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Defending champ Maggie Guterl on this weekend's Big Backyard Ultra and racing for 100 hours

This weekend, beginning Oct. 17, Big’s Backyard Ultra gets underway in Tennessee and in satellite locations around the world. 

Organizer Gary Cantrell, a.k.a. Laz Lake, of Barkley Marathons fame, says the event is filling up with some serious international talent, in part, as a result of the lack of physical races. 

“There are so many top athletes involved because there's not much chance with international competition,” he explains, while on a walk near his Tennessee home. “What we've done is each nation that has a race has a team, and they will run a backyard ultra wherever they are.”

Big’s has become one of the most popular events on the ultra calendar. The race usually takes place on Lake’s property in Bell Buckle, Tennessee.

The now-popular backyard format sees runners having to complete a set loop once per hour every hour until there is one person remaining who runs the last loop and is declared the victor. This time around, countries will be competing against each other in satellite races. The event itself will be broadcast live and streamed on the Big's Facebook page

"Every hour we are supposed to have a live feed of runners starting each new yard all at once," writes Lake. "Between starts, there will be live coverage from the different venues, statistical analysis, video from the various venues around the world, and dead coverage with taped interviews and such..."

Last year, American runner and Get Out There ambassador Maggie Guterl won Big’s after logging 250 miles, becoming the first woman to conquer the ultimate backyard ultra.

We checked in with Guterl who is in Tennessee prepping for the race. 


What do you think of the new format at Big's this year? 

At first, I did not understand it. I was very bummed because I thought it would more virtual. Like it could be possible for you to be alone in Laz's yard and competing against someone in another country via a computer screen. I wasn't into that. But then I learned that it was even more of a team effort than normal. You are only in it for as long as another person is in from your respective race (that part is the same). But that makes the assist even more important this year. If you are the person who wants to stop and there is only one more person left in it with you at your location, and still there are other runners in it in other countries... well there is a lot riding on that let's just say. To have your country win, you need to have two people in it longer than any other country. That last person will be the world champion. 

That event will be live-streamed to the public, what element will that add to the event? 

I hope that will be more exciting for viewers. At least sort of exciting every hour and then pretty boring for the next 40 to 50 minutes. For the runners, it will be nice to wave at our friends from other counties and maybe taunt them once in a while. But it won't change the race dynamic too much other than the fact that the trail will be way less crowded that first day, as we are starting with only 15 people in each location. 

How do you prepare for an event like this, when you don't really know exactly how long you'll be running? 

You show up as strong and healthy as you possibly can with no actual mileage goal in mind. I did a lot of strength work and ran long both weekend days. I did what I could during the week (I work a full-time job)  and made sure my old injury from the Quarantine Backyard Ultra is kept at bay with my daily PT exercises. 

Now that you're the defending champ, how are you feeling going into the race this weekend?  

I feel I have learned a lot both years I have done this but we haven't surpassed 100 hours yet so just because I happened to win last year doesn't mean I am satisfied or overly confident. It's a long race and things happen so I will just take everything in stride and aim to keep getting in that corral.

What do you have to do to win? What's your strategy? 

My strategy is “Don't Quit!”  Use the interloopal time wisely and efficiently so that I can remain mobile and coherent (relatively) and keep getting in that corral. 

You are already in Tennessee, how are the conditions and what are you working on? 

I chose to drive from Colorado this year. It's a 22-hour drive. I did it on the weekend so I didn't have to take time off work to travel. Plus that wrecks you and I needed recovery time from driving. I am working from an AirBnB until before the race. When I arrived it was quite warm and very humid with remnants of tropical storm Delta moving through the area. Today the morning was sunny and a bit chilly. It will be a bit cooler overall this year than last. Looks like the morning we start will be the coldest. Probably around high 30s (just above freezing in Celsius) but quickly warming up to 50s and 60s (not that hot in Celsius LOL).  That sounds perfect to me.  And actually, a guy from Mr. Heater sent us a bunch of Portable Buddy Heaters! So we will be so toasty for all our night time naps!! The heater someone lent us two years ago was clutch!  

Tell about the American team, who are you excited about competing with and against? 

So many people I am excited to run with! Some I don't know yet but I am sure we will become fast friends. Of course, I am stoked to run with my girls Courtney Dauwalter and Amelia Boone. Stoked to meet the only other female (four of us total), Sarah Moore.  And of course, my pal, Mike Wardian, who requires no sleep only wifi for his success in the Backyard.  Two guys, I respect a ton will be back; Joe Fejes, the King of the 48-hour format, and David Johnston, the Alaskan who has won the Iditarod. No one is my competition until there are only two people left in all the countries. If I am lucky enough to be one of those two they will still be my teammate and not competition until we surpass that 100-hour mark.

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