Needham Running Club to Play Host to Backyard Ultra

The Needham Running Club made its first foray into playing host to an ultrarunning event in 2021 when it organized the Needham May Day Distance Classic, a 14-hour and 5-minute fun run on the trails of Cutler Park. The free, no-frills event was a success with 38 runners turning out to log mileage on the dry, sunny day.

A year later, the Needham Running Club and organizers Kiko Bracker and Bill Gallagher are at it again, only this time the ultra-distance offering will take the shape of the increasingly popular Last Person Standing format with the inaugural Needham Backyard Ultra. The event will take place at 8 a.m. Saturday, May 7, at Needham Town Forest. It is open to all interested runners and is not limited to Needham Running Club members.

The change in format this year might catch some runners by surprise, though Bracker explained the event is actually reverting to its originally intended format.

“May 1 is on a Sunday this year, and I work Sundays,” Bracker said. “When COVID started, I had imagined a Backyard Ultra with each runner going off a minute apart as a good way to social distance. But even that seemed too uncertain, so the May Day race replaced it. So I guess we are back to the original idea of a Backyard Ultra.”

The format of the event will be familiar to runners with experience at other Backyard Ultra/Last Person Standing races. It will use a 4.167-mile course, and runners will have one hour to complete the course and return to the starting line. Those failing to do so within the allotted time will be out. A new loop will begin on the hour, every hour, until only one runner remains and completes one more loop than anybody else.

The course will consist of a variety of trail surfaces with no pavement.

“It is 100% trail with no road crossings,” Bracker noted. “About 50% of the trails are two-track fire roads with plenty of rocks, then maybe 40% is on a very smooth rail trail, and a very small fraction is on single track. We wanted to make the footing as safe as possible, but it was impossible to make the footing really good. It’s ‘fair.’ I think the race would have to be in a different location if we want really smooth trails.”

The event is free and registration will take place upon arrival the day of the race. The start/finish area is near the Horsford Ponds Parking Area and Trailhead.

“It’s probably fairly obvious that this is a low-frills race,” Bracker said. “I think we only got permission to run it a few weeks ago from the town. We want to put on an enjoyable event that relies a bit on runner self-sufficiency and provides a simple format for that to happen. Again, we’d encourage anyone to come out regardless if you want to just run a few laps or try to make it into the night time. It should be a fun day.”

Bracker said there isn’t a cap on the number of runners who can participate.

“There is not really a capacity limit, per se, but we will be astounded if two dozen people show up,” Bracker said. “I think my prediction was an ambitious 18 participants. Bill predicted 12. The odd format of this race creates kind of a natural limit on participants since it is not for everyone.  Most ‘1st annual’ ultras are won in about 10-15 laps (hours) and with less than 25 participants.  But we’d love to see people come by who just want to run a few laps and call it a day. That would be a great introduction to this race format, and it would help us hone our skills at organizing this type of race. If it goes well this year we will likely do it again next year as a sanctioned Backyard Ultra. We are for sure a grass roots race this year. Although I would not want to say that this is a trial run – it is.”

The Backyard Ultra format will be new to many members of the Needham Running Club, including Bracker, so he said they will be unencumbered by any prior experiences or pre-conceptions from other events. That said, he hopes to see a fun, supportive community vibe throughout the day and night.“The starting area is kind of like an old grassy quarry. It’s quite cozy,” he noted. “I’d love to see a dozen or so tents set up in that space, so music, and a nice carnival vibe when the participants are out running. I think seeing people enjoy themselves in this endeavor (running or helping) will be the most fun.”

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