Race of champions Backyard Masters – Rettert Germany

This race was not on my calendar at the beginning of the year until Alex Holl the race director contacted me and laid out the objective and his vision for this race #breaking100 it was a no brainier, sign me up, once I ran it by Marcus first, he knew by my excited voice that this is where I wanted to compete

How do I begin to process what has happened over the last 4 days (it only felt like 1 really long day)

I arrived in Germany with the anticipation of doing my 3rd backyard ultra race, the first 2 I had won, I was going into this race with out ever having a DNF (did not finish) on my record. The more of these backyards I do the higher the chances that would change and to add to it I was going up against some of Europe’s best ultra runners and a Japanese guy we all know as Mori Mori (3rd in Bigs 2021 - 80 hours)

In Ireland we start at 12pm but this race was starting at 8am (7am Irish time) so already my pre race plans had to change and I’m not good with change. This was also my first time racing outside of Ireland, normally waking up in my own bed and do all my pre-race checks. There was also going to be another major difference, my running coach Marcus who I’ve trained with for about 3 years was planning on coming over from Dubai on the Sunday afternoon 30 hours into the race, neither of us would want it any other way.

I knew a few of these runners from various different Facebook pages and achievements, they also knew me which is humbling and I got the feeling I’m doing something right when they know the exact LOS distance I had covered previously, I had to think about it 😜…

Normally an LOS race would really get going about 24 hours in but this was going to be different, I reckoned 48 hours would be the bench mark for people to start dropping out. In the 24 hours 100 miles we saw 2 drop outs one of which was Andre a 14 year old boy to which I had the pleasure of chatting to, and he came back everyday to see how I was getting on 🙏🏻. What an experience for him to be able to toe the line with all these incredible athletes a memorable day for him and his proud dad who I also had the pleasure of meeting.

The early hours ticked by, why can’t we just start the race at 30 hours in get all these early hours out of the way, but these are just the warm up as to what’s to come.

The field started to thin out as runners started to feel the 100m elevation route, 1.2k up at the half way point made for a testing course as time wore on. Some point after the 48 hour mark (times and days now become very vague 😦) I would start the loops with this well known Japanese runner Mori Mori, at the half way point we would part ways as I am a quicker uphill walker than he was, it became a routine for both of us, a hold of the hand for a split second and a “next lap” message,, Mori didn’t have much English and my Japanese wouldn’t be the best 😜 but there was not a lot of words needed between us, all we needed was to see each other at the start line on the next one.

The field started to really thin down now and we could start to analyse who was front runners and who was starting to struggle, but this is backyard racing someone looking good in 1 hour could be gone the next and visa versa, it’s all speculation, the main thing was that I would still be there to go again.

Mori Mori was the 3rd last runner to drop out, at hour 72 he called me over before the start line and apologized he was done, to be honest I don’t know how he got that far he pushed through so many barriers, I was in awe of this guy and now I was in the final 2, me and Merijn Geerts a Belgian runner with an impeccable record, the assist to the Belgian national record of 75 hours.

I had broke my own national record of 63hours so every hours I was here I was setting the Irish standard, Merijn wanted to reach the Belgian national record but we both had bigger plans… 100 hours nothing less

I was about 2-3 minutes quicker than Merijn on the loops so we didn’t run together we greeted each other on the start line before parting ways to create our own legacies,, but there was a mutual respect between us as we both knew what it takes to be where we were. The hours went by, the records started to come thick and fast each mile stone we were creating history, Irish record (63 hours)Belgian record (75 hours) European record (81 hours) and finally the world record (85 hours) we had surpassed them all now who was going to be the victor and not just be known as “the assist” no one ever remembers second place but again in backyard racing the rules a different, without the assist nothing is possible.

We entered into the 4th night stage at 86 hours, this night was different, no full moon like previous nights it was completely dark it took a lot more focus and physical strength to get around the loop.

The question I get most is “have you ever hallucinated during these races?” I hadn’t really before but this was insane, I was walking up the hill and I noticed myself talking and in my mind I could see someone but when I came though there was no one there, this was not scary but a realisation that my mind and body were tired. I completed this lap with time to spare to get a quick 5 min sleep, food and out again

Hour 89
We set off on this lap, my body was now giving up, I was coughing for periods of time in the last few hours, my tongue had massive blisters on it, I was breaking down slowly and I kept trying to keep it at bay, I walked up the first hill and knew my body was finished 😔 I would not make it around the course another time. This was a very hard moment for me to take, I spoke to Merijn briefly we congratulated each other on both our achievements and I told him I’d see him at the finish line… My walk back alone was a somber one, mixed emotions… on reflection now I was apart of something incredible, 1 of 2 people in the world to achieve what we have done.

Merijn took his time around his final loop, soaking it all in, why not you have just become the world record holder soak it in my friend. To show how humble of a guy he is, he looked for me once he crossed the finish line and thanked me for pushing him beyond his limits as he had done for me.

I’m not disappointed about being the assist in fact I’m taking all these positives and building for the future, we do these races, we learn and we implement our strategy.

I’m blessed to have so many people support me in what I do, I can’t thank you all enough. We will never know the extent of how far we reach but I will keep pushing my boundaries.

A special mention to my Mam, Dad, my 2 brothers Lee and Deano, my extended family, my kids, my friends, my coach Marcus Smith 🙏🏻🙌🏻

The company’s that have helped me make this happen…

52foryou shop Navan
121fitness Navan
Central pump supplies
Versatile bathroom and tiles
marvel cleaning service
Stephen Mac Gabhann physio
InnerFight Endurance
Spuncycles Spunrun Navan
Navan athletic club

Alanna is my driving force behind my running journey and will continue to be 💕🦋 #forever8 #mile8foralanna

Keith Russell