Capital Backyard Ultra - my bid for Team Canada 2024

Capital Backyard Ultra - my bid for Team Canada 2024

I threw this race in my calendar because I only had the 6-day World Championship in March and then Badwater in July originally, so I thought a B or C race would fit well and there are a lot of races I would like to qualify for, so having this out of the way for next year seemed like a good idea. I had also expected that I might need a few tries to get what I wanted so if this one didn't work out then I would still have plenty of chances next year to put up a good backyard.

I'm assuming everyone who is reading this knows the format, 6.7km / 4.16 miles per hour on the hour. If you don't show up or don't finish the complete loop on time, you are out. Last person standing wins.

I didn't put too much preparation and effort into the race, I went into it without any pressure, just wanting to run a good race and land where I can and if I fail to qualify then learn from the experience so I can do better next time. I hadn't yet put up a backyard performance I was happy with.

We only drove to Virginia the day before the race with my friend and crew, Laura. It was almost a 12-hour drive, probably not the best pre-race day plan, but I didn't want to spend too much time away from my family. I just wanted to make this one as easy on everyone as possible, give it a shot and not freak out too much about logistics or put any kind of performance pressure on myself.

There were 3 races at the end of May I was considering. Originally I had my eyes on Alex Holl's Race of the Champions in Germany, but I couldn't justify adding another overseas trip to my calendar, and with the end of the race unknown, it is very hard to book flights and the logistics of bringing all the gear is also tricky on the plane.

The Perfect PR backyard ultra looked great, it was close to me in Michigan, with a flat course. My worry was that the field was not strong enough to get me to 48h, the number I imagined it would take to sit comfortably on a team slot for next October. I was correct in my assessment and the Perfect PR was won with 29 hours.

Stephanie Fonda and Viktoria BrownOrganizing our tent before the race. Mostly Steph organizing and me just hanging out. Photo: Laura Bánfalvi

So I was left with the Capital Backyard as my only option. Elite field, but based on my research not an easy course. Amazing RD but a significantly longer drive than Michigan. I decided to jump in, do what I can and see where I land. I was very pleasantly surprised that the course wasn't bad at all. The day loop was very enjoyable and the night loop was super easy and straight forward. It all worked out way better than I had expected and I absolutely loved the race. It is actually up there in terms of the experience with the likes of my favourites, Ultrabalaton and the Extreman Nagyatád triathlon (both in Hungary, so it is a big deal!).

So this is how I ended up at Capital, with the following goals in mind:

- 48h minimum for Team Canada 2024
- 51h is the Hungarian women's record - set a week earlier at that German race
- 56h is the Canadian women's record - also set a week earlier in Germany
- 60-ish would give me a chance to get into Big's individual WC this October.

Getting into the individual championship was never the goal, but if I had it in me to go that far, I sure wasn't going to turn down a slot. But the race is - again, same as last year - one week after the Kona Ironman WC. So I would almost certainly bust super early, and not be ready for such a grueling race physically nor mentally. But this time there was no team I would let down. However, realistically, I will be shooting for Big's individual in 2 years time, when I don't plan to return to Kona. For now, the team satellite qualification was all I wanted and I'm actually even happy that I don't need to make that decision about taking a slot or not for this October.

Team Canada Backyard Qualification Viktoria BrownReady for an amazing race experience. Seeded as the 14th runner with a PR of 34 hours. Photo: Laura Bánfalvi

Everything I do these days, especially shorter multiday events like 48h or backyard, are learning experiences to refine my 6-day racing strategies. I learn a lot in these events that you can only learn in a race format and I always discover a few things that I know will help in my next 6-day race. This time it was the nutrition - to keep taking that 150 kcal per hour as liquid, so that I only need to top up a little with real food. And also the fact that I can indeed cover 100 miles on day 2 of a multiday race. Somehow the nights went much better this time than in any of my other multiday races so I think going through them again and again is very helpful.

I might have actually had a revelation after this race that will help me crack the 6-day races too, but I will keep that to myself for now. If it works then I promise to share it after my 6-day in September.

