When people ask me how I can push on during my extremely long Fastest Known Time attempts (Pacific Crest Trail 2016, Appalachian Trail 2018), my reply is always: nature. The eternal joy of spending time running on a singletrack, for hours on end, with curiosity to see what’s around the next bend. Seeing sunrises, sunsets, encounters with wildlife.
I realized, by running those long FKT’s, that just this side of ultrarunning, when nature is not there as a main drive to push on, is also very interesting, and perhaps also worth running and suffering for. Hence my consideration of participating in a running event where you just have to run the same 6.7 kilometer loop over and over again, with no end in sight.
While my first reason for running such long trails was, and will always be, to immerse myself in nature and to reconnect with those ancient genes of being born to run as a human, I did learn a thing or two of what can happen when you face, and overcome, your mental and physical limits.
Jared Campbell, three time Barkley Marathons finisher, explains it perfectly, by saying: “ There are lessons in life that can only be learned through fairly massive deviations from our normal, comfortable routines. These lessons alter our perspective on life and better equip us to deal with life’s unforeseen challenges. They can sharpen our optimism and generate a deeper appreciation for the simple things in life.”
I approached Big’s Backyard Ultra with my usual mantra: “Do or do not, there is no try.” Taking out the possibility and option to give up out of the equation, makes the whole event so much easier mentally. Instead of having to argue over and over again with your weak self, that is telling you so many reasons to quit, you can just focus on the present.
At one point, as often during an ultramarathon, everything hurts, and all you want to do is sleep. Once you are in that state, things get worse, but at a very slow rate. You’re still tired, and you still hurt, but there’s not going to be one moment where you can clearly say that it’s too much. It’s only just a little worse every loop. So you just carry on.
I carried on for as long it was necessary. I carried on for 75 hours, for 75 6.7 kilometer loops, for 502.5 kilometers, until I was the Last Man Standing. It made me the 2020 World Champion Backyard Ultra. And it made my optimism sharpen yet again, and it made me appreciate the simple things in life just a little more again.
I did not know that – an amazing event, and Karel once again demonstrates he is world class! (And note that in order to win in this format, one must be with runners of an equal caliber, so congratulations also to Belgium!)