Last Man Standing….

There are not many (if any?!) races that you would feel ‘accomplished’ with a DNF (did not finish) beside your name. But in this event, there were 25 people who DNF’d and just TWO who did not…. Yes you read right. Unless you WIN, or are the second last (the assist), you DNF. The winner is, literally the last man standing…..

So what possesses someone to take on such a challenge, knowing full well that you are most likely going to finish with a DNF beside your name? But if you read on, these events are SO much more than about winning. They are about pushing through levels of fatigue that you can only imagine, of working through pain and discomfort, of having a plan, a large support network, of planning nutrition and hydration to a tee and packing just about everything with you – ‘just in case’. It’s about finding YOUR limit – whatever that may be….
For most people, these types of ultra events are not about winning at all, they are about the personal challenge, they are about finding where your ultimate limits lies and trying to push just one lap further, continuing just that little bit longer, until the body finally says no more and you can rest. Lay that weary body down knowing you gave it every ounce of what you had.

So read on > > >

This – is Andy’s Last Man Standing Experience

By Andy Rogers

From the beginning – It all started with my mate Phil just leisurely saying ‘hey have you seen there’s a new event coming to Shepparton‘ – that was all it took. And before we knew it, the idea had gathered momentum and I was hooked on the idea straight away; I had been looking for a new challenge and this was right up my alley.
For those unfamiliar with the Last man standing or Backyard Ultra’s as they have become known, this is an event that has simple rules. It’s a 6.72k loop that starts on the hour, every hour until one person runs the final loop on his own – the ‘last man standing’ – literally. This one was the Northvic Backyard Ultra – held in Shepparton.

The injury – So with 4 months until the event my main concern was an ongoing injury that I had been carrying for a while – after I completed my last big challenge event – 160k in 48hrs virtual event last October. This cleared up eventually but with only 6 weeks out I developed a calf niggle in the same area that I had experienced a stress fracture 4 years prior. So I went to the start line still having this niggle but it was much better and I felt I was in a position to be able to nurse it through the event. An event that really was an unknown in so many ways!

Short training prep – Rolling back the clock to about 12 weeks out, I slowly made my way back to some run fitness giving myself until 2 weeks out to decide finally if I was going to enter the event. Coach Sarah had put a plan together where I was just introducing a few K’s each week this took me to about 25k’s a week now just 6 weeks out. A pretty low training load for such an event, but we went conservatively to ensure the body managed the training load. But despite this, the calf niggle popped up and I had doubts – thinking that the event was now just a dream and I wasn’t going to be able to do what I wanted to do. But Sarah and I put a strategy together that would see me not running in the week and training one single long run over the weekend. Although very unconventional, it allowed me / the body to recover between the weekends running and it really seemed to work!
So I did a 6 x 7k test run the following week and a final 10 x 6.7k test run (10hrs – a lot in the dark!) 2 weeks out. Although the niggle was there it was manageable and we decided I could get through the event so I entered and then started the final preparation!

Race Prep – Having never done an event like this before and of course this event has an ‘unknown’ finish time and distance, I trawled through Youtube videos of previous backyard ultras reading blogs and listening to many podcasts I came up with a plan. And part of that was to be over prepared rather than wanting something I hadn’t planed or packed for.
So one list became 2 which soon became 3! I really don’t think I could have added anything more on my list of things to organise and pack! Over prepared for sure but I was totally AOK with that! PS – if you thought packing for an Ironman was full on – this is NEXT LEVEL ! Times your Ironman list by 10, and you probably are in the ball park! ;-p


Race Day – It was 8am when I woke and the nerves were lingering around for sure. I had a pre race catch up with the coach the night before so I knew what my pre race prep was going to consist of so let the day begin! We arrived on course at 11am which gave us 4 hours until race start. Set up had begun and 2 hrs later we were ready for the race briefing and the final last few prep things to go through. Nerves were really surfacing now but I always have pre race nerves which has always proved a good sign. So 27 participants would take the 1st yard and the 3 minute whistle blew, then 2 then 1, so you have to be in the pen at the 1 minute whistle. The race director counted down from 5 and we were off! Lap 1 of who knows how many laps to come ! !

