Running into the unknown - an event where the last two standing run until one can run no more……
2021 Last One Standing Race Review
I’m going for a run until I can’t run, don’t want to run, or no one else wants to run with me anymore. I may be home tonight, tomorrow or in a few days. Don’t wait up.
The Last One Standing Backyard Ultra race format is like no other. There is no definite end. It’s not a distance-based event where the fastest is the champion, or a time stamped event where the furthest distance covered in a predetermined time is the winner.
In this event you must complete a 6.7km loop (4.167 miles) within one hour and line up at the starting corral before the final whistle blows every hour to stay in the race.
For the Last One Standing Format you must be exactly that, the very last person to complete a full lap more than anyone else to be crowned the winner. Everyone else is a loser with no prizes for second place - brutal!
Hosted by AAA Racing and Coaching, we were lucky enough to compete in the Clint Eastwood Last One Standing Backyard Ultra on the 27th of August 2021 in Brisbane Australia, with 130 participants lining up for lap one. This event was held at Oxley Common on a flat dirt trail - a popular area for bird watchers and local families for afternoon walks.
This event demands true grit and resilience. To run lap after lap on an uninspiring course throughout the day and night is a very tough gig.
I was lucky enough to crew for a few friends in 2020 on the course and somehow found a level of excitement in the format and signed up for the following year.
Watching other backyard ultras around the country with interest over the years, I studied people’s strategies and lap plans. The records for laps increased often, and by the time we lined up in August, there were some huge targets in front of us.
The Australian record of 51 laps / 341.7km’s was set by Phil Gore in Western Australia just a couple of weeks prior to this event.
The world record of 81 laps / 542km was set by John Stocker in Suffolk, England in June 2021.
I’ve been running ultra-distances for a few years now, and the longest time on feet I’d accomplished was 24 hours, both as a run as well as obstacle course racing. Anything beyond 24 hours racing was unknown territory, and I was super keen to see how I’d go.
I entered this race with one objective, and that was to run as many laps as I possibly could. A very simple race plan was attached to this - run easy, run comfortable and don’t do anything stupid!
7am Friday 27th August, from lap one I felt great. I was fresh and happy. The crowd had warmed up from the cold start and it looked like a warm day ahead. The Oxley Common lap was simple to navigate. Follow the path with two left turns and two right turns. Nothing to overthink - plenty of little out and backs so you crossed paths with runners often each lap, exchanging a small nod and smile providing the feeling that you’re not alone.
As time passed and the day went on, the field slowly thinned as the full brunt of the sun was upon us. Most of the track is exposed to the elements with very little shade, so it was a balance to get the lap done quickly enough to cool down in the tent. Ice was being wrapped in a buff around my neck and I would often dip my hands in a bucket of ice to lower my core temperature. Tailwind Nutrition and Edge Electrolytes were being consumed by the gallons each lap!
Tightness in my leg muscles were being maintained through massage and physio treatment to keep my mobility as free as it could be.
By late afternoon the temperature dropped, and it was very welcome. Unfortunately, it kept dropping, to a point the temperature was being recorded around 2-3°! I just needed to keep ticking laps off during the night to chase the sun for the morning.
Lap 15, 10pm Friday 27th August – the 100km lap. A milestone distance for many runners at this event with 42 finishers and I silently celebrated as I crossed the line first out of the field.
The next milestone was Lap 24, being a full day of running, racking up a nice miler, or 100 miles. An extraordinary achievement, a small field of 11 made it to this milestone and once again I finished the line first out of the field, still feeling relatively strong. Special mention here to Ben Jansen who set this target last year and fell short but showed tenacity and grit to achieve this distance for himself this weekend - inspiring effort!
By lap 30, my good friend Jalna Clair called it a day, then Neil McNeil finished up the lap after leaving just Kevin Muller and I to decide the outcome of this race.
At this stage I was tired and hurting but showing little sign of giving up. I just focused on lap by lap and with the help of such an amazing crew (more people helping than one could wish for) I pushed on, keeping lap times relatively consistent at around 45 minutes. This allowed time to shut the eyes for a few minutes, eat, drink and receive some treatment on the legs. The positivity coming from family and friends kept me moving.
Kevin was ticking off laps like clockwork and executed his race exceptionally well. From what I could see he was here for the long haul, and I knew I had to dig deep to stay in the game.
After 35 hours of racing, it was now a matter for me to just focus on lap by lap and my own race. Any thought beyond the next hour seemed almost impossible, so this strategy worked well at this stage. The body was failing and hurting quite badly now. I tried to get some sleep for a few minutes between laps but by the time I stopped and rested the pain in my legs set in which inhibited my ability to rest.
