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I went into this race with mixed feelings. I knew that if I had a good race, I could PR my backyard, but I was also mindful of how hard this course was - some say it is harder than the Big Dog's course in Tennessee, which is quite a challenging course. Ohio has more elevation than the Tennessee course, although it is less technical. To be honest, the elevation is not great for me and I don't really mind having a more technical course too much. It is the elevation that I'm not good at, and that I will be working on this year and beyond. So as it turned out, this was definitely not the course for me.

I won't explain again the format in too much detail, the point is that you run 4.1 mi / 6.7 km every hour, on the hour, until there is just one last person standing, and that person runs the last loop alone and is declared the winner, everyone else gets a DNF - did not finish, since they didn't complete the full race distance. Every 24 hours add up to 100 mi / 160.9 km.

Back to the goals and pre-race. I wanted to run this race not just for a potential PR but for other reasons as well. My main A race of the season will be the 6-day World Championship in September, and a backyard is just so perfect to try out a bunch of things for a 6-day race as well as for future backyard races (duh...). I wanted to try a new shoe brand on the trails but the biggest experiment was for my asthma. I am trying to move away from the heat- and moisture exchange mask (aka Darth Vader-mask) that I have been wearing for the last few years. It definitely helps with my breathing big time, and I don't get the cough, so it serves the purpose, but I have a few issues with it for timed races. It is known to reduce performance, which is not a big deal in a backyard since the pace is so slow, but in a timed race where we run faster than this pace, it is a problem. It also looks ridiculous which is not good for race photos... and then I need to be mindful of not getting chafed on my chin, so I tape it, but the tape on my chin looks just as ridiculous as the mask itself.

When a race photo has the potential to be great - except the Darth Vader mask

In this regard, I couldn't be happier with my race. The idea came from last year, when I didn't wear the mask for the last 2 days of my 6-day race and I was fine. My crew member at that race, Krisztina Drabik, who is also an MD, suggested it first. What we did was: take a lozenge every 4 hours, and suck on other hard candy in between. It keeps the airways moist because the saliva is constantly secreted. It keeps my mouth closed more and that warms the air up that hits my lungs. It wasn't cold last year in Hungary at the 6-day so I wanted to see again, if this worked in a much colder environment. At OBU this year the temperatures were around 5C / 40F during daytime when I used the candy trick. The first night was much cooler at -5C / 20F so I put on the mask, I just didn't want to risk it being too cold for my candy trick and also thinking that nobody would be taking pictures at night (I was wrong, see above). Then I took it off for day 2 when the weather warmed up to above day 1 levels and used candies again. This worked like a charm and I am extremely hopeful that I can get rid of the mask for most of my multiday and backyard races. So I came away with a huge win there even if the race didn't go as planned.

There were several things I wanted to try for my tent set-up too

I drove to Ohio, an 8.5h drive, on Thursday. We could set up our tents starting 8am on Friday, so I showed up right then and picked a relatively good spot although not great - those were already taken by people who weren't a few minutes late like I was. There was a very large field of about 110 runners. A bit too large for my liking, but I understand that the bigger the field, the better for the RD so I'm ok with it. I definitely prefer the 40 cap that is applied at Capital but they are very different races. Capital draws an elite field, has an almost perfect course and support while this is an all-comers race with a great community atmosphere. Each have their own charm.

I stayed in a local airBnB which is what I usually do, even though we were allowed to camp the night before the race. I always want to get a good night's sleep pre-race so I only camp if I'm running a pure training race like I did at Vermont Trail 100 in 2022, although now I have a new set-up in my minivan so I might just sleep in my van instead in the future. Saves money and avoids having any problems with the AirBNB. I still wanted to see if I could PR here so I opted for the room and silence. It can get very busy and loud at a race site the night before the race (but in the future I can just find a quieter parking lot or park where I'm allowed to sleep in my van.

