For 30 hours, Ponoka ultra runner Slade McCormick was running with the “big dogs”.
McCormick competed in Big’s Backyard Ultra in Tennessee where only 70 approved runners (from all around the world) took on a 4.167 mile loop. The trick is they have to complete the loop in under an hour. And then they repeat it until there is only one person left. Miss the one hour cutoff and you’re out.
The concept is fairly simple; there’s no prize money, no medals, just the satisfaction of outlasting everyone else, plus a ticket for the winner into the next Barkley. That’s it.
McCormick — who is no rookie to ultra marathons having completed the 100-mile Sinister 7 solo this year — wasn’t sure what to expect.
Wearing bib number 29, McCormick ended up running 125 miles, a total of 24 hours and 45 minutes (30 laps in total), landing 13th overall. He was the last Canadian standing and looked like he was going to last quite a few more hours until he tore a calf muscle.
“My goal going in was to kind of crack the top 20, which I thought was ambitious considering the strong runners that were there,” he explained.
One of the things that helped McCormick over the course was to gauge his progress using landmarks along the loop. During the day, the track followed the rugged Tennessee landscape and at night, runners took to a marked road.
The entire experience was a meditative journey. “It’s a total immersion of your body and your mind into the event.”
“It became very regimented. And that was very peaceful,” he explained.
Aches and pains during an ultra are something McCormick is used to. “The whole idea is to see how your body responds and how your brain responds as you continue.”
McCormick, also known as the Skinny Kilt Runner, because he runs with a kilt, was able to plan ahead while running. His fastest loop was about 41 minutes, which allowed him a little more time to eat and take a break.
Everyone was in the same boat. At night, they battled cool temperatures (McCormick actually ran with his down jacket and toque) and during they day, they had to run through tight trails over limestone rocks and hills. In the evening, McCormick said it was a balance of arriving at the start with enough time to eat but not too much time that he got cold.
Before the muscle tear, McCormick expected a slow dwindling of loop times, yet he found himself doing well energy-wise running with the top racers. When his calf tore, however, he knew his race was over.
“I limped into the finish line…and just like that I was done.”
“Everybody had something that got them,” he added.
Why create such a race? McCormick feels it’s about testing the body’s ability. “(Lake), I think is kind of conducting a bit of an experiment just to see what people are capable of and how far people are willing to go to win this.”
Lake captured the imaginations of everyone who watched or ran. Indeed, after every hour, he would post on Facebook a poem about those who left, and those who were still in it.
After the first 24 hours, Lake called the remaining runners the “big dogs” and McCormick got a mention at hour 28 as he laid out the runners and the state of affairs, “Slade McCormick: Showing damage, but still fighting.”
When all was said and done, McCormick was relatively pleased with his performance. However, when looking at the leader pack, he said it seemed quite small in comparison.
Johan Steene of Sweden ended up finishing last with 68 laps run (over 283 miles) in 56 hours. Second was Courtney Dauwalter from Colorado who ran 67 laps (over 279 miles) in over 53 hours.
With this race under his belt, McCormick plans on taking a break to focus on some other priorities.