Rasselbock Backyard Ultra 2024

Well it’s two weeks since Rasselbock Backyard Ultra and I am still trying to get over the disappointment of stopping at 38 yards 😭. That’s the thing about Backyard Ultras that makes them so hard but at the same time makes you want to go back for more. I was determined to go into this race to time out or win however hard it was and yet at 38 yards (2am on the second night) I was 100% happy with my decision to stop and not risk injuring my already swollen knees. I still finished the yard with plenty of time to spare (in roughly 55mins) but didn’t go back out – my mind had played tricks on me and in that moment I was completely happy with what I had done. It wasn’t until after a few hours sleep that the regret and disappointment kicked in and after a couple of days when the knee swelling had gone down and there was no real injury the regret got even worse. But what is done can’t be changed and can only be used to go into the next race stronger. Bring on the Cow Shed Backyard Ultra in 4 weeks!

As a silver ticket event with some big names attending the build up to Rasselbock felt quite intense and by race day I was feeling the pressure of my own expectation and others! I always knew I was going to have to go down without a crew as Iain needed to look after the kids and work, and I knew this would make it harder. Also with limited time off work myself I decided the train was the best option there and back as I could then head back straight after the race finished rather than have to catch up on sleep before it was safe to drive. However a train strike was announced for the Friday so I messaged Mike Raffan who was driving to see if I could get a lift. He kindly agreed and picked me up on the Friday morning for the journey down. I still had to travel light as I needed to be able to carry everything back home again on the train. In the end I ended up with one large holdall containing all of my camping stuff, race clothes, shoes and electronics and then had two bags for life that contained all my food and drink and finally a folding chair for between laps. After a good journey down we arrived mid afternoon on the Friday and were able to get set up and settled in before it got dark. Mike got his camper and gazebo set up and I found my spot in the aid station marquee where there was plenty of tables and space for solo runners. I then pitched up my bivvy bag where I would be sleeping for the night (it soon got described as the body bag by the other runners!).

The early evening crawled by with runners and crews arriving and getting set up. I had a chat with folk and hung around in the marquee making sure I stayed warm. Eric had organised a Domino’s order for the Friday evening and I was very much ready for it when it arrived at 8pm. The size of the gluten free pizza was as always disappointing compared to everyone else’s pizza but it tasted good and had over a thousand calories. I crawled into my bivvy bag about 9.30pm fully clothed (I even kept my coat on) as the temperature was round about freezing 🥶 and I had a surprisingly good night’s sleep. I did wake early but didn’t mind as I had slept well. I crawled out of my bag and got breakfast sorted (porridge pots, fruit and a much needed cup of tea) and hung around as people began to wake up and arrive. The solo runner area soon had a buzz about it but it still felt like a long wait until midday – I don’t like midday starts as it feels like you waste half of the day. It didn’t take long to register and get my bib number (140) and timing tag. I borrowed an empty gazebo to get changed in (I had been told I could the night before!) and then hung around trying to relax and use as little energy as possible (and keep warm)!

Eric gave a quick race briefing in the marquee (it was raining!) and then we had about 20 minutes until race start. I was unsure if to wear waterproof trousers for the first lap as some of the rain showers were heavy but in the end decided to risk it and it was the correct decision as the rain eased up and then stopped completely. At 11.57 the three minute whistles went off and we were finally about to start. At 12 the bell rang and we were on our way. With 130 runners it felt busy and it was hard to find a rhythm at the start. Once we started along the forest track it became easier. The route is mainly on wide forest roads (some more muddy than others) with just two sections of technical single track. There was no option but to go at everyone else’s pace through these as they were busy! They were also muddy and only got muddier throughout the afternoon! They also had hidden stones and tree roots to keep an eye out for – I didn’t like these sections and it highlighted to me how I need to improve my running in mud as others were making it look a lot easier and were much more confident than I was. I was also deliberately taking it easy as I didn’t want to slip and twist anything or trip over a hidden obstacle, as there was a long way to go! I was soon heading up past the Go Ape on the final section to the camp and the start/finish line. I was surprised to find that my watch pinged four miles as I crossed the line – everyone’s were measuring short because of the tree cover and the twisty path for the single track sections. This meant my first yard was faster than I intended – I planned on 52 minute loops but was in at 49 minutes for the first loop. I mentally readjusted my pacings and after that my loops were much more consistent at around 52 minutes.