New van set up

Unfortunately my room had a beetle infestation which I thought was annoying and didn't think anything else. I got bitten by Asian Beetles in two spots during the first night which were painful and itchy but no big deal, similar to a mosquito bite just more painful. Race morning, on the other hand, I woke up with a large red and hot area covering my whole right thigh, which later blistered up pretty badly during the race and the blisters filled up with pus. Luckily, it was on my thigh and I'm not running on my thigh so it was more annoying than anything. And painful, but not horrible. Maybe a 3-4/10 so definitely noticeable. It looked pretty bad too and the scary part was that I had no idea what bit me and if the blisters meant that it was infected or that I was having an allergic reaction to whatever it was. Having to wear long tights that were tight on the blisters also didn't help as the tights were rubbing on the whole red and hot and blistered area and irritated the heck out of it. I even thought that I spotted the bite marks in the middle of it. If I didn't know this happened in my bed at night, I would have thought it was a snake bite. My best guess was a spider. After going to my doctor post-race and getting some antibiotics (he also thought it was infected), I did some digging on dr. Google and found the culprit. It was from a blister beetle. I saw one in my room and killed it (sorry), but I guess there were many more. It turns out they don't bite, but their touch is poisonous for humans. I must have slept with one for a good chunk of time so that he got my whole right thigh! It is supposed to heal in about a week and the blisters dried off and fell off after a week as expected, but the area was still red a week later. Another 2 months later I can still see the marks and I'm not convinced they will ever completely disappear. (No, I didn't get a refund from AirBnB. I tried.)

Gross image, sorry! The whole area was all red, hot and inflamed

I didn't think much about it other than being annoyed during the race. When I was thinking about it post-race and I suspected an infection, I was suspicious that it might have been the main reason my body wasn't really responding well - since it was fighting an infection. Then I learned that it wasn't an infection and this is just the reaction to the poisonous touch of this bug - however, maybe fighting poison in your body while you are literally "running" your immune system to the ground in a multi-day race is also not very compatible with peak performance. Of course there could be other factors too, including that I might have not recovered well enough physically from the big exertion of a 3-day triathlon that Ultraman is, or that I was simply undertrained because my training was non-existent since Ultraman. I got sick twice, there were family commitments and I just never got into a good rhythm for my training. Or, a combination of both. Maybe a combination of all three.

I had a new tent set-up which I was super happy with. I picked up different ideas from different people, I finally figured out the kinds of food I'm happy to eat and I really wanted to try my new sleep technique which also proved to be a win! I will keep playing a bit more with the headphones for sleep, but I'm quite happy with this one and I was able to fall asleep twice towards the end of the first night which is a first for me! That was another huge win.

This also has implications for my 6-day race strategy and I'm determined to try and sleep during the first day of my next 6-day race, something I have never been able to do previously - I simply wasn't able to fall asleep so I didn't even try, because it would have just been a waste of time. I do think that for the end result of a 6-day race, sleeping on day 1 is benefitial so I have high hopes for this new skill of mine.

Race day - or two

The day started out fine, we got going at 7:30am on Saturday. But very early on I was just not feeling great. I was running with Kyle Kalbus, whose best is 52 yards and although he didn't explicitly say, he was feeling just as bad and he was also surprised about it - this was very early in the race, maybe 8-9 hours in. We were counting back the loops to the road which came after 12 trail loops. Not a good sign. He dropped out very early, I heard others say because of knee pain, I didn't talk to him after, but my guess is that he was feeling off to begin with, like I did, and then top that with knee pain, it wasn't worth it. 

Running with Kyle in the early hours - neither of us were feeling great

I had two new mantras this time that I kept repeating to keep my head in the game. Jasmin Paris was the first woman to ever finish the Barkley marathons just a few days prior to this race. I kept telling myself that if Jasmin could push the kind of pace required to finish that race for 60 hours, then it should be a piece of cake to jog around at the very leisurely pace required for the backyard ultra. I also remembered something that Laz wrote about Harvey last year when the individual backyard ultra World Championship was going on. I couldn't find the exact words, I tried, but when it was down to Ihor and Harvey, he wrote something along the lines of "we all know who the better runner is - but what do you do with a guy who just won't quit?". So I kept saying that to myself: "what do you do with a guy who just won't quit?". That definitely carried me through a lot of the laps during this race!

I love my Injinji toe socks and I started out in the midweight mini-crew trail socks (if you need a discount code to Injinji, let me know!). I wore long tights because it was cold so I didn't want to put crew length underneath, but to be honest, I completely forgot why I don't race in mini-crew. I guess I wasn't thinking clearly even at the start haha... at one point I changed socks, still going with mini-crew. Then, I can't remember exactly when this happened, sometime towards the end of the day loops that my ankles started hurting. I had had anterior tibialis tendonitis issues in many timed ultras before so it was scary at first but then I remembered... oh yeah, this is why I don't race in mini-crew! Somehow the band is just too tight on my ankles. I changed to crew length and the ankle pain completely disappeared and never returned.