Stephanie Fonda, whom I met at the 6-days In The Dome last year, offered to crew me, with her brother, George and my friend, Laura helping. Steph was absolutely amazing, very organized and the best crew I could wish for. I even picked up a few organizational tips from her. If I ever get to Big's, she will definitely be the first one I ask if she is free! She set up our canopy the night before so the morning was quite easy. We unpacked and before we knew it, the bell rang and it was time to play.

Viktoria Brown crewThe super crew of 3, left to right: George, Steph and Laura

I tried to keep the first day as smooth as possible. My previous PR was 34 hours which I achieved in 2020 in the first satellite championship with Team Canada. It still boggles my mind how I was able to do that in my first backyard, my second ever ultra, a month after my first ever ultra. My next two attempts at backyards were weaker, at the Big Hill Bonk in 2021 I only did 30 hours, although the course was very hard and technical with no easier night loop. Then last year I did the Persistence Backyard with a disappointing 28 yards only and still to this date I'm not entirely sure why I did so poorly. My only guess is that I was racing too much and a bit burned out to take on such a hard format. 

This year I'm racing less and feeling much better and I was quite excited about this race. (I'm not counting my little experiment 2 weeks prior to this race...) I also felt that I had come a long way in the last 2 years, learned a lot about ultras, broke a bunch of national records and a world record, won world championships and that I'm starting to get a hang of this ultrarunning thing. I was very curious to see how far all that can take me.

So I went into the race telling myself that it was "only 2 days" which sounded really good after tackling 6-day races previously, which are monsters. I felt that this would ease my mind about the fact that the race actually runs "indefinitely". Even though the general advice is not to set a target, I do believe it helped me get through once the going got tough. As much as it can hinder performance (your mind might check out after 48h), it can actually also help performance when that road block comes up at 46h and you know you really want to get to 48h.

Drone day 2 Capital Backyard UltraDay 1 was as smooth as it was supposed to be. Only one runner dropped out before the first night. Photo: Larry Kelley

The first day went as uneventfully as I had hoped. I chatted with some people during the daytime loop on the trails and then I mostly just listened to my music at night on the road loop. This was a change from my previous backyard races where I mostly ran on my own and avoided people. That strategy came from multi-day racing where I'm pushing the pace at each point in the race to the limit of my abilities so I definitely don't want to waste my energy talking and I don't want to run anyone else's pace. It took me a while to realize that with the much easier pace of backyards and the goal of just getting through the first day as a "warm-up", it helps more than it hurts to keep your mind off of what you are doing and entertain yourself with getting to know others.

The field was very strong with 6 runners from Team USA 2022. I qualified for Team Canada in 2022 as well but I didn't take my slot because I didn't want to let the team down racing in bad shape a week after Kona. I spent some of the first day chatting with Kevin McCabe from Team USA who saved me twice from taking a wrong turn. There was one particular point on the course where if you didn't pay attention (which I usually don't) you could go straight instead of making the required right turn. He pulled me back twice. Luckily for the whole first day there were enough people on the course that there was always someone in sight so I never got lost. I even started to get to know the course a bit after running on it for 10 hours.

We switched to the night loop at 8pm and I started having short naps between loops to get a head start on sleep. I never really fell asleep but I had a good closed eye relaxation between some of the loops and I felt refreshed. I was borderline asleep. I had a new device, called CoolMitt that helped to bring my core temperature down very quickly (30-90 sec) so I could get closer to sleeping much faster. 

CoolMitt cooling deviceThe CoolMitt cooling device helped bring my core temperature down during the heat of the day too. Photo: Laura Bánfalvi

The one thing I was missing was the noise cancelling headphones and I will definitely add those to my arsenal for backyards - if you have any suggestions on brand and model, in-ear or the big over-the-ear ones, let me know! Or maybe just a pair of those construction ear protectors plus my ear plugs will be good enough? That would be a much cheaper solution. I just had simple ear plugs, although high end ones, that worked really well in 6-days but here the music was very loud at night as well as some people talking too close too loudly. Lesson learned, something that I can easily improve. In a 6-day it is usually quiet at night so this is not an issue and ear plugs are enough.

