Aug 7, 2023 - Sports

Runners strive to be the Last Buckeye Standing

Trail runners in a forest.

Trail endurance races, like this one in New Zealand, have grown more popular over recent years. Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

An epic endurance test steps off this weekend at Alum Creek State Park with one simple but harrowing goal in mind: be the last one still running.

Pacing the news: This Saturday's Last Buckeye Standing differs greatly from traditional races and is not for the faint of heart.

How it works: Runners start at 7am and have an hour's time to complete a 4.167-mile trail loop.

  • Once finished, they can rest ā€¦ until a bell sounds at 8am and they must complete another loop.
  • This continues on an hourly cycle until only one person finishes a loop within the hour.

The big picture: "Backyard Ultra" events like this have been gaining popularity since endurance race director Gary Cantrell held the first in Tennessee a decade ago.

  • Ohio now has several, with the largest drawing 110 runners from across the Midwest to rural Scioto County each March.
  • Sunday's race is the first of its kind in this region, with nearly 45 athletes set to participate, organizer Craig Thompson tells us.

What they're saying: "I compare it to being punched in the face ā€” light punches," Cantrell once said.

  • "After awhile you just don't want to get up for it any more."

State of play: Participants typically set up a campsite near the starting corral to recharge in between loops.

  • Success requires intense planning and strategy as they balance trail speed with durability.
  • The faster they run, the more time they have to fill up on nutrients, use the restroom and change into clean gear before the next bell.

Yes, but: Going too quickly can cause a runner to flame out after just a few hours.

  • So they must pace themselves, just not too much.

The intrigue: This can go on for an absurd length of time.

  • The 2023 winner in Scioto County finished 53 loops totaling 220.83 miles, more than two straight days of running.
  • New Albany's Mike Rowe was close behind with 49 loops (204.16 miles) completed.

Of note: The ruthless nature of Backyard Ultras dictates there is only one winner.

  • As is customary, Rowe and the rest of the field were classified as a DNF ā€” "Did Not Finish."

Worthy of your time: Ultrarunner Courtney Dauwalter takes on the world's most sadistic endurance race, a feature story about the original (and most famous) Backyard Ultra.

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