When I ran my 49-hour backyard last May, I was quite happy for the whole first day and I think that is a key element. If I'm already struggling on day 1, that is not a good sign. I had a few issues come up, but we quickly problem solved everything so that wasn't the root of me not feeling good. My toes were very happy, I taped them and I wore my trusty Injinji socks. I had a blister come up on the side of my foot which is a known problem for me with the Hoka shoes - almost all of them have a seam there and I always get a blister there. I should have put a doughnut cushion on that spot but for some reason I didn't think of it at the time. And I should have put an Engo patch in all my Hokas there - I will definitely do that if I end up wearing them for any races going forward. During day 1 on the trail I wore my old trail shoes. I actually have a new love, the Norda shoes for the trail, and I started wearing them a few weeks before the race. But on one of my longer training runs I got blisters on my heels from them, because that is where the Nordas have a seam. I guess my feet don't like seams. I definitely wanted to give them a go during this race, but I was also nervous about my heels, they had just healed on time for this race. I put Engo patches on the heels of the Nordas in the hopes of being able to wear them and I put Compeed on my heels just because I was nervous about irritating them again. I'm glad I did.

I think those are Oreo crumbs on the side of my mouth haha...

The night

For the night I avoided my Hokas, so I was in a pair of Nike road shoes (Winflo), then for the day I decided to try the Nordas and I'm super happy that I did. No issues with the heels once they had the Engo patch. The trails also got a very thin layer of mud by day 2. It was cold overnight so ice formed on the ground and when that melted during daytime, it created some mud, which was very slippery - unless you were wearing shoes with some amazing traction like the Nordas! While others were trying to dance around the slippery parts, I knew that I could confidently just run through them and that my Nordas were going to keep me safe! Did I mention that I am in love with these shoes? Haha... I think they are a go for me pacing at Cocodona and then running QMT. I'm also very impressed with the people behind the brand, super nice.

I was generally fine mentally, even though I was only making it back with a few minutes to spare, even on the night loops which are on flat road and not the challenging trails. My plan was to catch a small nap several times the first night and I tried after the first two loops and I got some rest but didn't fall asleep. Again, this is something I will try to build on in my 6-day race so it was important for me to experiment. I didn't get in early enough after loop 3 to lay down at all, so I decided to completely flip the plan upside down and go with some caffeine instead of trying to nap. I knew that I wouldn't be able to sleep for the rest of the night because of the caffeine, but I figured that it is still better than timing out during the night because I can't make it back within the hour. The caffeine fixed the problem for the time being and I suspected that my chances of paying for it the following night are very slim - it didn't look like I was going to make it that far anyway.

I was even able to get in two naps after the last 2 night loops before we switched to the trails again, luckily by that time the caffeine wore out. That was another milestone, because I know that I fell asleep those two times at the end of the first night! This will be key in future backyards if I plan to go longer than before.

I also took some KetoneAid ketones with the caffeine and basically anytime my mind started to wonder why the heck I was out here if I already know that the race is a wash... The ketones brought the motivation back and put my mind at ease about just doing what I can with the cards I'm dealt - and that my best on the day is good enough.

I was seriously worried about not even making it to the tutu lap which came at 4:30 am the first night and this ending up being my worst ever backyard race. My previous worst was 28 laps. This was the first time I had a tutu with me and I really wanted to show off with it, haha... that is for lap 22 (two-two  -> tutu). 3 of us wore the tutu for that lap! Plus one guy miscounted the laps and had a tutu with him, just forgot to wear it! By pure coincidence, the three of us, Rick, Mike and myself all finished lap 22 at the same time, so we got a good tutu photo! Phew, emberrassment avoided haha...