I didn't try to sleep in each break, I was aiming for every 2nd or 3rd and I got in 3 breaks where I was definitely relaxing and felt very refreshed after. I do believe the CoolMitt helped so it will come to each multi-day and backyard with me from now on! It is an invention out of Stanford University and a really "cool" device. I'm excited to see how it works out for cooling in a month for Badwater, the hottest race on Earth.

I got accepted into Team Injinji for this year which I'm super thankful for. I started wearing their toe socks towards the end of last year after the 6-day blister disaster at the Dome. I learned a lot from John Vonhof (who literally wrote the book on athlete footcare) and Carey Lynn about footcare in the past year and the Injinji socks mostly solved my issues as far as the toes go. I just need to be mindful of other areas of my foot. I changed my socks regularly and even wiped down and dried my feet a few times.

Injinji socks backyard ultraHaving a nice stash of Injinji socks made it easy to switch to fresh socks whenever I needed. Photo: Laura Bánfalvi

Blisters took me out of my first two backyards so this was a crucial problem to solve and I feel that I'm getting there. Not 100% yet, but very close.

My nutrition was on point. I don't even remember how this new discovery came about but for one of my training runs I ended up mixing just unflavoured F2C Nutrition Glyco-durance. Previously I would always use one scoop of flavoured and one unflavoured. Maybe I was just out of flavoured? Can't remember. But once I tried it I knew it would be a game changer. Because the powder is derived from rice and potato and not maltodextrin, it is not sweet at all, barely has any flavour. That means no palate fatigue. I was able to tolerate it for the whole 49 hours and I felt I could drink this no problem for several more days. So I stocked up on that mix for my next few races now!

First I got all my nutrition from the drink but then once I started eating a bit, I still got 150 kcal/h from the drink, which meant that I only needed to add a few bites of food per hour and I was fine. I was aiming for a minimum of 250-300 kcal/h and since I only burn about 400 kcal/h at this slow pace, I was replacing at least 75% each hour, and sometimes 100%. I prefer just eating a few bites each hour rather than having big meals at normal meal times.

Lángos TimmiesLángos, Tims doughnuts and F2C Nutrition Glyco-durance was on the menu

I can also add unflavoured electrolytes and BCAAs to the mix from F2C Nutrition's offerings and I'm all set! (Shoot me a message on FB or IG for a discount code if interested.)

The food at this race is legendary and I must say it lived up to the expectations. Mario and Thomas are top chefs and were preparing a varied menu of race-friendly top notch food offerings. We didn't need to take a single extra step to get the food either, there were 2-3 people at the end of each lap standing there with quesadillas, avocado sushi, fruit smoothies, roasted mango, salted avocado, burritos, you name it. Those smoothies were golden but they got me into some GI trouble. I drank too many of them. I'm usually very mindful of smoothies for two reasons, fibre content but also mainly because of osmolality. You just need to drink quite a bit of water with them to make them isotonic and it's a guessing game. There is just no way to know how much is enough. I'm not a fan of guessing games during athletic endeavors. Once I stopped drinking them I was fine again right away.

Capital Backyard Ultra food 2023Top chefs were preparing food for the runners. Photo: Sarah Smith

My favourites were the cucumber-avocado sushi rolls, but the dill wraps were also delish and pretty much everything else. Best race food ever for sure. One of my favourite quotes is (from one of the top Hungarian ultrarunners, Zoltán Csécsei) that "it is not a gastro tour" when someone complains about palate fatigue or other nutritional issues during a race. Well, this one was actually an exceptional gastro tour!

The last two hours of the night were starting to get a little challenging, not too bad, but not so smooth any more, so I teamed up with Rick Kwiatkowski, whose daughter made a documentary of this race last year (and then again this year). I had watched it twice so that I knew what to expect, and I felt I almost "knew" Rick who was at the center of that movie.

As I mentioned earlier, I don't usually like to talk much when I'm running, but I do like it when others talk to me. Just don't expect an answer other than "wow" or a nod. He was up for it and I basically just asked him to tell me stuff from his life - and not expect me to remember any of that after the race. I learned about submarines, electrical devices, airplane carriers and the like. Fun stuff! 

