Ultimate endurance and perseverance

Some voices in the world of running dare to call this event a “race to the death”. Stéphanie Simpson believes rather that the Big Dog’s Backyard Ultra is an extreme test of physical endurance. Hers stopped despite herself after 43 hours and 288.3 kilometers on the clock.

It was late Sunday night to last Monday in Kelowna, British Columbia. The 34-year-old Quebecer completed the 43e and the Canadian team’s final lap after nearly 44 hours of interval racing.

The COVID-19 pandemic requires, the annual Big Dog’s Backyard Ultra has taken on different paces in 2020. Rather than being run on the usual 6.7 km track in Tennessee, 21 international teams each with 15 runners ate the kilometers in their respective country.

The principle of this mad race is relatively simple. Each hour riders must complete a loop and be back in position at the start line for the next lap one hour later. The last one who succeeds in standing is crowned champion. But after how long? We calculate in days …

Canadian champion

Despite the presence of Matt Shepard and Dave Proctor, two Canadian headliners, it was Stéphanie Simpson who pulled Canada to the third step of the podium. It swallowed 288.3 km, the equivalent of seven marathons in exactly 34 h 40 min 51 s. Her 43 laps put her in fifth place among women and finish at 21e world rank among the 300 registered runners.

A real feat for the one that the Canadian team recruited at the last moment. And to believe his words, his tank was not dry. She could have continued to run, but the rule this year did not allow an athlete to run alone. When Shepard, his last compatriot, abdicated at 42e tower, the last Canadian to stand could not go further than the 43e.

“Matt is a good runner, but I think he was mentally no longer there,” said Simpson in an interview with Le Journal de Montreal on his return to Quebec. From 38e turn, this is where the click was made in my head. I wanted to get to 40 and when I was done I felt comfortable continuing 10 or 15 hours.

“It’s a very mental race, which is my great strength,” continued this mortgage broker from Montreal, native of Quebec. It’s in my personality. If I can do it, nothing will stop me. It takes a lot for me to destabilize me. The body adapts. Mine got used to stupid things. “


Simpson will long remember those warning bells for the last few minutes before the start of each lap. “It’s like the torture of the drop of water. For me, it wasn’t a death race, it was the ability to endure the whole ordeal over and over again. The same bells, the same whistles and the same turns every hour. “

What to drive crazy. Simpson even had hallucinations after about 30 hours. Canine attacks, wild animals, mountain mirages or pirate ships, her imagination has often deceived her. Especially in the middle of the night.

“The great difficulty of this race is to mentally hold on, continues the one who was considered a neglected. When you believe that you are no longer able, that fatigue has set in after more than 30 hours without sleep, there may still be juice, but the decision-making process is affected and arduous. “

It was by constantly repeating her motivational principle “one more turn” that she succeeded in achieving what she never thought she could do. Simpson showed up in Kelowna last week to add depth to the Canadian squad. She wanted to make a modest contribution. Still standing after 35 laps as she saw the big names fallen in battle over the hours, she represented the dynamo of Canada against the United States, Belgium, Sweden and France.

Always further

“I saw that I could go far and I was told I could win. When we think we are no longer capable, we can still. You have to know how far you can go. I wish I knew my limit. But I certainly did not expect to make it until the 43e tower. “

The winner of the event, the Belgian Sabbe Karel, set a record with his 75 laps and 502.9 km eroded in an absolute time of 57 h 40 min 20 s. He finished his race almost three days after the start time last Saturday morning at around 6:30 am The Canadian champion was on board her return flight as it approached Montreal.

According to her, this feat could open the doors to other endurance events around the world, including the final race of the Big Dog’s Backyard Ultra next year in Tennessee without having to qualify. It will thus be able to compete with the toughest runners in the discipline on the planet.

Morale of Steel

If Stéphanie Simpson has achieved this real feat, it is mainly because of her morale of steel and her resourcefulness. Because even before taking the start in Kelowna, she had several catches.

The only Quebecker in the Canadian team did not have the same advantages as the other runners. Not because of his home province, but rather because of a lack of resources.

It was impossible for him to travel with such imposing equipment as his compatriots in Western Canada. Thus, she made do with what she had on hand, without personal support.

“I didn’t have all of my gear due to the baggage limit on the plane and I didn’t have any gear to settle in. Some could get into their recreational vehicle, ”said Simpson, who spent nearly $ 5,000 for the adventure.

“What was really hard for me was fighting the cold and the rain. At night it was really unpleasant. I organized myself with the means at hand. ”

Fight the cold

To warm up as the mercury near freezing point, the runner even had to squeeze napkins into her training bra. And in the middle of the night, she put plastic garbage bags in her sneakers to protect herself from water infiltration. She had to manage her three pairs of shoes to multiply the laps on a gravel path. It took on the air of the P’tit Train du Nord, in terms of surface and elevation.


The meteorological reality led her to change her racing strategy. Rather than allowing herself longer periods of rest and shivering between turns which ranged between 5 and 12 minutes, she stretched her curl time in order to stay active and keep warm.

On the other hand, it took a little for its race to end at 38e lap when she crossed the start / finish wire after 58:51, only having a 69 second rest before the next lap. A situation that was repeated twice thereafter.

Regardless, the athlete averaged 48:24 per 6.7 km loop, booking his best lap (41:54) at 21e.

Burgers, waffles … and texts

Not only is Stéphanie Simpson resourceful, but she faced the two days of the event like very few competitors.

To hell with specialized food to fill up with energy quickly, the Quebecer was spoiled, among other things, when a street truck appeared near the starting area. So she was able to order a juicy hamburger. Even she stuffed herself with waffles!

“I’m like that, I take what I can and what passes. I can eat anything, ”joked the mother of a 6-year-old young man and step-mother of two young children in a blended family.

We can see that that did not prevent her from dragging the Canadian team and achieving a great feat.

Even at some point between loops, this mortgage broker took the time to text and email her assistant and clients. His professional life was not on hiatus in Montreal.

“I had a lot of work to do. The timing of this race in October was not ideal. But at one point I said to myself that I really had to focus on racing. I had to get work and hang on to what I had to do, ”she said.

Simpson returned to Montreal without injuries or blisters on her feet. Admittedly, the legs are a little stiffer than usual.

“But nobody knows that I just ran 288 kilometers. I walk very well. ”

Big Dog’s Backyard Ultra

Created by Gary “Lazarus Lake” Cantrell | Endurance race until the last participant still standing

Regulations in brief

›1 lap of 6.7 km per hour

›No delay allowed on the starting line

›The tour must be completed in less than 60 minutes

›A participant can only run one lap alone when he is the last of his country still standing

2020 edition

›21 countries | 300 runners

›15 athletes maximum per national team

›Each team ran in its country

›Departure: October 17 at 6:30 a.m.

›Record: 75 laps (502.9 km – 57 h 40 min 20 s) by the Belgian Sabbe Karel

Stéphanie Simpson in numbers

›43 laps – 288.3 km

›1st Canadian

›5e world rank among women

›21e world rank

›Average per revolution: 48 min 24 s

›Faster lap: 41 min 54 s

›Slower lap: 58 min 59 s

›Total race time: 34 h 40 min 51 s

Final ranking

1. Belgium | 567 laps

2. United States | 517 laps

3. Canada | 492 laps

4. Sweden | 480 turns

5. France | 464 laps


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