Michael Wardian Wins Controversial Quarantine Backyard Ultra

American ultra-legend Michael Wardian has been declared the winner of the Quarantine Backyard Ultra after finishing the 63rd lap of 4.1667 miles by himself for a total of 262.52 miles. One more official lap than the Czech Republic’s Radek Brunner.

The event was hosted online by Canadian coaching group, Personal Peak. The Quarantine Backyard Ultra had about 2,500 starters from all over the globe.

The concept of the race is that runners have 60 minutes to finish running 4.1667 miles. With the world on lockdown, this virtual event allowed runners to do it from the comfort of their own home on a treadmill or doing it outside. They were asked to verify their results on Strava and/or on Zoom that connected all the runners participating in the race. The event was comprised almost evenly of some runners on treadmills in their homes, others running outside in their neighborhoods, along with one Russian man running laps around his living room, and another man in Canada running laps around an empty coffee shop in his socks.

The original race format was created by ultra race mastermind Lazarus Lake in 2012. His Big’s Backyard Ultra has become a hot destination in Bell Buckle, Tennessee where the best runners from around the world descend every October to see how long they can go before they time out or quit.

The final four was comprised of two Americans and two Europeans. Wardian and Brunner had been battling it out for round after round after American Greg Armstrong bowed out after his 43rd lap (179.17 miles), and Sweden’s Anna Carlsson quit after 46 laps (187 miles). Anna was the last female in the field and an inspiration to many as she ran her laps on the snow and ice in extremely frigid temps.

The finale of the event was not without controversy though. Radek and Wardian both finished the 62nd lap (258.4 miles). Moments before the round 63 bell was to ring, Radek climbed back onto his stationary treadmill and finished his drink, as could be seen on the live feed. As the bell rang to start round 63, he handed the discarded cup to his wife, who then exited the frame. She returned a few seconds later to deliver an iPad. Under normal Backyard rules any aid after a round started would be considered a DQ. However, the Personal Peak rules for the event clearly stated that this was not a rule for this event.

Click HERE to Watch the Zoom Feed as It Unfolded Live (Fast Fwd to the 4 hour 54 min mark)

Radek stood on his treadmill for a minute in place, and then almost two minutes as he positioned his book/papers and his iPad. He was in no rush and going through his usual routine. He seemed very alert and mentally ready to go. The Personal Peak RD, Travis, along with Laz, on the Zoom feed tried to tell Radek that he needed to get going. During this time, he stood on the treadmill oblivious to their comments as he couldn’t hear them. I’m not sure if his Zoom feed was on mute on his end, muted by Peak Performance, or if there was a delay in the internet/Zoom connection over to Czech Republic at his home.

Finally, after about 104 seconds into the 60 minute countdown clock, Laz could be heard on the Zoom feed saying, “It’s over,” and walked away at literally the very moment Radek’s treadmill started moving with him running at

58:15 remaining on the clock. Personal Peak ruled that Radek had not started the loop promptly enough and he was DQ’d out of the race although he kept running (at least until 20 min left on the clock when the feed went dead again)

As stated on the Personal Peak website: “you must be back on your treadmill when the bell rings to start the next lap.” Radek was clearly on the treadmill.

Elsewhere on the site it states: “Participants must be in their starting corral at the bell, and must leave immediately to start their loop.”

Did Radek know the the bell had rang and the clock started? He clearly couldn’t hear on his end what was going on or what the RD was trying to tell him. He for sure had not quit the race. He was on his treadmill going through his routine to start round 63 and running by 58:15 on the PP countdown clock that was displayed.

Is there a vast looseness of the rules from an official Backyard Ultra to this Virtual event? Yes, of course. Many runners, even finalists couldn’t even be seen to see if they started some of their loops or not. Radek had his entire show live for the world to see the entire time.

Radek, per the Zoom feed started with 58:15 remaining in the 63rd round and kept running until the feed went out with about 20 minutes left on the clock. He never timed out on any of the loops, and he never quit. In the spirit of the Virtual Challenge’s popular appeal, and it’s loosely interpreted rules (until round 63), he should have been allowed to continue in our opinion.

Did Laz’s words at the time carry weight with the Personal Peak RD and his decision? That’s very possible for sure. Laz is the Backyard godfather.

It was Personal Peak’s event, and ultimately their call for sure. They confirmed this as well in a tweet:

Were the RD’s tired, exhausted, and infuriated with the YouTube and technical issues? Without a doubt, any RD would be, much less one manning multiple days. thousands of runners from all over the globe while trying to wrestle all the technology and headaches that came with it.

