If you’re John Pearson, the answer is yes.
The inaugural Dead Cow Gully Backyard Ultramarathon last weekend saw Pearson run his own 160 kilometres (that’s 100 miles if you’re a Proclaimer) before almost doing that all over again to help lead runner Ryan Crawford keep going for the Australian Backyard Ultra record.
Because if no one else is out on the trail in a Last One Standing event, it’s game over.
So what exactly is a Backyard Ultra and why are people running around dead cows?
But this is exactly what the Backyard Ultramarathon format is all about. With a standardised 6.706 kilometre loop, runners must complete that distance within the hour, every hour, after hour, after hour, after hour. There is no finish distance, just one finisher.
The last one standing.
I jumped in with about 90 other runners for the Dead Cow Gully event in country Queensland last weekend, and while I didn’t run my longest or strongest distance, I had a whole lot of fun on the day.
It was a bit of a rough start for Dead Cow Gully, and I’m not talking about what happened to the cow (spoiler alert: it got stuck in the gully). Originally set for the start of April, race director and farm-owner Tim Walsh had to scramble to find another date after Greater Brisbane went into a three-day Covid lockdown.
A month later, the cow rose again, but with only roughly half the number of participants that had originally said they would run around in circles until they made like a heifer and passed out. I put my hand up to join the second wave, without thinking too much about logistics.
Getting to the start line at Runnymede near Nanango required a 2am wake up on my own small farm just outside Brisbane, before hitting the road on an almost 3 hour drive. A good number of us drove in that morning while others opted to camp overnight. Whatever choice was made, I didn’t hear one person say they’d had a decent sleep the night before.
There were two main tactical ideas at play here. Runners could run their 6.7 kilometres and opt for a decent rest afterwards until their hour was up, or they could run/walk the course at a slower pace to save their joints and muscles. This option however only left participants with a small amount of time for a rest/ food/ toilet break/ wardrobe change at the end. Knowing how I’ve fared in other distance races at various speeds, I made an executive decision to go with the second option.
The track itself was picturesque. Open fields with long-stemmed grass swaying in the breeze welcomed us in for the first two kilometres. In the morning, a herd of cows watched unimpressed as a sea of menthol-scented, fluoro-clad runners streamed past them. After we were lulled into a false sense of security, we hit the gully.
Dead Cow Gully.
Once runners squeezed through the dark, winding abyss, we broke through some final branches to a wide expanse of grass. The sun beamed out again and we’d see volunteers with their warm smiles clapping us on at the first check point.
The track continued along easily enough, meandering through the serenity of the countryside which jarred with the inner turmoil everyone faced in their final laps (whatever that was for each of us).
Another tricky moment approached as we ran along the Rocky Hole creek bed. Single file again, this section got particularly sticky when the rains hit in the afternoon. Thick, glue-like clay stuck to the bottom of our shoes, up our legs and even reaching our array of slick running shorts on display. It was then over another creek crossing and a loop around a small dam to hit the straight track back to the start/finish line.
I even shook hands with the great Ron Grant who, among other running accolades, was the first man to circumnavigate Australia running. He seemed to have finally developed sense enough not to run on the day, instead choosing to cheer us on for hours with an ineffable smile of someone who knew a thing or two about doubt and pain.
The winner on the day/ night/ day/ night was Ryan Crawford, who ran from 7am on Sunday to 4am on the following Tuesday. While this is a superhuman feat in itself, the other hero of the event was second place John Pearson. Pearson only intended to do 24 loops, but there was no one else left in the race to assist Ryan Crawford to keep going for the record.
If John pulled out like everyone else (including me) did, the race would be over as the winner can only do one final loop after the person in second place finishes.
John Pearson pushed himself to do an extra 19 loops to assist Crawford in having a red hot crack at his distance goal. Both men very nearly made it. At around 3am on Tuesday morning, Pearson’s knees decided enough was enough, and they locked up on him. This forced a return back to the start line from where he had just set off at the start of loop 44.
This left Ryan Crawford as the last one standing.
Crawford completed 44 loops or 294.8 kilometres, achingly close to the Australian record of 48 loops (321.6 kilometres). While Crawford fell just short of the Australian Backyard Ultra record, he was still very much a champion of the Dead Cow.
By contrast, I completed seven loops (for what it’s worth I did do an eighth but came in two minutes after the hour was up) for my own happy total of 53.6km. In the same time that the race was still continuing, I had gotten home, stopped for a rodeo pie at the Blackbutt Bakery, showered off dried cow poo from my calves, slept, washed the car, fed the goats and chickens, ate another round of breakfast/ lunch/ dinner and slept again.
And the last two standing were still going.
Maybe there was a moment the kids wanted to go to Macca’s- I’m not sure. But stand by John they all did admirably.
The event itself was incredible. Big hats off to Tim Walsh and the Walsh family for creating such an udderly cracking event and staying awake for hours on end themselves.
When it comes to ultramarathon running, no one gets any sleep.