Image Courtesy of IRun4Ultra
What Is Big’s Backyard Ultra?
For those of you unfamiliar with the race, it is a Last Man Standing format. Competitors run one loop of a set distance every hour on the hour. Big’s is the original Backyard Ultra spawned from the mind of Lazarus Lake, creator of the infamous Barkley Marathons. Laz created the loop to be 4.16667 so that every 24 hours the distance equals 100 miles. The first 12 hours is spent on the “day loop” which is a technical, leafy, trail that winds through his backyard. The “night loop” switches to an out-and-back on the desolate and dark road in front of his house. To stay in the game, one needs to simply “answer the call of the bell” at each hour. At every hour you just need to be back in the starting corral in order to continue. You can “time out” on a lap and not make the cutoff to begin again, or you can refuse to get back in the starting corral. Those are the two ways to end your race. You can end it at any time. The choice is entirely yours. How fast you complete each lap is irrelevant as long as you are back in that starting corral on the hour. Simple enough on paper, but the miles start to take their toll.
Ask anyone who has ever run Big’s Backyard Ultra, and they will tell you it’s an eating and sleep deprivation contest. Lucky for me, I had Tailwind to help with both. In the end, as the bell chimed 60 hours, I was the last one standing in the corral. My race ended with 250 miles completed and my last competitor, Will Hayward, nowhere in sight, unable to finish the final day loop in time. After 60 laps through rural Tennessee, I became the first female to win Big’s Backyard Ultra. I could not have done it without an impeccable fueling plan, perfectly executed with help from my amazing crew.
The Foundation Of My Fueling for Big’s
The foundation of my nutrition plan was Tailwind Endurance Fuel. It was humid and warm, and I knew getting enough calories in those conditions could be dicey. I get nauseous when it’s warm if I try to consume solid food, and I have learned that the hard way over the past 9 years of running ultras. Using liquid calories has been a game changer. Tailwind has been my go-to fuel for over four years. You cannot get behind on calories in this race. For 100 mile or 24 hour races, I can rely solely on Tailwind Endurance Fuel. However, because of my anticipated distance for Big’s, real food needed to be part of the plan. This is where using Endurance Fuel correctly becomes even more critical. Surprisingly, combining liquid and solid calories is quite easy when you focus on breaking down nutrition into a few simple numbers:
- 250 calories an hour
- 600-900 mg of sodium an hour
- 20-24 oz of water an hour
Now don’t worry. This blog post isn’t going to turn into one big calculus equation. I am not that smart and keeping track of numbers like that makes my head spin. I simply made sure to generally hit those caloric and electrolyte goals to avoid a downward spiral of disaster. For almost every lap, I carried a 12 oz soft flask of Endurance Fuel. That is equivalent to 100 calories (all carbs) and 300 mg of sodium. After about 3 hours in, I began to add bites of real food. I opt for savory foods that require very little chewing because that is what I crave, and I do not want to overload my system with a bunch of fructose, which is harder to process. I know a lot of athletes who supplemented with candy and sweets and didn’t fare so well.
A sample lap would look like this: begin the lap with 12 oz of Endurance Fuel; complete lap; eat some mashed potatoes to reach my caloric and electrolyte goals for the hour. The mashed potatoes were roughly 165 calories and had 660 mg of sodium per serving. Monitoring my sodium intake ultimately defined how often I consumed Endurance Fuel. On laps where I ate the whole thing of potatoes, I would just take a few sips of Endurance Fuel before lining back up and then drink only plain water on the next lap to avoid overdoing the sodium. This worked well for the first day. As the miles wore on into day two, I needed supplemental calories as I ran, even if I had consumed a full serving of potatoes. Endurance Tap makes a 100 calorie maple syrup pack with much less sodium than Tailwind, so I began adding those into my plan when I needed to supplement calories but not salt.
Simply put, I ran with 100 calories of Endurance Fuel if I didn’t get my total sodium from solid food at the tent, but made sure to skip Tailwind any time I consumed a full serving of potatoes. This system of alternating between liquid and solid fuel was very easy for me to follow, plus I never needed to take any additional electrolyte/salt tabs
But How Do You Get Your Protein?