So I sought him out for the last night loop too and he kept talking. It was great and made it so much easier to pass time. I didn't mind the slower pace, I knew he was usually coming in behind me but it actually felt good to just take it a bit easier for a few laps. Half way that loop the sun rose and all was well.

Rick Kwiatkowski and Viktoria BrownPosing for a selfie with Rick after the race

I was a bit worried about going back on the trails for day 2, I had no idea how that would effect my pace and how much slower my loops would be than the day before. It was a very pleasant surprise to find that I was perfectly fine. A bit shocking, to be honest, how good everything felt and how little stress I was under. While I was doing 50-51 min laps the first day, I was still doing 51-54 min laps on the trails during day 2 and I was perfectly happy with that. I had expected closer to 55-56 at that point.

I decided to put my music down and spend the day chatting again or at least joining up with some of the other runners and listening to them chatting. Sneaky, I know, but this is what works best for me. I usually asked if they minded and nobody said no. Maybe they just didn't want to be rude. I spent quite a bit of time shadowing Scott Snell, thinking that the guy wearing #1 on his bib was probably a good bet to follow... (bib numbers were assigned based on previous best performances, I was #14 with my previous best of 34 yards).

Because I was only seeded No. 14, and tent space was assigned based on our bib numbers, we were a bit further away from the starting corral. Scott told me during the second day that there were a few lower bib number tent spaces available next to him, from runners who had dropped out, one of the spaces right next to him, a premium spot which can save significant distance when you only need to take a few steps between the starting corral and your tent. A lot of the strategy for these (and all) races is made up by optimizing overhead and that includes distance traveled that doesn't count towards your race. I was hoping to move there with our tent. Not sure how I imagined the move, I definitely didn't expect Steph and crew to take down the canopy and move it. I somehow envisioned that it could have been moved assembled as is. 

Capital Backyard Ultra 2023Steph organized our canopy brilliantly, I picked up a few ideas from her, including these hanging organizers and having a carpet on the floor. Photo: Laura Bánfalvi

I knew that posing the question of "could we please move our tent here" would meet resistance so when I came in, I just told my crew "we are moving". Haha... From the looks on their faces it was obvious that we were not moving... Steph said "I'm only going to take the tent down once, and that will be at the end of the race". I guess I found my match in stubbornness... With everything she was doing for me, she never heard another peep about moving. I knew she was right but I had to try...

There was one loop that I made exciting for myself, unintentionally. My IG readers know the story... The turn that I almost missed twice when I was running with Kevin... yeah, I missed it. I think I was a bit ahead of the field. Scott and Keith always walked the part right after the out-and-back when they took their gels. I really didn't feel the need to walk that part. I did it for a few hours with them, but then I got into the habit of just splitting off at that point on the course and letting them catch up later. And so I was running alone... in the woods... me, the road runner. Not paying attention...

I only "woke up" when the course looked very unfamiliar. A bridge that I had never seen before. Then I just realized that I had been running on a steep downhill for a while and I don't think I had been on that downhill before. There was a sign on the other side of the bridge. I had never seen that sign before, an arrow marking a course. In retrospect, I think what it was is that although I didn't realize during the race, the course went there in an earlier part and the other side of that sign showed us which way to go, so I had never seen this side of the sign which I'm sure was used for another race and looked very different from our signs.

Capital Backyard Ultra I definitely shouldn't be ahead of the whole Team USA on the trails if I didn't want to get lost. Photo: Bill Schultz

I didn't cross the bridge, I assumed the sign marked a course for a different race and I knew exactly where I made the wrong turn - or rather, didn't make the turn. What I didn't know was how much distance I added and if I was still able to cover the full loop and make it back into camp on time. I started running.  And I mean RUNNING. Up the darn steep hill. It was a bit of a relief to see the turn I missed, but I still had no idea how much time I lost.

I kept running relatively hard. Not crazy hard, but definitely with some significant effort, until I saw a runner. That was a huge relief. It was Ryan and I asked him "When are you going to come in". "About 55". That's awesome, I thought, still charging forward. I just didn't want to risk anything in case he was a few minutes off. This was around the 29th hour in the race. We had already ran the day loop close to 20 times by then.