The Race – There has been many strategies talked about and who knows what is ‘best’, all I know is I had MY race plan and I wanted to stick to it for as long as I could. My strategy for the first 10 laps was to run (well a jog really) 2.5k then walk 1.5k which took in the hills on the course and then run home apart from 300mt up a bridge on the way back to the start/finish line. This would get me in at 47 minutes. And for the first 12 laps I was pretty much spot on! I was over the moon at this point that my times and strategy was working with 12laps / hours and 80km already down.

I best not forget to throw in there too though, that come lap 4, night time would hit and darkness would descend over the course and for the next 10+ rounds we would be guided by our headtorches…. Add to that rain, and it made the challenge of this event even more so…
On lap 11 I would walk the first 1k with my mate Phil who it ended up would run his last yard on this leg. A big achievement Phil, well done mate – and thanks for planting that seed!

Other highlights of the first 12 laps were defiantly the support crew. Lisa (partner) has been in it from the start and she was there almost until the end (this story comes later). Without a good support crew your day is done before you even start. On lap 4,5,6 would see more support from friends Regan, Ben and Alisha who I never knew were going to come over so it was a great surprise. And this wouldn’t be the last time I would see Regan on course – in fact she was popping up everywhere on the morning loops and she gave me lots of laughs as she would randomly appear, sometimes from behind the bushes. Thanks Regan – a real moral booster! 😊

The biggest surprise of all though came at lap 8 when Coach Sarah had arrived at 10pm with son Alex. I held it together as this was very emotional for me but this gave me a massive boost just when I needed it. Those night time laps, in the dark, and in your own thoughts can get very very lonely especially as more people drop out. Doubts start to creep in, sleep deprivation is real and you start to question ‘why’. Its strange too as you become oblivious of the time of day so I didn’t realise until after the event that it was after midnight when Sarah and Alex actually left….

With about 13 minutes until the next lap it was a case of a loo break change of clothes, topping up hydration bottles and trying to get nutrition and food into me. Its surprising how quick this goes. If you had to sit and wait for someone for 13minutes you would think it was the longest 13min of your lift. But 13minutes of ‘rest and refuel’ in this event felt like 3! It’s a bit of an adrenaline rush knowing you have to be back on that start line with 1 minute to go. And if you are not. You are out. Simple as that! So with my first goal of 12 laps accomplished it was onto my next goal of 15 laps which would see me clock up 100kms. And 15hrs straight of running, resting, refuelling – on repeat!  

At this point, I noticed for the first time that my running was slowing down so a change in strategy was made. From this point on I would have to do more running than I had been to make up for the pace deficit.. So I decided to only walk the hills which would work out to be about 1k more of running over the 6.72km lap. Doesn’t sound like a lot, but when fatigue is really kicking in and your body is trying to get you to slow down and stop – it’s a big effort.
So laps now were coming in on 50min. This was still ok and giving me still enough time to do what I needed. As I completed my 15th hour, Lisa brought to my attention that I had stopped eating. It’s hard to explain but I think anyone that has done ultra events will experience this. Your body just goes into a self preservation mode and starts to shut down in a way… Lisa would make me porridge which I attempted – knowing I needed to continue to get some fuel / nutrition in to be able to keep going. I spoke with Lisa at this point and said I just wanted to go out for the 8am loop which would give me 17 laps, I knew at this point or at least I thought I knew I was close to the end…..

Laps 15-18 – It was daylight by now, another target achieved and the next few hours would see me just getting through each lap playing mind games with myself, giving myself targets to when I would run and then walk and just finding any way possible to complete that lap I was on. I can’t remember out right but by now I am sure I was in the top 10 finishers. Another target achieved! I was now in a group of 3 of us who I kept passing then they would pass me and this would go on all lap, which was good as we would have a little chat whilst we were together, not many words but just a bit of encouragement knowing we were all in the same hurt together…..  

