In 2019, Courtney Dauwalter—who some say is the best all-around ultra-runner on the planet—won the UTMB race in Chamonix in 24 hours and 34 minutes. That’s a long run. But her latest ultra-running victory at the Big’s Backyard Ultra makes UTMB look like a jog around the neighborhood.
Ironically, “running around the neighborhood” is all that is required at Big’s Backyard in Bell Buckle, Tennessee. It’s just that you have to do it for a few days. The race consists of runners completing a 6.7 km loop (4.1 miles) every hour until you are the last one standing. Dauwalter won the race’s USA edition by completing 68 laps (455.9 kilometers or 283.33 miles), meaning that, yes, she ran a lap for 68 hours.
The race alternates between a trail loop in the daytime hours and a road loop in the nighttime hours. Otherwise, it’s not so complicated. The goal is to simply keep showing up when the cowbell rings to start the next lap. Courtney is the second woman to win the race. She finished 2nd in 2018.
We figured Courtney wouldn’t want to tell us about the course after seeing it for 68 hours, so we asked for some of the important stuff—hallucinations she experienced, how much food she ate, what songs she was singing to herself. Here’s what she told us… just in case you are looking for insight on how you, too, can run for 68 hours.
Footwear of choice
“For daytime trail loops, the Salomon Sense Ride 3 and the Ultra Pro trail running shoes. For the nighttime road Loops, the Salomon Predict Ra road running shoe.”
Total calories consumed during the race
“I have no idea! I was eating Tailwind and Honey Stinger as my main fuel during laps. Between laps I had all sorts of delicious snacks: cold pizza, perogies, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and McDonald's French fries and cheeseburgers. It was a slow drip of calories that I tried to just keep consuming the entire time.”
Total hours of sleep
“Roughly 4-5 hours during the entire 68 hours of the race. During the second and third nights, I was getting 8-10 minutes of sleep per loop. During the daytime, I was using that extra time between laps for stretching or massaging my legs.”
Songs in my head
“Before the race, I listened to Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now" and it was stuck in my head for the entire first 24 hours.”
Any hallucinations this time?
“Absolutely! I hallucinated many animals and people out there. The most unusual was seeing a giant Mickey Mouse standing on a circus stage handing out T-shirts to the crowd. I remember wanting him to throw one to me as I went by (he didn't).”
“I had 4 t-shirts, 2 pairs of shorts and 1 light jacket. Every 12 hours I changed my socks and shoes. Usually, if I wanted to change, I would let Kevin (my husband) know a lap or two ahead of time so he could get it all ready. Time between laps was short and I didn't want to be caught changing clothes when the bell for the next lap rang.”
Do you feel detached from the world doing something like this for 3 days?
“I love long runs for a lot of reasons. One of those reasons is definitely how lovely it is to be offline and slow things down a bit. In normal life, it is easy to feel like you have to check emails all the time, but when you're out running, you remember how it's okay to not. It felt good to be away from technology for a few days, and when I got back to it, not much had changed!”
Fastest lap? Slowest lap. Closest call to not finishing a lap in time?
“Fastest: 44:03; Slowest: 55:13; Average: 50:11. I never had a close call where I didn't think I'd finish a lap in time or almost miss the bell.”
“Of course! I tumbled out on the trail loop in a section that goes through a grassy field. There are little roots sticking out all over the field and I caught my toe on one. The grass I fell in was so soft, though. I remember thinking I would love to lay there for a little bit and relax. There wasn't time for that!”
Are you your husband’s hands sore from giving massages throughout the race and how much did he sleep during this?
“Kevin did no massaging, but he did miss out on many hours of his own sleep. He was able to grab sleep in short 30-40 minute naps during my night loops. His total sleep probably amounted to 8 hours over the course of 3 days.”