With the added distance I couldn't judge based on the numbers from my watch when or IF I would be able to finish the loop. I go by average pace to know my ETA. There was a bench on the course and it was about 10 minutes to get from there to the finish so once I reached it around 44 minutes, I was sure I was safe. I think I was even faster than in my previous loop, coming in around 53 minutes after this "little" hick-up.

As I approached the finish, Sarah, the RD was sitting there. I asked her "how much do you charge for bonus miles"? They all freaked out a little bit that I got lost - well, I also freaked out halfway through the loop when I got lost...

She came to our tent to ask if I covered the full loop, I said yes. I didn't tell her that there was no way I could have found my way back otherwise... I had no picture of where on the map we were at any time.

Lesson learned, try not to get separated from the other runners, or if I decide to do so then pay attention to the signs!

Kevin McCabe, Viktoria Brown, Kyle KalbusTwo of Team USA 2022 and one of Team Canada 2020. Left, Kevin McCabe, who saved me twice from getting lost, right, Kyle Kalbus who finished 5th with 52 yards

I honestly wasn't paying attention to the progress of the race either, who was in or who was out, because I had my own goals that I was shooting for and my main goals didn't include winning the race. Sure, winning is always nice, but with such a stacked field, I didn't think that was realistic. For my own purposes, the more people were still in, the easier it was on me. I was disappointed when we lost Kevin at 24h - he could have saved me from getting lost on the trails haha... or when Rick dropped out who kept talking to me for the last few hours of the first night. It would have been nice to do that on the second night again.

I would have loved to run more with Jennifer, she is an inspiring role model for me, but our paces didn't match up unfortunately. We chatted just a little bit here and there but she was generally running a bit faster and walking much faster than me and walking more than me while I prefer a bit slower but more constant running where possible. I asked her what her goal was and she didn't say 72h right away, I had to guess. My first guess was exactly 72h but her reaction wasn't clear although I thought I got it right. Then as I kept thinking during the next few laps I thought maybe it is 68h - Courtney Dewalter's female World Record. So I asked her when I saw her a few hours later again if it was 68h and she said it was a bit more. It wasn't even clear to me if she realized that she was aiming for the best performance ever by a female. But when she said it was "a bit more" than 68h then I knew that it must have been 72h. Eventually she broke both Courtney's record as well as her dream mark of 72h and finished the race as the assist (2nd place) with 74h.

Jennifer Russo and Viktoria Brown Capital backyard ultra 2023The rare moments of running with Jennifer Russo. Photo: Bill Schultz

Even when we came in at similar times at the end of the loops, it was just a back and forth passing rather than running together. I hope to catch up with her and talk some more outside of the race, she is incredible.

Loops 28, 30 and my PR of 34 came and went again, uneventfully. I was still very pleasantly surprised how good I was feeling mentally and physically and how the struggles of previous backyards that took me out of those races were not in sight at all. My lower back injury that is a consequence of my previous proximal hamstring injury that is mostly in check now had been bothering me from the early hours of the race but we were managing it with massage, Tylenol and some menthol and lidocaine sprays. It was just mildly painful for now.

I was very worried about the second night, I had never gone through a second night in a backyard before and I felt this part of the race would be the make or break. I was very happy to get to this point to begin with and was concentrating hard on not screwing things up this time. I felt that if I could get through that night, I had a real chance of also making it through the daytime on day 3 which would have been huge.

By the time we hit the night loop I was ready to sleep. My first loop out on the road was quite slow because of the sleep deprivation, but when we came in the sun was down and I took a nap. I still couldn't fall asleep but it was noticeably rejuvenating. So my second night lap was a bit faster and that left me with more time to doze off. I did this for the first 4-5 hours of the night, doing my fastest laps of 46-47 minutes for some of those.

Despite the little sleep-like breaks, there were some cute things to see... I mean, things that were not really there. For some reason bears are a constant theme for me in these races. When I came in from one of the night laps, I told Mike Melton, timer extraordinaire that "There are three bears on the course... but they are not real."