Yes, that is an eye mask on my head - ready for my sleep break

We nailed the hydration and the food which was really great! I did a sweat test a week out from the race and by pure coincidence, I ran that loop in the exact same temperature that we had when the race started. So I knew my sweat rate exactly. It worked really well, I drank that amount for the first bit and then we adjusted it based on the temperatures. I ran on liquid only for the first few hours, Maurten and SIS Beta fuel from TheFeed, with a gel added per hour. Then I started eating surprisingly early, after the 4th lap, first some vegetarian sushi, then watermelon, Oreos, churros chips, ketchup flavoured potato chips (yes, we have those in Canada!), sandwiches with margarine, salami and cheese, honey cruller doughnuts among other things. I really had absolutely no problems with my energy and to take in enough food. It was so awesome that I came in from a night loop wanting to ask Helen to make one of the cup noodles for a little warm food and when I came in to tell her that, she already had it ready for that lap!!! Great to have an ultrarunner for your crew so she can read your mind! The same happened in the morning with the cereal cups. I like my cereals soggy so she had to soak them a bit and by the time I was going to ask her to do that, she had it ready for me. This was the first time that Helen (Rutter) crewed me, she lives in Ohio close to the race and when none of my usual go-to crew people were available, she offered to help me out and I was extremely grateful. She didn't tell me that this was the first time she ever crewed for anyone! She did such a fantastic job, you couldn't have guessed. She ran this race several times before.

Daytime again

I went into the trail loops with a "let's see and try" attitude. I wasn't ready to give up on my goals completely, I wanted to keep the hope alive that things would turn around, even if it didn't seem very likely. I also started to suspect that the race might not even go as far as I was originally hoping to go, and it didn't, Jennifer Russo ended up winning with 44 yards, less than my PR. For the second day, I was hanging by a thread for those daytime loops, and I embraced the attitude of "oh well, not my day, so let's just make it as far as I can and that's fine". I was thinking that the farther I make it, the more base fitness I'm adding given that my previous month was seriously lacking in training miles. 

I was originally worried about having to wear long tights because of the cold. I had a very strong suspicion that it would mean chafing and it did. But I got extremely lucky with the weather in that the chilly first day and the cold night was followed by very pleasant daytime temperatures so I quickly switched to loose shorts (my new favourites) and the chafing issue was solved instantly. I was going to stay in those shorts until the end of the race and potentially just overdress on the top if needed because there was no way I would have been able to go back to tights. I picked up a new tip from Rick, he was wearing some super light women's dance pants that were loose and looked super comfy, it is definitely something I want to try in the future! You always learn!

I'm perfectly fine going around in 56, 57, 58 minutes in a backyard ultra for a long long time, that really doesn't bother me, it doesn't freak me out, I've done that previously in other backyard races and it wasn't the issue this time either. The issue was the way I was feeling, which was not good, and that it had been going on since early in the race. As if my body just wasn't listening to what I was asking it to do. My mind was fine, my muscles were fine, nothing was really hurting, the nagging injuries that I was dealing with the previous month were nowhere to be found which was great news. I was just feeling somehow off and that my body just wouldn't do what my mind wanted to. It was very very strange.

Shorts and Nordas - I was feeling great very briefly

The night was cold but coming from Canada it was fine. Then the sun came out for day 2 and all was well. I was getting in late and I hated the way I was feeling, but I was ticking the loops off. Then out of the blue, during loop 26, I suddenly started feeling absolutely fantastic! I ended up coming in with the pointy end of the field, I think I was even in 2nd place for a bit maybe within the loop, at the exact same effort level that put me at the very back previously. The sun was out, I was wearing shorts finally and my body was cooperating. I even said to the crowd which gathered at a short steep part of the course every loop because it was only about 200 meters / ft from the crewing area, that "this is the best I've felt in this race". It was true. I felt exactly the way I was supposed to feel "only" 26 laps into a backyard and I loved it. Then I was really bummed when it only lasted for 2 loops. But I had two great loops, 26 and 27. Sarah, another girl who was still in the field (there were 16 of us left, 4 women) said to me when we were chatting after the race "I was thinking 'sh*t, Viktoria is feeling better, that's no good' ". Haha... 

By lap 28 however, it all crashed. I wasn't sleepy but it felt as if a bubble burst and I was back to the earlier baseline or even lower. The day loop consisted of two identical laps so halfway we ran through camp and we could see where we were in terms of time. Well, for loop 28, I went through camp at 31:30, a minute and a half later than the cut-off. For the first third of that loop, I was feeling awful, but somehow, the last little part of that half loop I started to feel better again. So I picked up the pace and made up some time and by the time I ran through camp at 31:30, I was running at a good pace. As the crowd of crews and staff were cheering me on, I said "I'll give it a shot even if it is not likely". Apparently Rick also went through over 30 mins and maybe another one or two guys, but just barely over the cut-off. A 28-min second loop wasn't that big an ask when I wasn't feeling so bad any more, so I had full confidence that I could come in under the cut-off once I was feeling better and I did. I snuck in just under 58 mins which means I did the second loop in 26.5 minutes!!!