Laz upon after a few minutes reflection on how it ended posted on his Facebook page the following about how it unfolded:

“maybe i am the only person who is glad not to be in charge.
not this time.
people tend to see the world in black and white,
and with the screen of not having to make decisions when things go grey
deal in absolutes.

being here in quarantine in the house on the hill,
and handcuffed by a near total absence of technological skill,
i dont know how many people saw the events that unfolded at the start of hour 63.
but here is what i saw….

with the caveat that i had finally gotten to sleep for a couple of hours…..
i did not realize it at the time,
thinking i had just taken a nap between the start of hour 61 and the start of 62
i actually slept thru hour 62 and it was time for 63.
i got to the computer during the countdown.

as the final minute counted down i just saw radek’s treadmill standing alone.
it got under 30 seconds and still no radek.
i thought he must have quit.

then with just seconds left here is radek.
he gets on his treadmill and is just standing there.
i am yelling at him,
which is useless because he cant hear me.
by a minute after the start i think he is done..
almost 2 minutes in, he starts running.

the race management disqualified him.

maybe in the world of people who are absolutely certain they know the right answer i am the only one
who is glad to not be in charge today.

mike did his 63rd hour,
and now he is the winner.
radek was left with the taste of ashes.”

It should be noted how immensely popular this ultra baby Laz birthed in 2012 has become all over the world even before this Quarantine Backyard Ultra. There are now Backyard Ultras all over the world that serve as qualifying events where the winner often wins a coveted golden ticket to Big’s Backyard Ultra.

I have hosted last runner standing events for eight years, including the longest, continuous running one in the world, the Trail of Fears, since 2012, along with The Cannonball, both in Tennessee. I know the Backyard rules, and the spirit of the rules fairly well at this point. I know and have had to interpret some of these gray area issues before, and I usually decide them with one simple question, “Was there an unfair advantage gained?”

I don’t believe an advantage was gained here, and believe this fell well into the gray area that Laz mentions in his Facebook comments above.  If between a rock and a hard spot, or delving in between the black and white, deep within the grays, the tie should go to the runner…quite literally.

This would for sure have been a tough decision for a Race Director at a real, in-person event where all the variants were more equal and both were on the same course and starting in the same corral. But with the setup of this Quarantine Backyard Ultra for a fun escape from what’s happening in the world, and the massive large following it had going for days, I would have erred on the side of letting it continue on and play out. I don’t envy the decision Personal Peak had to make. I have no doubt it was a tough one.

It would have been fun to see Radek and Michael duke it out until one quit or timed out. Without a doubt it was disappointing that the event ended on a technicality of a loosely interpreted rule in the event (up until that point). But that doesn’t take away from an amazing 63 hours that enthralled the endurance community in a time when we have no other sports to watch or entertain us.

Mike and Radek both put down two epic performances when considering not just the total distance, but the varying difficulties each were facing. Radek on a treadmill in his home in the Czech Republic for the duration of his run, and Wardian out in the conditions near his home in Virginia which were very wet and cold at times.

Mike messaged me after the race and simply stated, “That was incredible. Would have loved to keep pushing each other. What a champion,” referring to Radek.

All of late drama aside, Personal Peak did an amazing job putting together this widely popular Quarantine Backyard Ultra. It was extremely professionally done. They put this together very quickly with nearly 2,500 runners from all over the world. The dynamics of that many runners and trying to connect them all with technology, on many levels with the social component of the live Zoom feeds broadcast to YouTube was simply amazing. The hourly Twitter updates were almost on the hour and made the race easy to track. Personal Peak managed the issues that arose as well as anyone could, and they always had a backup or end around to keep the live video feed and updates for the masses to watch on YouTube and then Facebook after they were booted off YouTube.

Congrats to Mike on the win, Radek on an amazing performance, all the finalists, and everyone who participated over the course of three days. A big thank you to Personal Peak on an amazing production that entertained so many of us when we all needed this fun distraction to follow and root for our favorite runners.

 

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- who has written 1135 posts on Run It Fast®.

Joshua Holmes has completed 253 marathons/ultramarathons while running 100+ miles 49 including races such as the Badwater 135 (6x), Western States 100, The Last Annual Vol State 500K (3x). He is the founder of Run It Fast, the most driven club on the planet. His favorite races to date are the Vol State 500K, Badwater 135, Barkley Fall Classic, Catalina Eco Marathon, Chimera 100, Across The Years, Savage Gulf Trail Marathon, Strolling Jim 40 Miler, Tunnel Hill 100, RUTS, EC100 and the Flying Monkey Marathon in his home state of Tennessee. Follow @bayou Follow @joshuaholmes on Instagram

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