Runners continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible in backyard ultrarunning, and the 2023 Big Dog’s Backyard Ultra was no different. In the end, American Harvey Lewis claimed the title of last person standing, after a record-breaking 108 hours and 450 miles of running.
We’ve now published an in-depth interview with Harvey Lewis.
The race, which acts as the world championships of backyard ultrarunning, started at 7 a.m. local time on Saturday, October 21, in Bell Buckle, Tennessee. The format sees racers run a 4.166667-mile loop, called a “yard” in backyard ultrarunning, within a one-hour time limit, after which all finishers within the allotted time are tied for first place, and must present on the start line on the hour to go again. This continues until there is only one runner left standing, who must complete a solo yard to be awarded the win.
In this particular event, athletes run two routes — a trail loop, which is run during the daylight hours, and a road loop, which the race switches over to at night.
Making Backyard Ultrarunning History at the 2023 Big Dog’s Backyard Ultra
Remarkably, on Wednesday, October 25, a total of six runners passed the once seemingly insurmountable barrier of 100 hours. This group included 2021 Big Dog’s Backyard Ultra winner, Harvey Lewis (U.S.); former joint backyard ultra world record holder, Merijn Geerts (Belgium); and most recent backyard ultra world record holder, Phil Gore (Australia).
Over the course of the 101st yard, Geerts was timed out. Gore, along with Japan’s Terumichi Morishita, finished their 100th lap but failed to present themselves on the start on the next hour with the will to go again.
And then there were three.
Still standing after 101 hours were Harvey Lewis, Ihor Verys (Ukraine, lives in Canada), and Poland’s Bartosz Fudali. With Gore’s world record of 102 yards, which he set in June of 2023 at the Dead Cow Gully Backyard Ultra in his home country, all each of these three needed to do was finish out the lap to become joint world record holders. After that, the race would go into new and uncertain territory.
Of the three still in the race, Fudali had been running the fastest, completing the loops in an average time of 46 minutes, 51 seconds. Lewis was running slowest, averaging 52:23.
Race director Gary Cantrell, aka Laz, noted on social media that: “Harvey Lewis looks to be the most endangered on an immediate basis, he runs the closest to the cutoff and sometimes seems to be struggling ….” He added, “None of that is any different than it was at the beginning of the race. About 50 runners that looked better than Harvey are watching from the sidelines.”
All three runners made it through loops 102 and 103, jointly resetting the backyard ultra world record.
But, in a surprising plot twist, Fudali refused to start the 104th yard, leaving two left in the race — Verys and Lewis.
Yards 104 to 106 progressed, with Verys finishing each of them around five minutes faster than Lewis, giving himself a few extra minutes of recuperation before the next loop began. On loop 107, it was Lewis who finished a couple minutes ahead of Verys. Yard 108 ushered in sunset on the runners’ fifth day of running, and they switched over the nighttime road loop.
During loop 108, Ihor Verys returned to the start/finish line, choosing to not complete the loop and drop from the race. Harvey Lewis successfully completed yard 108, becoming the last person standing. Verys is credited with the assist on Lewis’s win.
The Women of the 2023 Big Dog’s Backyard Ultra
Among the small but stout contingent of women racers, Claire Bannwarth (France) was the last woman standing. Prolific ultrarunner Bannwarth won the 2023 Montane Spine Race, and also in 2023 reset her own French women’s backyard ultra record to 48 yards. These past few days, she added another 12 hours to that total, running 250 miles over 60 hours before she was ultimately timed out.
Another national women’s record holder, Canada’s Amanda Nelson, was the second-to-last woman standing, running 57 yards and adding one yard to her own personal best and her Canadian national record.
Current women’s backyard ultra world record holder, Jennifer Russo (U.S.), was timed out after 53 laps. Fifty-seven-year-old Russo ran 311 miles over 74 hours at the Capital Backyard Ultra in June of 2023, breaking Courtney Dauwalter’s world best for women of 68 yards.
The backyard ultra format has been growing steadily in popularity since its inception in 2011 — and received a further boost by the COVID-19 pandemic, when travel and more traditional races were unfeasible — and along with this popularity have come mind-boggling achievements.
Some 60 hours into this year’s Big Dog’s Backyard Ultra, race director Gary Cantrell posted on social media: “In 2019 the winner of Big’s did 60 yards. Right now we have 31 people out on the 60th yard. I think that is what they mean by exponential growth.”