The time between loops went quickly with sorting out food and drinks and any other jobs that needed doing. The three whistles would soon sound and it would be time to get ready to head back to the corral after the two minute whistles. The afternoon loops all passed in much the same way with some chat with other runners on each loop and then a focus on eating/drinking and using the portaloo between loops. It was great to chat with other runners and find out what their goals were. I would see the same faces each loop as I was surrounded by those runners with a similar pacing to me. Before long it was time for head torches and night. That’s the problem with a midday start – it’s night before you know it! It was also cold as the sun set but I had a good system of zip tops and a pair of gloves that I was able to take on and off to regulate my temperature overnight. I am happy to run with the tops round my waist so this worked really well as a system. I also wore a cap during the day for the first time and this worked well. I took it off for the night loops with the head torch and in fact didn’t need a hat at all (I find my head gets warm with a head torch on). There were 13 loops where a head torch was mandatory from 6pm to the 7am loop. As I expected the course was much trickier at night with the mud and I think some people found the cold tough.

It was still busy this first night and I was finding it frustrating through the single track sections as everyone running at my pace was running them faster than I wanted to – I preferred to run more of the forest roads and then go slower on the single track (everyone else was the opposite). It meant I spent the whole of the single track sections very aware of runners behind me and kept stopping to let them past. Apart from that and a few other muddy sections to be avoided it was just a case of getting the laps done. Everything felt surprisingly good which I was really pleased about and I wasn’t even too tired. The numbers did thin out through the night so the single track sections gradually became easier. After a long night it gradually came light and suddenly the track was so much easier again. A porridge pot, banana and cup of tea and I was good for the day. I had had to tape up one toe (a blister at the nail bed) and was getting annoyed at having to keep emptying dirt out of my left shoe (I would consider gaiters in future) but otherwise was feeling pretty good and looking forward to 24 yards at midday. 😁

Yard 24 finally arrived with 35 runners still in the corral. This was fantastic to be a part of, but there was still many more yards to go! There were still plenty of people to chat to which was great and it was making the laps pass more quickly. I was finding it trickier keeping everything organised in between laps but was managing to get everything done. On yard 28 I noticed my knees aching and when I looked down I noticed some swelling around them which I was very concerned about but it didn’t hurt to run or walk on them so I used a deep freeze spray and some paracetamol and carried on. I mentioned them to Sarah Perry during the loop and she pointed out it may be the compression socks that I was wearing so when I got back I swapped into ankle socks for the rest of the afternoon. The swelling didn’t go down but also didn’t get any worse which was good. The number of runners dropped quite quickly after 24 yards and there was only a few of us that started the second evening of dark loops with head torches. I had swapped into leggings for the night now I no longer had my long socks on but otherwise planned the same approach as I had the night before.

