2023 Report

October 14, 2023  •  Mason Neck, VA

21 starters, 0 finishers

Furbutt’s Backyard Ultra: Epic Rain and Gallons of Broth

Furbutt’s Backyard Ultra sticker

The inaugural running of Furbutt’s 24-Hour Backyard Ultra was above all else memorable. The day started out with mild temps and close-to-ideal overcast conditions. But soon the good times really got underway, with epic rain and lots of sloshing around in puddles type of fun.

We previewed the day by letting runners know on our pre-race briefing call and email that the forecast called for rain with a chance of more rain and advised that they should be ready for anything.

We also anticipated we’d have several last-minute drops (which proved to be true), so we promoted a 12-hour night version. No takers; we suspect that they were one step ahead of us in reading the weather forecasts.

The runners gathered in the starting corral, waiting for the starting bell at the top of the hour

As a first-time run director, I anticipated that it would get cold pretty quickly, so I was ready with several warm food options: Egg burritos, mashed potatoes, pancakes, and the nectar of the ultra running gods - Broth and lots of it. (Not to be confused with the “magic juice” aka Coke, which we had of course… and lots of it.)

Before the run even started, a local cross country team showed up for an “easy” workout. The coach was initially concerned that they would be in our way, until I explained the format and told her that we did not expect to set any course records out there with our backyard runners. Meanwhile, we all watched in amazement as these kids impressed the heck out of us spectators - apparently they had some trail experience.

I wanted to show them some trail love and introduce them to the VHTRC, so we offered to let them use our aid station when they were finished with their loops and they were very appreciative - and we got two events for the price of one!

The Backyard runners seconds after the start of another yard

After the first torrential downpour, we expected several drops, but the runners seemed like they were having the time of their lives out there so we did not question it. The broth was flowing like a fine wine warming their chilled bones, as the temperatures continued to drop.

We got a few hours reprieve in the afternoon, but broth continued to be the number one choice on the aid station menu.

While the weather may have been ideal for one loop or even a few loops, relentless rain for many loops can be significantly challenging. Soon the runners that were still in started to show some signs of weariness. Our solution? More broth, of course.

Several runners were aiming to run farther than they’d ever run before, and many were successful in meeting their goals.

The run site

That is the beauty of the backyard format for some runners - the focus is on the actual running once other obstacles are removed, including course navigation, keeping track of time cutoffs, managing crew and drop bags and other run management issues. The loop format regulates some of the run logistics so you can better manage your pacing, nutrition intake, gear choices, and overall run strategy, and just focus on running (what a novel idea!).

It is amazing that you can find something new each time you take off on a loop, and the more loops you run, the more you feel at home on the trail. As though those paths are welcoming you in each time. Logging more miles means that your mind will also get loopy, and somehow never get bored of doing the same course over and over again.

Even if you are not a runner who cares about being the last runner standing, you can learn a lot about running and racing from the backyard format by isolating the issues that you struggle with and focusing on managing more variables so that you can find ways to achieve your own personal goals.

Runners gathered under the pavilion between yards

As the field became smaller, it was clear that many runners set out to achieve personal bests and they were not going to let rain get in the way. While we started to break out other warm food options - pancakes, then mashed potatoes, then more egg burritos - the runner’s favorite was… you guessed it - broth. Gallons of it. Literally.

Erika Fry became the last female standing and arguably the smartest since she called it after 12 yards - 50 miles - just before the skies opened up and unleashed a massive deluge of some serious wetness.

The evening downpour was truly epic, and I used the term ‘biblical’ on more than one occasion. I swear I saw Noah and his ark floating by as we stayed warm and dry under the massive pavilion… feeling very guilty. But we were all thankful that it had not been windy, and right after we all agreed that the lack of wind was the saving grace of this run … the winds picked up dramatically and temps again plummeted.

The view from the starting corral out into the wet fields

We were down to just three runners in the evening - Huanyuan “Wayne” Sheng, Dennis Chavez and Tudor Novac… then Wayne dropped and we were down to two runners. After 18 yards, Dennis decided to call it quits and Tudor decided that he did not want to run in the rain without a companion.

Technically, we did not have a Last Man Standing at this event, but Tudor helped to pack up the aid station while he waited for his Uber(!), and we were so appreciative that he got a ride home from a volunteer.

Thank you to all the runners for bringing positive vibes and creating a fun and inviting atmosphere for all!

Thank you to Mike Dobies for the professional timing of the event and all of the general backyard support.

Thank you to Gary Knipling for helping me mark the course, and Alex Papadopoulos and his friend Archie for helping to reinforce a few questionable turns, and thank you to all the volunteers including Neisa Condemaita for helping with Furbutt Café while also crewing for Andrew Arbuckle. Thank you to Josie and her friend Sonia who came out to do trips to the store for last minute supplies and took over whistle and cowbell duty for a yard. Thank you to Raj Bhanot for late night help and runner shuttling.

Josie on the whistle and Mike at the runner tracking table

Thank you to Keith VanGraafeiland for backyard insights and guidance, and Sarah Smith for the great suggestion to the VHTRC’s Bored to have this event!

And thank you to Quatro Hubbard for always being a good sounding board with general wisdom and insights - and the occasional snarky and fully appreciated comments.

Most of all, thank you to the VHTRC for offering runners the opportunity to experience some trail running awesomeness even in miserable weather. These events are truly special and the Furbutt Backyard runners recognized the effort that went into this event. In fact, below are a few of their comments:

Carrie Drummond via Facebook: Big thanks to [Tracy] and VHTRC for hosting Furbutt’s Backyard Ultra. That was a great way to spend a Saturday: Running a lovely course with friendly faces and hitting a great home base every hour! I would offer to volunteer next time, but I had too much fun as a participant!

Jeni Dwyer via Facebook: I sampled a tiny bit of the Backyard Ultra format today at the first VHTRC Furbutt’s Backyard Ultra. What a great format! It made yet another rainy long run tolerable and fun! This was greatly managed, and I got an awesome sticker as a memento!…

Andrew Arbuckle via Facebook: Fun on the merry go round! Thanks Tracy and Mike for going the long haul with this. Learned a few things and enjoyed the format quite a bit.

Mike Allen via email: Thanks so much for organizing this event. As it was my first ultra, I had no idea what to expect but whatever I had in mind, I was completely blown away. From the stockpile of drinks and snacks, warm breakfast burritos, broth, etc. and friendliness! Thanks, and who knows, maybe I’ll try another one of these!

Jessi Leigh Swanson via email: Thank YOU! The event was so well done and so friendly and welcoming. Really appreciate all the work you put into it!

Run results can be found here. Join us in 2024, when we will move to a date that has more daylight and less potential conflicts on the regional run calendar: the final weekend in July! Should be pleasant going on these gentle trails even if it might be a mite hot and humid at times … .


Last updated December 15, 2023