplies ready and focused in on our main goal. For both of us it was 15 hours to total 100km!

On the first lap I wasn't ready for the shear amount of runners and it was a bit of a free for all for the first kilometre or two before you could get settled into any type of rhythm. The course was a loop around Herdsman Lake, no elevation and made up of footpath, gravel and little bit of trail. Initially an hour is plenty of time to get 7km done so a slow trot is all we needed. I did the first 4 laps at a chilled pace leaving myself about 15 minutes to refuel, rest and re-evaluate.

My plan was to consume roughly 250-300 calories per hour. This was going to be made up of a mixture of Tailwind (Carb powder), Clif Bars, Gels, Lollies & Coke. I'd also planned on adding a fair amount of sodium (LMNT) to replace my sweat loss. Luckily for us the weather was pretty spot on, a little windy to start but overall I'd say pleasantly comfortable running weather.

A couple of our awesome members Aza and Cindy paid us a visit to cheer us on which was greatly appreciated. They even bought pizza though I think Duds enjoyed it the most.

For the first few hours my stomach was full and a little uncomfortable but almost a necessary evil to negate the risk of bonking later on due to a lack of fuel. Eating is a huge part of ultra running and something I haven't got right previously, I was hoping to do better this time. Trial and error. Kelly was helping in that regard by filling spare bottles of water with tailwind powder and ensuring I had everything I needed. Duds did the same for Katie. During the short breaks I began trying to close my eyes, elevate my feet and relax. It was surprising how quickly I could start to float away, not asleep, but dozy if only for a minute or two. Until the inevitably "These boots are made for walking" song came on which meant 5 minutes to start, followed by the horn at 2 minutes which meant get up and get to the starting corral.

After a couple of relieving toilet stops I was feeling great as we set in for the night shift. We donned our headlamps and the pace slowed a little as we adjusted to running in the dark. To begin with I was making a conscious effort of not clock watching and just running by feel, it was all pretty metronomic however I had planned to start breaking each kilometre down into an 800m run and 200m walk. After a lap or two like that I had landmarks I knew meant run or walk. Run just passed the first bridge, walk around to front of the weird house, run to the pathway, walk to the bench and so on. This was great, it meant I didn't have to keep checking my watch, which drives me insane. Typically you'd play cat and mouse with the same people who had their own tactics, overtaking them, getting overtaken. As we both enjoy running by ourselves I'm sure there was an unspoken agreement between Katie and I not to run too much together, except for the lap she forgot her headlamp, Dudley's fault.

At about 10 or 11pm, I can't remember, Duds and Kelly cruised off to get some shut eye and we were left to our own devices. This meant, filling up our own supplies and keeping track of time which meant less time to doze. At about midnight, maybe later, I started to get some abdominal cramping which was the only thing that could possibly put a halt to my progress. It slowed me to an unplanned walk which wasn't ideal. I managed to finish off that lap, downed a couple of Nurofen, rubbed some Voltaran gel on my stomach and with the short break was somewhat relieved. I made sure to stretch out during my walking sections, hands reaching up to the sky did the trick and the pains weren't ever as severe as when they first popped up.

As we finished off the first 10 laps (70km), which meant this was now Katie's longest effort, we were both in great spirits knowing we had maintained a good buffer of about 8-12 minutes each lap. This which meant we had room to slow down gradually and still accomplish our main goal. However, we didn't really slow down much at all. It was during these (possibly) last 5 laps that the enormity of what we were doing started to dawn on me. Looking at my watch and seeing it tick past 80kms, my longest ever effort, then slowly into the 90km range was very satisfying.

As we neared our goal of 15 laps Katie was starting to feel the effects of the day but was still maintaining a great time. Personally I was feeling great and knew I had more than 15 laps in me from about the 90km mark. My body was holding up, there was a touch of quad cramp but nowhere near what I've experienced in the past. Throughout the race I made a habit of checking in with my body to highlight what felt good. Feet good, ankles good, knees good, quads eh so-so, hips not bad. I knew I could push on for a couple more past 15 hours.

By this stage Kelly and Duds had arrived back at base camp to give us one last push to get the job done. Upon finishing the our 15th lap, Katie had slowed to a walk to pull the pin at her goal of 100km. A huge achievement. It's so good to see one of our members set a goal, put in so much hard work and get the job done. That's what it's all about.

After finishing the 15th lap I immediately told Kelly I was going round again and she sprung straight into action. Another small bottle of coke, banana, watermelon and ice water that just couldn't be cold enough was on the menu. After a couple of minutes to sit I was straight back into the starting coral. Starting these laps was getting harder but I was still able to keep my run/walk setup. Lap 16 & 17 went better than expected but during lap 18 I decided that I was done. I still managed to finish in 54 minutes.

Looking back it's hard to say exactly why I pulled out. The body was holding together and I didn't really have a mental battle with myself, not one that I can remember anyway. When I decided I was done I just was. I think the best way to look at it is; at that point in time after 18 hours and 120 odd kms with no sleep, I had had enough. No need to kick rocks about running ~50kms more than I ever have. I ended up 65th overall out of 294 runners which I'm pretty stoked on too.

I'm immensely proud of my achievement but also humbled by the ability of others. I'm confident that I've got more in me and have my sights set on 24 hours in the future. I'm going to give myself a couple of weeks to enjoy some other stuff before I decide what's next and how soon it is.

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