After that lap, I could relax that this wasn't my worst backyard performance, I managed to tie that already. After lap 29, it was officially only the 2nd worst and after finishing lap 30, I tied my previous 2nd worst.

With Rick Kwiatkowski - he made it to the same 30 laps that I did, matching his previous best

The End

When I came in from loop 30 in 58:30, with a minute and a half to spare, I said to my crew that I thought I only had one more loop in me. Helen asked "what can we do to change that?". I replied "I'm not going to stop, I will keep going but I'm not sure how many more times I can come in under the cut-off". By this time we had a chair for me at the start / finish line so I don't even needed to go in our tent, I just sat down there and had some food, Helen gave me a drink for the next lap and off I went. The loop starts with a long steep uphill and as if a second level of balloon just burst, my legs were just not having it. I was so slow that I didn't see this lap happening under the cut-off. And then, when that Hoka-blister came back on (even though I wasn't in my Hokas any more), it was the last drop in the bucket. I still had 6 km / 3.5 miles to go on this lap, and I knew that if I was otherwise feeling fine, I could just run through this pain or alter my stride to not feel it and make it around and then I have a little kit that I can use to treat the blister, but I just didn't see the point to be honest. I didn't come to this race to win. It was a silver ticket race for the US team, so if I took it down, that would have meant that nobody got the ticket - not that I had any chance of taking it down at any point in the race. I figured a nice 200 km (125 mi) training run was good enough for me for the weekend and I knew that I wasn't willing to run through the pain of that blister to keep suffering, because I didn't see myself making it into day 3 anyway. 

I had been hanging in there by a thread for the past 20 hours, not feeling great. I decided to just take my learnings and give it another go in October at the Satellite Team Championship with Team Canada, where hopefully the course would be easier and the team aspect of that event always makes it just that much easier mentally and even if someone feels off, we just push through for the team. Yes, it was my mind that gave up. My body could have run through that pain and probably make it back with enough time to spare to keep going, but I didn't see the point so I pulled the plug. I set down on a rock for a bit on the top of that first steep climb. Mike, who had been struggling with his knee for the past 6 hours or more, came by, he clearly wasn't going to make it back on time, but he was determined to walk around the loop and go back to camp that way. 5 of us dropped out on that lap, including the 3 tutu runners! Sarah dropped out the next lap, 32 and Jessica dropped out one lap later, leaving Jennifer as the only woman  among the last 9 runners.

With Jennifer Russo - she is my inspiration that I can still be competitive for another 10 years in this sport! Plus, how does she look so good after running for 44 hours when I look like a zombie after only 30 laps?

I was super happy to see her win. She is my idol. She is 10 years older than me which gives me a lot of hope for longevity in this sport and she holds the World Record for women after she ran for 74 hours at Capital last May. She had never won a backyard race before, she was the assist multiple times. I was very happy that she finally got a win. I really like to see other women crush it and she is such a sweet and humble person.

It amazes me how volatile my backyard performances are. It annoys me too. That just because you were able to last 200+ miles (49 hours) last time, it doesn't guarantee that you can go that far this time. After my first ever backyard race back in 2020, which was my 2nd ever ultra run, where I got to 34 laps, it took me 3 shots to be able to go further than that, putting up a 30, a 28 and then finally the 49-yard result. The realization that when you get what you wanted, you should really keep pushing, because you never know if you would ever be in this same position again, is a recent one for me. When Rick passed me on lap 31 and he said that it tied his PR, I told him that this was the time that he needed to push it, because you never know if you would ever make it this far again. So many times when you break a record or you get to a new PR you let off. I will try not to do that again, I'm guilty of it too. It's so hard, because your mind suddenly lets go and all the pain that was masked by the will to get to your goal shows up and it's hard to quiet them for the rest of the race. But it is a must. I wonder if I can do it in the future. It is definitely a big goal for me, to be able to keep pushing even if I reach what I originally set out to do. Easier said than done!