Mike Melton Mike DobiesRace timing is hard work! Left to right: Mike Dobies (Bad Mike) and Mike Melton (Good Mike) Photo: Bill Schultz

There were actually 4 bears total I believe, and they weren't together. The grass next to the road looked like snow... oh well, what do we expect from a Canadian? Then on the trail there was this lady... well, actually, she was real. I just wasn't sure. There were several sitting benches on the trail loop, one of them being on top of a later hill that we were timing our finish off of (appr. 10 mins). One of the loops I saw a lady sitting on that bench and it was already day 2 so it wasn't unusual to see things that weren't really there. I know I had seen a few bears before I saw her. She wasn't moving, just sitting there, maybe drawing or writing, with her legs crossed. The fact that she wasn't moving was very suspicious because my hallucinations never move so that is usually a good way to differentiate between real people and imaginary ones. 

The fact that she was still sitting there the next lap didn't make it easier to decide, since once you see something on the course that is not there, you will see it every time you pass the same point. But then when we were going around the second time, I saw her move. Maybe she switched her legs or something but I remember seeing her move. So she was real. 

There was some excitement overnight too... During one of these faster laps I just lost track of time and space. It happens, I tune out and just keep running, without being conscious of where I am or what I'm doing. I guess we could call this a flow state although I have no idea if that is what it is. This is why I keep getting lost in these races. The night time course was as simple as it could be. A T shape. Just come out of camp, turn right onto the road, then turn back at the timing mat, go straight for a good while, turn back at the other timing mat and finally back to camp. Well, as I was daydreaming my way through one of these laps, at one point I started wondering if I missed the second turn around.

Second night of Capital Backyard Ultra 2023Heading out into the second night. 6 runners remain. Photo: Laura Bánfalvi

I didn't think I could possibly ever miss it. Two red cones and a timing mat, in the middle of the path. No way anyone would just blow by it without noticing. But then again, it is me. So, as they say in Ironman, "anything is possible" - maybe this is not exactly what they mean though...

I was running scared for a bit, worried that I had missed the turn. It was quite a while before I saw familiar parts of the course that I was sure were before the turnaround. I was super happy to finally hit the cones and the timing mat knowing I didn't miss them.

Even though I never fell asleep during my nap breaks, I still think they made a big difference and by the time we hit the witching hour of 2am, I felt that I could absolutely get through the rest of the night with a little caffeine. The sun came up around 5:30am, so I only needed to last 3.5 more hours. That's exactly one large dose of caffeine so that's what we did.

It worked brilliantly. I felt great again until the last night time loop. That was when my back flared up, I have no idea why. I was still mentally and muscularly in great shape, even enjoying myself as I was approaching my goal rapidly, still feeling really good and at the same time being shocked about how good I was feeling.

Capital Backyard Ultra Viktoria BrownHard rain hit for a few hours at the end of the night. I just put my rain gear on and kept going. Photo: Bill Schultz 

I'm not a big fan of rain. I never go running in the rain, although strangely enough if I'm out running and it starts raining, it doesn't bother me much. Originally the forecast called for rain for Sunday and Monday and I had been worried but once we were in the race the thought of some rain fall just didn't seem that bad. It was the end of the night loops on Sunday, towards the last 10 minutes of what I think was hour 44 when it started raining. I surprised myself how unfazed I was. I just came in, put on dry everything, put on my rain coat, waterproof socks and that was it, out we went on loop 45. Steph was so worried, knowing how rain averse I am, and it was a big surprise for her too how easily I took it. 

But the last night loop hurt. I came in basically crying from the back pain. Bill Schultz, from the timing team was taking photos and was around our tent, but I think he was the only one who saw. We put the menthol and lidocaine sprays on, I pulled my new Hoka hat into my face so that nobody could see that my tears were pouring and off I went on the daytime loop, this time not worried about my pace at all, knowing I can absolutely do it, as long as my back holds up.

