Running with Rhyno: Ponoka runner to tackle Big’s Backyard Ultra

Running with Rhyno: Ponoka runner to tackle Big’s Backyard Ultra

It’s a simple concept.

A whistle blows three times to indicate a three-minute warning, twice for two minutes and finally one last time before a cow bell rings to signal the start.

Run a 4.166-mile loop. You have an hour to finish the loop.

Once you finish the loop, you wait until the whistle sounds again to start another loop.

Repeat.

It sounds like an odd number but the way it works out is every 24 hours, it’s 100 miles.

“As long as you finish your lap, you’re tied for first place,” says Slade McCormick.

The Ponoka runner hopes to be the last man running when he toes the line at Big’s Backyard Ultra in Tennessee in October.

The quirky backyard ultra is the brainchild of Gary “Lazarus Lake” Cantrell the race director of the famed Barkley Marathons (I encourage you to check it out on Netflix if you haven’t already). The record of 59 hours or 245ish miles was set in 2017 by Guillaume Calmettes. Runners apply or are invited to run.

“With the people (the race director) has invited this year, he’s thinking they are going to enter 72 hour mark, which is 300 miles,” said McCormick. “There’s no way unless some miracle happens that I could do that. I don’t even think I could stay awake that long.”

But the 50-year-old married father of five is no slouch when it comes to tackling challenging courses. Known as “skinny kiltrunner,” on the trail, McCormick has some solid ultra finishes under his kilt including Sinister 7 and the Canadian Death Race. He’s a physiotherapist who works at a psychiatric hospital, which he claims is “the perfect pedigree for ultra running.”

McCormick says his biggest challenge will be getting through the first daylight hours in reasonable physical shape and being able to persevere through the first night.

And crossing his fingers to see how long he can hold on.

“I think 24 hours is reasonable but I hesitate to say that never having done that … I don’t know,” said McCormick. “It’s not mountainous but it is certainly rolling hills, through the trees and single track. It’s going to be a challenge for sure.”

But he laughs, he could be out in six hours.

“Lots of things could happen,” he says. “You learn from the struggles. If you go into a race saying I’m trained for it. It has 21 different ways of kicking your butt, so anything can go wrong. This whole ultra running thing is just a matter of figuring things out as you go and trying to solve problems before they get too big. It’s a lot of experience. You have to fail a few times before you really nail it.”

The race is not until October but McCormick has already .. somewhat … sorted out his training for the race. Sticking to his usual training plan for Sinister 7 in July, McCormick will take a few weeks off after Sin 7 to recover before getting down to business again.

He’ll likely head to JJ Collett Natural Area, northeast of Lacombe, and map a 4.166-mile loop and train on the makeshift course.

“That’s my plan,” he says. “Just to see if my body responds to a couple different approaches. It’s just a matter of just doing it.”

Like many trail and ultra runners, McCormick has always been in awe of the beautiful and different races around the world. But he’s never had the bug to travel for races because there’s so many races in Alberta. His initial goal for 2018 was to run a triple (Sinister 7, Canadian Death Race and Black Spur). He applied for Big’s Backyard Ultra just for the heck of it.

McCormick never thought he would get accepted but he thinks his running attire helped him with a coveted spot.

“I think the kicker (was) my last sentence, “’I race in a kilt.”’ I think that caught his eye and got me in.”

A kilt?

“People ask why I wear a kilt. I say it’s because I know I am racing. I only take it out for races.”

***

Find Running with Rhyno on Facebook and @CrystalRhyno on Twitter. Send your column ideas, photos and stories to crhyno@reddeeradvocate.com

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