By Woodard, Dale on July 17, 2020.
Through no fault of his own, Sam Yamamoto was a little off his running game.
So the music teacher at LCI threw himself into an intense international race with a gruelling, last-man-standing format as Yamamoto and 11 other Lethbridge runners laced up for the Quarantine Backyard Ultra last weekend.
With a running season wiped out due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the local runners, as well as over 1,200 runners from over 40 countries, took part in the International Virtual Ultra Marathon-hosted race, complete with a gut-busting format requiring each participant to run 6.706 kilometres every hour until only one runner remained.
“It was quite incredible,” said Yamamoto of the race that started at 7 a.m., local time on Saturday and finished Monday at roughly 10 a.m. “It was more intense that I anticipated. I’m really undertrained because of COVID. It just blew the wind out of my sails. But this was a motivator for me to get off my butt and on my feet because my whole season of running was kind of demolished because of COVID. Because I was severely under-trained it was a lot harder than I would have wanted it to be in what would have been an otherwise more successful race for me. But it was still lots of fun to get back into it and get racing and running with other people in a race format, because that’s really hard to replicate and I think they did a really good job of it in a COVID era.”
Yamamoto completed 60.35 km and nine laps, running in a couple of different settings over the course of the race.
“I did the first two loops outside in a looped course just outside of my house in Country Meadows,” he said. “So I ran around the Country Meadows Lake for the first two laps, which was almost six loops around the lake for each lap. Then the third one I hit the road and I ran for half of it and ran back home. After that the heat of the day was rising, so I went to the basement and did the rest of my six laps on the treadmill.”
Come Monday morning, American Jon Noll was the last runner standing with 51 laps completed totalling 368 km.
Finishing right behind him was Japanese runner Akio Ueno, who ran 50 laps.
Topping the local runners was Felicia Lloyd with a personal-best of 120.7 km, while Ryan Grant also set a personal best at 100.59 km.
Sherry Heino (67.06 km), Dean Johnson (80.47 km), Julia Mitton (53.65 km), Tracey Roemmele (60.35 km, a PB), Erin Pinder (60.35 km, a PB), Chelsey Topping (53.65 km), Vickey Volk (33.53 km), Jefferson Gardner (33.53) and 11-year-old Luke Gardner – the youngest of the Lethbridge contingent – (20.12 km, a PB) rounded out the local runners.
Runners competed with their computer or phone hooked into a Zoom meeting, said Yamamoto.
“They have a timer that goes off that indicates three minutes, two minutes and one minute and then the starting bell. When you hear the bell everybody on the Zoom feed takes off and starts running and when you come back in you check in with them. You’re supposed to document your own mileage and later they would need to audit you if they needed to verify that.”
Added up, the Quarantine Backyard Ultra was nine hours of running for Yamamoto.
“This was my first backyard ultra race doing this format,” he said. “The crazy thing about this is the more tired you get the more slower your running is, but the longer you need to rest, the shorter your rests are. My average lap took about 48 minutes at first and after started increasing at about five or six laps in and my rest times became shorter and shorter, but I needed more rest. That’s kind of the conundrum you’re in when you’re starting to tap out, you get more tired and you need more rest, but you actually get less rest time. I was really suffering near the end.”
Two local companies, InBridge Inc. and My Vision Media, supported the Quarantine Backyard Ultra, headed by Gather Virtual team of Albertans that includes Stephanie Gillis-Paulgaard, Dave Proctor, Daniel Bowie and Ryan Kershaw.
“I approached an old friend I’ve known for about 10 years in the running community,” said Jefferson Gardner, one of the local competitors as well as the CEO and co-founder of Inbridge. “I said Inbridge is my company and we have some resources and we like this idea. We want to be a part of some of the solutions for COVID and bring people together and help with mental health. I asked what we can do. In my experience, I’ve worked in 10 different industries and in some countries, so for me anything I can do regardless of whether it’s Inbridge focused (or not). I’m here to help. We built their website and we were actually building a whole streaming application for them.”
When he wasn’t taking care of the technical end, Gardner and his son, Luke, were putting on the laps.
“My son and I came in our first lap with three minutes to spare and I told him to jump on his bike and that he wasn’t going make another lap, reload the water and let’s get out the door,” he said. “And we went out the door for the next lap. I ended up doing five before I had to give my kids lunch. I pulled out at that point and did some live interviews with Luke.”
Gardner also provided some online translation for Ueno.
“They needed a Japanese translator (Sunday night) because their final guy was from Japan and didn’t know English,” he said. “One of our business development guys at Inbridge is fluent is Japanese. So I reached out to him and I said ‘I know you have no idea what’s going on, but can you translate?’ This was Sunday night at about 7 p.m., so he jumps in and starts translating and they actually had him translating until one in the morning.”
Ueno’s runner-up performance was impressive given his state late in the race.
“(Sunday) night, Akio was vomiting live on camera because he couldn’t get his stomach settled,” said Gardner. “He was running on the treadmill and at one point he was so weak he started falling into the arms of the treadmill and it would bounce him back up straight. They said ‘This guy is not going to make it.’ There were five guys remaining. He would jump off the treadmill and throw up into a garbage can and then try to eat something. Finally, he was able to recover and he got second. That guy is the MVP for recovering.”
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