On Wednesday, October 19, two Belgian athletes, Merijn Geerts and Ivo Steyaert, went into the most bizarre pages of ultrarunning history, by simultaneously recording a shared world record and a pair of DNFs (did not finish). They did so at the Belgian edition of the World Backyard Team Championships, which took place simultaneously in 55 different countries around the world. The pair ran for 101 hours — covering more than 420 miles — before deciding together to retire.
The format for the event sees runners complete a 4.167-mile loop, starting on the hour, every hour, until all but one runner has retired. The last one standing is awarded the win, while every other runner is considered a DNF. The final runner must also complete one last solo loop in order to be deemed a “finisher.” For the team element, each country could put forward a team of 15 runners, with the total number of laps, or “yards,” completed by their combined effort going to make up the final team rankings.
Geerts had previously set the world record at 90 hours earlier in 2022, following a 16-hour head-to-head with Ireland’s Keith Russell at the Backyard Masters race, which took place in Rettert, Germany. This time it was his own teammate and countryman, Ivo Steyaert, who became his rival in the drawn-out war of attrition.
The last runner standing anywhere else in the global event had finished after lap 86 — Japan’s Shibawaki Daiki, himself setting a national record in his home country. From then on, all eyes were on Belgium.
Third-place Belgian runner, Frank Gielen, had retired after lap 67, leaving just Steyaert — whose previous best in a backyard ultra was 50 laps — and Geerts out on the course.
Interest in the pair increased as they approached, and then surpassed, Geerts’s 90-hour world record, and a livestream was broadcast showing them break the 100-hour barrier. Having completed one more loop within the allotted time, the pair were back at the start for lap 102, but instead of starting the lap, they shared a hug and decided to call it a day — or four and a bit days, to be more accurate.
It was one of those shiny moments in sport, reminiscent of high-jumpers Qatar’s Mutaz Barshim and Italy’s Gianmarco Tamberi’s decision to share the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics last year, and regardless of what happens with future backyard records, this one won’t be forgotten for some time.
In the team competition, the USA came out on top with a total of 860 laps. Belgium took second with 788 and Australia rounded out the podium with 744 laps. As for the individual 2022 Backyard World Champion, the results sheet states “no winner.”