Gary Cantrell (or Lazarus Lake, to some) began organizing endurance races in 1979, when he founded Tennessee’s Strolling Jim 40 because he wanted to run and couldn’t find a local ultra. He and his races have become a fixture in the ultra running community since then, and his Barkley Marathons has become known as one of the most famously creative, and infamously difficult racing events in the world.
Photo Credit : Gary Cantrell
As the sport grew around him, Cantrell felt that the events themselves had suffered. Where each race had once been a major social event amongst a tight community of runners, now the participants were all in a hurry to get to the next thing, too busy to stop and chat.
Perhaps it was longing for this sense of community that inspired Cantrell to host the first Big Dog’s Backyard Ultra on his own Bell Buckle, Tennessee property in 2012. Since then, it’s been one of the most coveted starting lines in endurance running, with a full field every year, and wait lists so long that dozens of imitators have sprung up across the globe to meet the demand.
- The “Backyard Ultra” concept is as appealingly simple as the race is appallingly difficult:
- Runners repeat a series of loops around the same course until only one runner remains.
- Each loop is 4.16667 miles in length.
- The time limit for each loop is one hour.
- In between loops, runners wait in the starting corral.
- Each loop begins exactly one hour after the previous loop.
- 3, 2, and 1 minute warnings are given prior to the start of a new loop.
- If a runner does not start a loop on time, they are disqualified.
- Runners cannot leave the course or receive aid during a loop.
- The winner is the last runner to complete a loop. All other runners are DNF.
- If no runner completes one more loop than all other runners, there is no winner.
In the 2018 edition, Johan Steele of Stockholm, Sweden lasted 68 loops and 68 hours, outlasting Courtney Dauwalter of Golden, Colorado to set the race record (Dauwalter’s 67 loops was good for second in course history).
On the race’s official Facebook page, Cantrell, posting as Lazarus Lake, has made no secret about his distaste for narrowing down the applications into a practical field of competitors. His commitment to ensuring that the most deserving athletes are able to participate, combined with the growing popularity of “Backyard Ultra” race format, has led to another interesting solution.
For the 2019 Big Dog’s Backyard Ultra, 10 registration slots (“Golden tickets”) have been held for the winners of several affiliated international events that follow the same format. The list was posted to the event’s Facebook page earlier this year, but, as with anything Cantrell, the informal nature of the list means that it may be subject to sudden change.
- Dubai: 02/02/19: Desert Trail Backyard Ultra
- Ireland: 02/16/19: Last One Standing
- Norway: 03/22/19: Ostmarka Backyard Ultra
- Denmark: 03/22/19: Great Dane Backyard Ultra
- Hong Kong: 04/19/19: Big Boar’s Backyard Challenge
- New Zealand: 05/03/2019: Riverhead Backyard Relaps
- England: 06/08/19: Last One Standing
- Australia: 06/15/19: Mirrim Wurnit Backpaddock Ultra
- Germany: 06/20/19: Bienwald Backyard Ultra
- Sweden: 07/06/19: Sydkusten Backyard Ultra
In addition to the 10 international entries, two golden tickets have been held for the highest mileage winners from this set of North American affiliates.
Florida: 02/09/19: Death at Dupuis Canal Backyard Ultra
Ohio: 03/23/19: The Ohio Backyard
California: 04/12/19: Embrace the SUC Backyard Ultra
Texas: 04/13/19: The Game Backyard UItra
Ohio: 05/05/19: Bob’s Big Timber Backyard Ultra
North Salem, NY: 06/21/19: Mountain Lakes Backyard Ultra
Alberta: 06/21/19: Outrun Backyard Ultra