What is Big's? And what is a backyard ultra?
Big’s Backyard Ultra is a niche race in a niche sport. Participants run a loop of 4.167 miles on the hour, every hour until there’s only one runner left (the 4.167-mile distance comes from the fact that at this rate, participants cover exactly 100 miles every 24 hours). “Backyard Ultras” have become a (relatively) standard racing discipline, with hundreds of races of the same and slightly varied styles popping up around the world.
But, in this small corner of Ultra Running, Big’s is the biggest thing in town. It’s the Boston Marathon, the Superbowl, the OG of Backyard Ultras.
Michael Wardian (Pro athlete for HOKA and coach for Chaski) won back in March 2020, covering a distance of 263 miles in 63 hours. On October 17th, he’ll take on a small in-person field at Big’s, along with a virtual race with athletes from around the world.
Chaski founder Tyler Andrews caught up with Mike this week to talk about his preparation and goals for the race. The full recording of that is below along with our quick takeaways.
Stay tuned for more details on streaming and tracking during the race!
1. Last time, Mike ran 263 miles and defeated 2500+ other runners and he didn’t even know he was racing until two days before the event.
“I think I found out about [the Quarantine Backyard Ultra] on like, Thursday, and raced on Saturday, so, no I didn’t do any specific training for that race other than the usual, tons of mileage and lots of racing. I really just did it because I’d always wanted to and there was nothing else going on.
2. This time, he’s been training more specifically: practicing the “every hour” running style as well as big, long, scary adventures (and, yes, even Mike still gets scared)
“I did what I call a ‘baby-backyard’ last week where I just ran 1 mile every hour for 24 hours just to remind myself how annoying that is and how short each hour feels, even when you’re just running one mile... The other thing I did that was really specifically geared to prepping for this race was I ran a solo Fastest Known Time [FKT] across Shenandoah National Park last month. That was about 110 miles and I really just had to take care of myself and problem solve on the go. It was something that I was kind of intimidated by, so being able to get through it was a big confidence boost.”
3. Big’s Backyard will look a little different this year, with an international competition between teams from around the world and Mike is pumped about it.
“There are only about 15 of us running in person in Tennessee, but there are simultaneous competitions happening around the world with an international team competition happening. Having worn the USA on my chest has been some of the proudest moments of my career and so I think representing Team USA here will be a huge boost to help us all push each other to keep going farther and longer.”
4. What's one tip you'd give to someone attempting an event like this?
“Practice running all night. Either do a baby-backyard like I did or just do an all-night run or race as prep. You’re going to feel awful at some point during the night and knowing what that’s like and how to get through it is invaluable.
Oh, and have a lot of different foods available! You never know what you’re going to crave. For me, at the Quarantine Backyard, it was avocados. I probably ate 10 avocados.”
5. Mike is known for a prolific racing schedule and will definitely not be following any kind of traditional “taper” going into Big’s.
“I’m running a race that I can’t actually talk about this coming weekend [i.e., 1 week before bigs] that will probably involve about 100km of running. But that’s just what I like to do. I wouldn’t do it any other way.”