The final laps – on returning from lap 17 and 18 I was greeted by more people that had come down to support me. I think I was probably done at this point. Physically and mentally. I was exhausted. I was slowly getting slower. I had achieved a number of my goals for the event. I didn’t ‘need’ to do anymore. I felt content. But my mate who had come down to watch said to me “how about doing another lap for me”. Well how could I say no, after all – they had made the journey out to see me so yes off I went on lap 18!

There was now only 7 of us left now and I had a renewed goal. I’m here. I’m on 18. lets get to 20 I thought! Just 2 more after this – so this became my new target. I was now getting back at 51 then 55 mins for lap 19. Lisa waved me off for the final time on lap 20 as she had to go to work, yes work after being my support for 20 hours!! Like I said earlier, without a good support you are finished early. So I can’t thank Lisa enough.

Now this was by far the toughest lap yet – heaps of walking but I was determined to get back within the hour even if I never left again. Lap 20. One foot in front of the other. 1k at a time. It was brutal. My body was screaming at me. It was telling me to stop. I had decided that I was going to ‘dong’ at the end of this lap and declare I was done. Because I was. I was done….

But just as that thought went through my head I had a voice message from a very emotional Lisa saying how proud she was of me and just to keep going out until I didn’t make that hour anymore. This was following a voice message from the coach basically saying how proud she was of me and to keep pushing. So there it was, ready to stop. I would get back to complete lap 20 with 2 minutes to spare – so I decided I would go back out and finish this on course. I wasn’t been defeatist but I knew I didn’t have it in me to complete another lap in the time I needed to. So after a very quick top up of water and a swig of coke off I went on lap 21. With another one of my support team videoing me going out he was cheering “just one more Andy!”. I looked back and said this will be my walking lap and off I walked into the distance pondering my thoughts….

I had always stated that I wanted to finish on course and I would always attempt my last lap. But within 2k of walking (as fast as my body would allow!) this lap, I quickly realised there was no chance of me making it back just walking. So I tried the good old Ironman shuffle but my body was having none of it, and I was very soon walking again.. At this point I made the decision not to go any further and turn around and head back to the start/finish line. Speaking to Lisa on the phone on the way back and we both agreed it was a great journey. I had achieved more than I thought was possible and I was happy with how my ‘race’ went and the decision made – no regrets.
At the finish line I was greeted with even more support crew but unfortunately, they would only see me bang the gong to confirm I was DNF. Extremely pleased with the achievement 20 laps and 130k much more than expected and I come away with huge memories !

Lessons learnt / post event reflection:
A longer build would of been nice but with my niggle this wasn’t possible.
Have a more simple food plan. ‘Keep it simple stupid’. ;-p
Do what’s necessary to make sure that I continue to eat throughout the event.
Always thank your support crew. Always.

What now – Most would probably see this as a ‘bucket list’ event. Do one and that’s enough! But I am already planning my next Backyard Ultra (yes call me crazy!). But for now some time off to get this niggle under control so I can start back ready and raring for my second attempt!

My go to foods – I remember having a bowl of rice which tasted amazing and I enjoyed my dates and peanut butter. Lollies kept me company late on but 3 cans of coke in the later laps certainly helped. Tailwind was my go to liquid calories and I was taking on 170ml most laps and sipping on electrolytes during transition. The main thing – trial in training what you plan to do on event day. And keep your options open!

Thank yous –  Heaps of these!

Support crew – Lisa was amazing this was not possible without her. She had everything covered and nothing was too much. Her motivation was incredible.

Coach Sarah worked hard with me at something that was new to her too. Between us we smashed it and her knowledge and expertise was always there for me to call on. I am sure my journey doing future Backyard Ultras will be very successful too.

To all the people that came out and gave up their time to see me for maybe 10 minutes each lap thank you. Thank you. Thank you! Seeing friendly faces made all the difference.

And lastly to all the people that followed our live feed and updates and for all the motivational comments that was left. I have loved reading and reflecting post event. And I’m sure I will again in my next prep!

Finally – When you think you are done, go and do just one more lap……..

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