When Sally van Nuland and Cherie McCafferty began the 128th hour of the Little Dog Front Yard Challenge, they were the final two runners standing in the backyard-ultra style event. Little did they know they still had more than 100 hours, and as many miles, left to go.
As is common during the coronavirus pandemic, runners are finding creative ways to race and compete with race postponements and cancellations all over the world. This has come in many forms, but a popular one has stemmed from Big’s Backyard Ultra format created by Barkley Marathons creator Gary “Lazarus Lake” Cantrell.
A virtual version of that event took place in April—the Quarantine Backyard Ultra— with runners completing 4.167 miles every hour until Michael Wardian won after 63 hours and 252 miles. For van Nuland and her boyfriend, Brandon Wilson, it seemed like a great way to bring their running friends together virtually.
“Brandon and I were discussing Big’s one day and how you had to be pretty elite to do something like Big’s,” van Nuland told Runner’s World. “You have to be pretty legit to do that mileage. That’s when we started talking about doing a smaller event, a Little Dog race that anyone can do.”
One mile an hour seemed manageable for the average runner. Van Nuland had previously completed a long run in the form of doing one mile an hour for 24 hours straight, so if they did this backyard-style, they could see how far and how long runners would be willing to go.
They put a no-cost event with no amenities out to a small group of friends mostly based around the southeastern United States—Wilson and van Nuland live in Greensboro, North Carolina. In less than a week, they were able to pull 47 racers to the virtual start line on April 24 at 6 p.m. ET.
Wilson, a certified race director and race timer, established the ground rules: Complete one mile outside starting at the top of every hour. Each runner would have to record each mile on Strava and also record a “1” in a Google spreadsheet for the corresponding mile.
The majority of the field dwindled quickly over the weekend, but after three full days—yes, days—five runners remained, and there didn’t appear to be any quit in them. The fifth-place runner, Wendy Murray, only bowed out because she had to return to work.
Things got even crazier as three runners made it through five days, or 120 hours/miles.
“I knew both were strong competitors and had big running accomplishments,” van Nuland says. “It was going to come down to something technical or falling asleep versus not being able to go any longer. It really consumed out lives all week.”
At 127 hours (or around 1 a.m. Friday), John Price, the last man in the race, pulled out, leaving McCafferty and van Nuland to battle it out for the top spot.
Despite battling intermittent sleep between miles, fueling, and personal lives, neither runner showed any signs of quitting. They continued mile for mile for just shy of five more days.
“A mile an hour, that was my entire life,” van Nuland said. “All I kept thinking about was going back to a normal life, if you can call it that these days. As we went past a week, I thought my new normal was going to be running a mile every hour.”
After 10 full days, controversy arose at hour/mile 243. Runner’s World has reached out to both runners to receive clarity about this controversy. Van Nuland spoke with us over the phone and posted on Facebook about it. McCafferty did not speak with us, though she did share some thoughts on the matter in a brief message, as well as in a post on her Facebook page.
Based on reports from both sides, here is what we can say: After completing the 243rd mile, van Nuland said she put her “1” on the Google spreadsheet, and she recorded her mile run on Strava. It is unclear what happened to the “1”, but it did not show up on the sheet when McCafferty looked. According to van Nuland, Wilson updated the page, which he had to do every so often and that was the likely cause. McCafferty took a screenshot and sent it to Wilson and van Nuland, who, again, live together as boyfriend and girlfriend.
McCafferty went into mile/hour 244 thinking she would win if she completed the mile, because there was no record of van Nuland’s mile on the Google spreadsheet. When McCafferty finished her mile, Wilson reached out via text and call to remedy the situation.
It is important to note that earlier in the race, runners who had Strava uploading delays were allowed to continue on as long as they could prove they completed their mile and enter their “1” later.
Upon finishing lap 244, McCafferty bowed out after thinking she had won; she believed Wilson was trying to bend the rules in favor of van Nuland because she was Wilson’s girlfriend. There was an attempt to have both women continue on because they had completed their miles, but McCafferty reportedly declined.
Wilson told van Nuland what happened after finishing mile/hour 244. Van Nuland reportedly offered to give the win to McCafferty; however, McCafferty declined.
Van Nuland continued on, completing the 245th loop and even going an additional five hours to hit 250 before stopping for good.
“It makes nobody have a real, good victory,” van Nuland said. “It makes me feel like we ran all these hours, and it’s for nothing. Nobody feels good.”
This was clearly not the way either runner wanted the race to end. Neither feels they were victorious.
But the story shouldn’t focus on the controversial ending; instead, it should be on the incredible challenge these women endured for more than 10 days (244 hours) together. They completed something that has never been seen in the running world, and they did that by going for nearly 120 hours by themselves when they had every chance to stop. Yet they persevered.
Though tempers have flared on social media in response to the controversial finish—just as they did at the end of the Quarantine Backyard Ultra—the general consensus is that both women accomplished something that should be heralded as evidence of how strong these women are, physically and mentally.
“I was afraid of how long it was going to go,” van Nuland said. “Seriously, at what point were we going to say enough is enough? I felt like we could have gone for weeks and weeks more.”
From: Runner’s World US
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