Early Saturday, April 4th I was standing on my treadmill, in my basement, waiting for a race to begin. In total there were over 2,400 participants from over 55 countries and we were about to participate in an event the likes of which had never been seen before.
A couple of weeks ago, my wife Sue was listening to CBC when Dave Proctor, a Calgary elite Ultra runner was talking about an event that would connect the world. With the spring racing calendar being totally wiped out due to COVID-19 Dave was looking for something to pull the global running community together and he came up with the Personal Peak Quarantine Backyard Ultra.
Originally, Dave was planning a Trans-Canadian speed record for May, and his crew was going to be made up of the Personal Peak team. However, with the coronavirus outbreak, he had to cancel the attempt. Instead of letting his training go to waste, he decided to use it for a virtual race. Along with Personal Peak, an endurance training company, he organized the Quarantine Backyard Ultra and sent invitations to the world’s best ultra-runners. The event was also open to non-elite runners.
For the Quarantine Backyard Ultra, all runners had to log into Zoom. Racers had a choice between running on a treadmill or running outside as they had to complete a 6.706 km lap in less than an hour and prove it by showing the Zoom audience their GPS data if they ran outside or their treadmill screen inside. Then they could move onto the next lap with every lap starting on the hour.
Having had my Boston Marathon cancelled, I was looking for something to fill the space. I certainly didn’t want to waste my weeks of training. The other thing I wanted to do was to use the race as a fund raiser. I decided to combine the donations I raised from my Year End Run with the Backyard Ultra and see if I could hit the $10,000 fund raising target for the Boys and Girls Club of Cochrane and area.
So at 6.45 am MST and with 15 minutes to go, my hydration and nutrition were prepared and I set up my laptop so that the camera could view me on the treadmill. I then logged into Zoom. The screen was filled with 30 runners from around the globe, just a small fraction of the 620 that were in my starting group.
At 7.00am MST a bell rang and we were off. I decided to watch some TV and my friend Wayne suggested “The Kindness Diaries” on Netflix. I had set a pace of 7:30 minutes per kilometer and with 6.71 kms to run it took me 53:40. Now the goal I had set myself was to run a marathon (42.2 km) so if I ran for 7 loops (7 hours) that would give me 47 kms. The first 5 loops went well. I started to struggle on loop 6 and Sue told me that I was too close to the back of the treadmill. I was definitely having a hard time holding my pace.
I had toyed with the idea of doing 10 loops but on loop 7 I knew that was it. I didn’t want to get spat out the back of the treadmill and splatted against the back wall. At the end of the 7th loop I got off the treadmill and logged of Zoom. That meant that I got a “Did Not Finish” (DNF). In fact every participant would get a DNF other that the winner.
Over the rest of Saturday I followed the event and learned about several of the participants. There was “The Living Room Guy” who ran around his sofa, “Coffee Shop Matt” who did loops inside a closed coffee shop and Anna who was running in Northern Sweden through the ice and snow. By 7.00pm that night there were 671 runners remaining.
Sunday morning, after a good night’s sleep I checked the You Tube live feed at 7.00 am MST. A total of 24 laps had been completed for 160km and 71 runners remained. Over the next 12 hours a number of the top contenders had pulled the plug including Dave Proctor who was dealing with a hip flexor issue. At 7.00pm MST, 36 loops were done for 242 kms and the final 14 remained. Time for another sleep.
Monday morning at 7.00am MST I checked the Personal Peaks Facebook page. A total of 48 loops had been completed, 322 kms covered and only two runners were still going. Mike Wardian from Arlington, Virginia was doing loops around his neighbourhood and Radek Brunner, from the Czech Republic, was running on a treadmill he had purchased a week before.
I checked the feed every hour and this epic battle continued until 9.00 pm MST. Mike and Radek had both finished lap 62 and were about to head-out on lap 63. The start bell sounded and Mike headed off. Radek was on the treadmill but wasn’t moving. For 2 minutes he stood there and then he started to run. However, the rules state that you must start running right away and Radek was disqualified. A very tough break.
Mike finished his lap in 31:05, his fastest lap of the entire race. Mike wanted to keep going to break the record of 68 laps but he was told that the rules required he could only do one lap after the other person had dropped out. In total Mike ran 422.3 kms over 63 hours and was awarded the grand prize: The Golden Toilet Paper Roll.
It had been an amazing event bring people together from all over the world in this very difficult time. There was a real connection that is so important in this time of social distancing and isolation.
And the cherry on top was that my combined Final Year End / Backyard Ultra fund raiser hit the $10,000 target for the Boys and Girls Club of Cochrane and Area. Now that is worth celebrating.
About the Author
Martin Parnell is the Best-Selling author of MARATHON QUEST and RUNNING TO THE EDGE and his final book in the Marathon Trilogy, THE SECRET MARATHON-Empowering women and girls in Afghanistan through sport, was released on October 30th 2018. He speaks on having a “Finish the Race Attitude – Set Goals, Overcome Obstacles and Achieve Outstanding Results” and has written for, or been covered by CNN, BBC, CBC, The Huffington Post, The Globe and Mail, The National Post, Runners World, Men’s Journal, Canadian Business, and Maclean’s.
In a five year period, from 2010 to 2014, Martin completed 10 extreme endurance “Quests” including running 250 marathons in one year and raising $1.3m for the humanitarian organization Right To Play. In 2016 he ran the Marathon of Afghanistan in support of Afghan women and girls running for equality and his film “The Secret Marathon” was released in late 2019. Find out more about Martin at www.martinparnell.com and see what he can do for you in the long run.