Starting on the first night, I introduced Tailwind Rebuild into the mix (vanilla is my go-to flavor). For a race this long, protein is important. If I wanted to be in it for the long haul (planning for 3 plus days) my body needed protein. The efficient protein in Rebuild has always agreed with me on 100 milers and I saw how well it worked for Courtney Dauwalter at Big’s last year. Rebuild also helped me when I started to become grossed out by food in general. If I ever felt like that between loops, I knew I could just fall back on Rebuild to get in enough electrolytes, carbs and protein to not get into a deficit.
And so, this is the pattern I followed day in and day out, executed perfectly by my crew who followed my coaching on day one. I took Endurance Fuel almost every lap but was careful not to overdo it on sodium and calories. I began Rebuild during the first night and was mindful to continue a periodic intake of this to get more protein. This was my sole source of protein for 60 hours besides the McDonald’s breakfast sandwich brought to me the third morning by my friend Tim Dines. Sometimes real food is a great mental boost (shoutout to the Eggo waffles served to me by my crew on the second morning).
Getting Buzzed (on Tailwind)
Now for the caffeine part. My sole source of caffeine was from caffeinated Endurance Fuel. Last year at Bigs, I followed a similar fueling plan and it worked well. Caffeine was a different story. I started pumping myself full of caffeine on day one. It came from all kinds of sources, from coffee to 5 hour energy. I couldn’t rest my brain to get any sleep between loops during the first or second nights. My troubleshooting became sloppy and I ignored mechanical issues I should have otherwise addressed. Ultimately on my 44th lap, I turned around and limped back to the start to hand in my timing chip with 183 miles.
This year, I endured an awful caffeine taper and ultimately cut out caffeine completely ten days out from the race. It paid off. I did not take caffeine until the very end of the first night. I started with one scoop worth of caffeinated endurance fuel. That is 35mg of caffeine and it was enough to wake me up a bit and keep me alert for the switch to the trail loop on day two. I held off as long as possible on the second night as well. During the last few nighttime road loops, I consumed about 1.5 scoops of caffeinated Endurance Fuel. I felt less tired on day three and attribute that to being able to actually take short naps during the night. I drink so much coffee on a daily basis that typically 35mg of caffeine would not have affected me all that much. By sticking to using Endurance Fuel as my caffeine source I was able to omit harsher sources of caffeine like actual coffee or energy drinks.
The mental boost of the caffeinated Endurance Fuel was even greater than waffles on morning two. I felt like a million bucks after having 1.5 scoops of Green Tea buzz on the third morning. I will do a caffeine taper next time despite how miserable it was. Thank you to my coworkers at Tailwind for enduring my moods during this time.
Who Doesn’t Like Lists?
Here is my best guesstimate with what I consumed and how much:
- Tailwind Endurance Fuel – 8,000 calories
- Tailwind Rebuild Recovery – 2,400 calories
- Mashed Potatoes – 825 calories
- Ramen Soup Cups – 680 calories
- Potato chips – handfuls at a time (I told you this isn’t calculus)
- Pierogies – 420 calories
- Grits – 650 calories
- Cream of Wheat – 150 calories
- Eggo waffles – 2 units with butter and Endurance Tap maple syrup
- Egg and cheese breakfast sandwich – almost one whole sandwich
- Smucker’s Uncrustables – 2 unit
- Endurance Tap Maple Syrups – 12 = 1200 calories
- Oatmeal cookie – 1 unit
A good estimate for a calorie goal, for me personally, is at least 250 calories an hour. For 60 hours that equals 15,000 calories. Estimated total for above is 15,095.
The important part to know is that I listened to my body and what it was telling me. If I was super thirsty, I would drink water. If I craved something, I would go for it. I was careful to not overdo any of the cravings though, like chugging too much water or consuming over 250 calories at one time. This perfectly executed plan helped me run for 60 hours straight, achieving 250 miles and becoming the first female to win the Big’s Backyard Ultra.