I guess this is where it all started to go wrong as in the back of my mind I was worried about my knees and didn’t want to cause a serious injury. Without a crew it is hard to keep things in perspective. Yes, my knees had some swelling and ached but they weren’t causing me any bother to run on and I had certainly finished previous races with worse! I enjoyed quite a few miles chatting with other runners, including Vic Owens (“The Happy Runner”) which was great and certainly helped the laps pass, it also distracted me from my knees! I think chatting with other runners also had a big downside in that I had become quite dependent on the company. We made it to loop 36 which would be a new UK women’s Backyard record and there were still three women running which was fantastic and very cool to be a part of. This was Vic Owens’ final lap. She had met her goal and was falling asleep on her feet. Suddenly on lap 37 with only 5 runners left I was on my own and I hadn’t mentally prepared for this. Even listening to music my focus was on my aching knees and I couldn’t distract myself from this. I also fell into the trap on some level of thinking others looked stronger or in better shape than me – I really do struggle to believe in myself! I guess I must have spent a lot of the lap with my brain convincing me that after 38 laps when I was above Iain on the UK At-large list, that was a sensible time to stop (we have a healthy level of competition in our marriage!). So when I went out on lap 38 I had decided to pace to finish in about 59 minutes so Iain wasn’t disappointed in me for not going back out (it’s funny how the brain works). I didn’t think to give him a call and talk it all through I was 100% confident in the decisions I was making – big mistake! On the final loop I cut out a lot of my runs and speed walked instead and still made it round in 55 minutes. A chat with Eric at the finish line and I crossed the finish line for the final time happy with what I had achieved. I stood at the side while the final 3 runners headed out on lap 39 and then I gave Iain a call. I don’t think he really knew what to say as he hadn’t been expecting me to just stop! After a quick chat I headed to my bivvy bag to try and sleep (I managed a bit). When I woke up after a few hours I was already feeling disappointed especially when I found everyone had stopped pretty soon after. Mike Raffan won the race on 42 yards with Sarah Perry as the assist on 41 yards and a new UK women’s Backyard record. Andy Day finished 1 lap after me to finish in 3rd (I know everyone DNFs but the winner but these guys did amazing).

The biggest thing I learnt from this race is that I need a crew (ideally Iain as he knows how to keep me going during a race) to meet my full potential. I just don’t believe in myself enough (yet!) and let the doubts creep in or convince myself I am heading towards a serious injury – I was fine in a couple of days! Also managing everything in the short breaks at a Backyard on your own in tough – hats off to Sarah Perry and Mike Raffan who both made it look easy.

I also came away determined to run more trails in training (it’s going well so far and I had forgotten how much I love it). I fall into the habit of road miles as it is easier and I am more confident on the roads but for my long term growth as a runner (and my own enjoyment) more trails between races is definitely the way to go. Bring on the mud!

Nutrition went well at the race, although finding more ‘meals’ for between laps would be useful – I think pasta may be the way to go. Also sleep deprivation wasn’t a big problem during the race and I never felt like I was about to fall asleep which has boosted my confidence. I also managed my temperature well in cold conditions and was never shivering in the corral at the start of a lap which was great.

Overall I did OK, finishing 4th on 38 yards, the second furthest women’s UK Backyard distance and a place on the UK team (at the moment) for the world team championships in October and I need to keep reminding myself of this and use my disappointment to focus me for my training and next race. Iain is running as well and I am really hoping that this time I will be able to time out (or win) – who would have thought it would be so hard!

Since finishing I am really not sure 38 yards will be enough to make the UK team, I’ll have to wait and see (or go further at Cow Shed). There are so many strong runners in the UK and with many more Backyard Ultras in the UK it is difficult to predict what will happen over the next few months but I am kicking myself for not going a few extra yards and making my position more secure. Hindsight Is a wonderful thing!

Rasselbock Backyard Ultra is a fantastically well run event. Eric puts a lot of effort into all runners having a great experience and it really pays off. His family are lovely and also make you feel incredibly welcome and Eric’s mums cakes are amazing (and his dad makes a great cup of tea!). It really was a brilliant event, the main camp area is well set up and there is plenty of space both for crewed and solo runners. With some of the poraloos being female only this really improves the race experience for ladies and I don’t think it is too detrimental to male runners (although I never asked)! Anyone considering having a go at Backyard Ultras I would really recommend it (although they do mess with your head!) and I would recommend Rasselbock Backyard Ultra specifically as well.

Finally, a big thanks to everyone that donated to Beth’s fundraising page to raise money to volunteer for a year with the charity Project Trust in Malawi. I will also be supporting her fundraising when running The Cow Shed Backyard Ultra in April. If anyone would like to donate even a small amount the link to her Just Giving page with more information is: https://www.justgiving.com/page/beth-mclean-foreman-1700424340081

Enjoy you running everyone and all of your outdoor adventures!

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