Capital Backyard Ultra Viktoria Brown 2023Hiding my tears behind the Hoka hat - not very successfully. Getting ready for loop 47. Photo: Laura Bánfalvi

Loop 47 we were back in the woods for day 3. Here I made a bit of a mistake with the shoes/socks. The rain had just stopped but I expected the trails to be muddy and more slippery. I used road shoes the previous day, I really liked my Hoka Rincons and they were fine but I switched to my Hoka Speedgoats this time. I put on the largest size I had but even those weren't large enough to accommodate my swollen feet, my Injinji toe socks plus the thick waterproof socks on top.

So I had to stop after a few minutes at a log, sit down and take the waterproof socks off to be able to run comfortably, but then I lost sight of all the other runners. Which is fine when I'm paying attention, but I just started running again and completely zoned out - as I sometimes do. When I realized I was on my own and had no idea of my whereabouts, I panicked a bit. I hoped I didn't go off the course. I saw course markings so I was on the race course, I just wasn't sure if I was actually following the course. I freaked out about the out-and-back section because I should have just about been around there, but it was nowhere to be seen. Of course, with my stop earlier, I added several minutes, so I wasn't sure how much later I would be hitting that section than normal, but I was definitely worried that I somehow cut it.

It took several long minutes to arrive to the out-and-back section at which point I knew I was safe, but I had already imagined in my mind that my race would be over after 46 laps because I accidentally cut the course on lap 47. Luckily, that wasn't the case.

Capital Backyard Ultra 2023The turn around at the out and back - when there were still more of us on the course. Photo: Bill Schultz

The first half hour or so of the daytime loop seemed to be fine. My back wasn't hurting as much when I was jogging. It was more the walking and I think specifically the uphill walking that was very painful. The part I still don't understand is how come the flare up came on the night time loop if it is the walking that hurt more? There was no uphill and I didn't have to walk on the road loop, I could just jog the whole thing. 

The first 30 or so minutes of the trail loop seemed fine and by the time I got to the painful uphill walking, I only had about 22-25 minutes of the loop left, so I kept telling myself, I could definitely do that if I had already endured 45+ hours of running. But you can only tell yourself that so many times before your mind tells you to eff off because you know you will do the same thing an hour later telling yourself the exact same lie.

Anyway, it got me through loop 47 and then when I was going through the same process during loop 48, I started telling myself that it was the last time. That this was my goal and I really only had to endure this pain this one last time and then I would be done. I did kind of know I was still lying but it worked. I brought it home and hit my main goal of 2 full days of running, including a 100-mile second day.

Once I got back, we celebrated a little bit. This was already a 14-hour backyard PR for me. I also felt that I finally cracked the backyard format and that if my back wasn't stopping me, I could potentially go through the day loops and last at least a few hours into the night on day 3. Mentally and muscularly I was still surprisingly well and I was also very happy to find that my pace on the trails was still perfectly fine to finish the loops on time.

I really didn't want to stop at 48. If I did, I would sure have the regret of knowing that my mind gave up because I hit my goal. In reality, I think it was a bit the opposite. I lasted that long because that was my goal so I didn't let my back pain take me out earlier. When I came in from 48, I asked my crew to put my chair by the corral and set down there. I told Steph that I can do just one more. Just one more. She sprayed me with menthol and lidocaine again and off I went on loop 49.

Viktoria Brown Capital Backyard Ultra 2023I can do just one more. One more loop. Ready for 49. Photo: Laura Bánfalvi

I believe in the power of our mind very strongly. This is probably the greatest discovery my triathlon and ultrarunning career gave me, how much our mind can influence what the body feels and does. And while at this time I'm quite convinced that in this race my mind suppressed the back pain until hour 46 so I could get to my goal, I can't really be sure if that was the case or the exact opposite, my mind might have exaggerated the pain as soon as the goal was close enough. Pain is generated in the brain and not in the body. This later scenario is very much possible, especially given that the stronger pain came on during a night loop with no walking and no uphill.

Once out on the trails, the same game started. I was kind of OK for the first 30 minutes with mostly jogging and no real uphills. Once I hit the uphill parts, I was in tears the same as I had been for the last few hours on this part of the course. Nobody could see it as all other runners were way ahead of me. There were only 6 of us left in the race. 

