Big’s Backyard Ultra: the ceaseless race has ceased and, after three days and four nights, the results are in; as ever, only one runner remained.
Big’s Backyard Ultra 2018 Re-Cap
This year’s winner is the returning Swede Johan Steene, whose unlikely victory followed a delayed flight and a long overnight drive in a rental. Johan arrived fifteen minutes before the race, and ran 68 laps for a total of 283 miles.
The sensational Courtney Dauwalter finished in second, with 67 laps and 279 miles.
Just as lap 68 was about to commence, Dauwalter turned to Steene and whispered to him. The two embraced and Steene set pace into the darkness alone to complete his final and victorious lap.
Early Tuesday morning, four days after the race commenced, Steene reflected on his ultimate triumph: “As long as we are at least two remaining there is a feeling of purpose, that this painful game has a meaning. That illusion disappears in a blink when only one remains. The actual winning needs to be the sole focus if that is what you’re after. That focus was feeding me and let me put all other things aside. At the moment when Courtney congratulated me and remained in the coral as I jogged away alone into the Tennessee night I didn’t feel joy. I felt empty and without purpose. You cannot carry the illusion by yourself. It takes at least two to play. Thanks Courtney Dauwalter for taking us this far. We are good at playing this game.”
Stauwalter, Steene, as well as Gavin Woody, have all crushed the course record set by Guillaume Calmettes last year, at 59 laps. After an arduous struggle, Calmettes tapped out due to injury on lap 54 this year. Another course veteran, Harvey Lewis, also dropped out due to injury, in lap four.
This race has quickly become a favorite in the running community. For its strange set up, its “jeerleaders” shouting disparagements continuously, and for the much loved pit bull, Big, the proprietor of the race and Laz’s companion. “[Big] is the only pit bull in the world that hosts a contest where humans fight to the death,” Laz said.
This year’s race was so incredibly energizing, and for so many reasons. To witness the victorious persistence of Johan Steene, who in 2014 left the race prematurely, and who showed up this year’s event already exhausted, was a galvanizing testament to shear will.
To observe Calmettes trample on in pain, cane in hand, was dreadful, yes. Yet it was far more enlivening to witness his composure, and the drastic dash of his last efforts, all to the cheers of his compatriots.
Courtney Dauwalter is a force of character, and one of our sport’s major figures. She is an inspiration to all of us, and especially to women –– for so many of her wins this year are overall wins, overthrows of records of both genders.
Far more light has yet to shine from that star, yet we applaud and congratulate all seventy of this year’s runners. And as do they unto each other, for the endless quarrel that is Big’s is not a race against fellow runners; it is an individual’s race against his or her mind. It is a race against the notion of his or her limits.