The night was cool but not like the night before, so it was manageable. My lap times started to creep towards 50 minutes by 37 hours and I felt the energy needed to run this speed was greater than the energy needed to run my quicker lap times earlier in the race. I knew it was a matter of time before the bell would be rung for me. By this time, my crew were like an ER, turning me around with the few short minutes I had to line back up, while I checked in on Kevin to see he was in a recliner chair ready for another afternoon stroll. He inspired me to continue as we were so close to his personal best of 41 laps.
With my focus then shifting to driving towards 41 hours, I seemed to find the courage to continue and squeeze in just in time with a few minutes to spare. One more lap was all I could focus on - it now seemed simply a matter of survival. By this stage it seemed a little early for my mind to wander, but I did experience light hallucinations on course. Couches in trees and faces on the grass in front of me to recall a couple of visions. Nothing scary, but enough to realise I was in unchartered waters for me.
As Kevin and I started our 41st lap I stared down the course with doubt, but determination. We shuffled off and Kevin coasted ahead. I walked and jogged for a few hundred metres and then made the call. I didn’t see myself making the hour, so I made the decision to walk it back to the start, being welcomed by the small number of spectators and crew braving the cold at around 12:10 am on the Sunday morning.
We all laughed and joked about the last two days and cheered in Kevin who ran his 42nd lap quicker than the last 12 - what an animal!
As the clock crept towards midnight on Saturday night, I had a few moments to reflect on the last 40+ hours of running, when a very clear realisation occurred - there is nothing simple with this event and it is not to be taken lightly. An enormous amount of physical and mental strength is needed to go further than what you think is possible.
An amazing experience with family and friends - one I will never forget.
A few observations from Rob, Jamie’s Crew Chief:
My plan was simple – to be with Jamie from early Friday morning before the race started, until whenever he finished – whether that was Sunday or even Monday if things went exceptionally well!
Unfortunately, due to shifting work commitments, I couldn’t get to Oxley Common until around Friday lunchtime, and even at that time I was in & out of the car making/taking phone calls for a couple of hours, getting very frustrated.
Fortunately, Marcus Webb, who was crewing for Jalna Clair, stepped in & provided Jamie with amazing support while I was distracted – this guy is just a legend!
By the time night came on Friday I felt Jamie was in a good rhythm & we had the inter-lap process down pat – he had a couple of down patches, but I assured him that as soon as the sun rose he would be reenergised & feeling great.
Jamie continued to log lap after lap, always around the 40-minute mark.
As the day got warmer though, things got tougher. A few niggles had started to develop & he was having a hard time with the heat.
It was at this point that Jamie’s wife Vanessa suggested that we find out when Jamie’s physio & good mate Phil Forostenko was planning to drop in. As soon as Phil heard that Jamie needed support he came straight to us (with all 3 of his kids in tow) & he stayed right through until the end of the race!
Phill set about cooling Jamie down & working on loosening his hips & quads – this process is very painful, but Jamie never complained.
As the afternoon finally started to cool down, we made our plans for the evening: we wouldn’t change much, but we knew that Jamie would need to slow his laps down & try to get a few minutes of sleep when he could.
We were like a Formula 1 pit crew, and even when Jamie came in with only a few minutes to spare, we would get him turned around & back out in plenty of time.
It’s a huge credit to Jamie’s temperament & positive attitude, that no matter how tired he was, and no matter how much pain he was in, he never lost his cool or showed anything but love & respect to his crew. When he made the decision to walk back at the start on his 42nd lap, his reason was that he wanted to be there when Kevin Muller finished, not only to become the Last One Standing for 2021, but also to set a PB.
Jamie also presented the trophy to Kevin & we all congratulated both runners for an incredible performance.
This format of racing is just brutal, and I don’t think it would be possible to do it without the right crew in your corner. Jamie has attracted an amazing group of people around him during his life & at times there would have been up to 8 people in his camp, doing anything & everything they could to keep him moving.
Jamie’s wife Vanessa & their two wonderful girls Maya & Emily were an amazing support throughout, and Maya insisted on staying right through to the end.
I’d like to thank my wife Glenda who also dedicated her weekend to supporting me to support Jamie.
Lastly, I’d like to give a shout-out to all the other people who came to support during the 41 hours of racing (I’ll include the people previously mentioned as well) – they’re all legends:
Phill Forostenko, Vanessa, Maya & Emily Hunter, Marcus Webb & his wife Sarah-Jane, Craig Dodd, Leanne Collingwood, Chris Dale, Shane Foley, Andrew Nobbs, Glenda Vigorelli, Greg Folan & his wife Helen, CJ Pearson, Nick Roberts, Pat Coglan, Naho Cvetinovic, Sarah-Jane Hipwell, Carl Schodde & Nick & Jen McKinnon.
I know there were lots more people who called in to say hello too!
The last crew standing!