As previously, I told myself that I only had 25 minutes of pain left and no more. I knew I was only 2 yards away from the Hungarian women's record but part of the reason that it didn't motivate me enough was that I wasn't sure it would count. Hungarian records are not kept in ultrarunning, not even the timed records beyond 24 hours, but I don't think even the 100-mile is kept. So they are only kept as a word-of-mouth and because I live in Canada, even though I'm Hungarian and I have an athletic club membership in Hungary, there is not much of an acceptance in the Hungarian ultrarunning community and I really didn't feel like fighting over it or trying to prove my right to claim it.

Reaching 50 hours was motivating though. It just sounds so much better than 49 - once it starts with a 5. Could I have done it? Could I have run just one more? Probably. I think I could have potentially fooled myself once more to say now this is REALLY the last one.

Viktoria Brown Team Canada48 hours of running done. Mission accomplished. Photo: Sarah Smith

Could I have run 2 more? Maybe not. I don't think I would have been able to go through that pain many more times. Definitely not 3 more. In the first half of loop 49 I was still thinking that I could keep going - this was during the part when it wasn't hurting as much. I made a plan in my head that I had these instant cold packs and we could tie one of those on my back with a long sleeve shirt. I didn't bring my girths because I really didn't expect my back to be an issue. I had thought it would just be the same as with my hamstrings - they kind of hurt, the injury is there, but it is not so debilitating that I couldn't run. It was a bit stupid to think that when this same back injury stopped me from going further in my 6-day race in 2022 where I broke the Canadian 6-day record - by 2 km / 1 mi only!

The other reason I couldn't get myself to go back out was because I was relatively certain that this would get me into Team Canada 2024. And there is no better chance of running a huge PR than the team event. I believe that is why I far exceeded what I realistically was capable of in the 2020 team event and there are a few more of us whom I know haven't been able to replicate the team performance. Until this race, I couldn't either. The fact that it is a team event and that we are all for each other vs against each other, not trying to outlast one another but trying to help go further is a huge difference mentally. This is why anybody's best chance to go as far as they can is in the team event in my opinion.

Some of that was replicated here in this race - at least that is how I felt. A lot of people were working together for a common goal - and that was, to bring some of the runners into Big's this year. Scott, Jennifer and Keith didn't have to be there at this race - their slots were already very safe. They were there so that the event could go long enough for Levi, Kyle, Justin and Kevin to make it to Big's. Sure, they had other goals too, everyone had something personal at stake: Scott wanted to defend his win (which he did with 75 yards this time), Keith wanted to remain on top of the 'most yards run at Capital' all-time list and Jennifer wanted to fulfil her dream of running at least 72h in a backyard. But there was definitely a huge team aspect and a plan to get some of those guys as far as possible. I believe this is the reason why Capital went 1h further than the German race a week earlier. I wasn't there, so I don't know, but while in Germany there were a lot of nations and a lot of runners were aiming for that World Championship slot, they were all on their own, running against each other and not with each other. I doubt it was anything like the Americans working together at Capital.

Stephanie Fonda Viktoria BrownMy favourite photo of the race, with Steph. We did it! In the background: race director Sarah Smith. Photo: Laura Bánfalvi

This was a driving force behind my decision to not push my back injury any further. That I will run in the team event next year and potentially have the performance of my life now that I think I have a lot figured out. I just hope that the location, the course, the weather and the organization will allow for a really big performance there. 

I don't plan to run any backyard ultras until then unless my slot is in danger. There are a few silver ticket races that I can target if I have to, but I have so many other goals that I'd rather just let this sink in, learn a bunch more things and try to go big in a year and a bit. I find that is another key to a good backyard for me: not to run them too often. Although I didn't get to any deep places mentally this time because my injury took me out before that could happen, if you are doing it right and manage to show up uninjured, it is a huge mental battle, similar to 6-day races. And if you try to go that deep too often then your mind will just refuse to play along.

I do have a lot of people to thank, my amazing crew, Steph, Laura and George, my coach Gregg, my family for their support, my sponsors for believing in me, all the scientists, coaches and athletes who selflessly keep sharing their knowledge with me, the fantastic RD, Sarah Smith and everybody who was rooting for me. Thank you all and I'm excited to see where this journey takes me next!

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