The Longest Yard - Arkansas's Backyard Ultra

The Longest Yard – Arkansas’s Backyard Ultra

The Community Bicyclist

The Arkansas Ultra-Running Association season for 2023-2024 began on Saturday morning at the Arkansas Backyard Ultra in Cotter, Arkansas. The course is an out-and-back on an old railroad bed along the White River. The total distance is 4.1667 miles and is referred to as a yard. A yard must be completed within an hour. Every hour on the hour, the race resumes with all the participants who met the previous cut-off.

Heading out on another yard.
Heading out on another yard.

4.1667 miles does not seem like too much to do in an hour. That pace is just over 14-minute miles. I’ve heard people claim they can walk that distance every hour, but they are mistaken. I decided to give this theory a try. I’m 5’11” with a 32-inch inseam and a pretty good stride. I walked it, I did not go into race-walking mode. I was steady and fast and finished in 1 hour and 8 minutes. I could have kept it under the hour with a bit of running, but wouldn’t have had much rest time. Wesley Hunt, the 2021 winner, did much of the race by walking to the turnaround and running back. Wesley is a fast runner and is capable of making up a lot of time on that run back.

A runner passing the railroad bridge coming into the finish of another yard.
A runner passing the railroad bridge coming into the finish of another yard.

The course is beautiful with only a slight rise near the beginning of the run as the trail passes under a railroad bridge. One of the features of the course is that it is tree-covered and the tread is a double-track gravel road with vegetation cut back. Along the trail for much of the course is a wastewater line with raised manhole covers at regular intervals and some of the pipeline exposed for a stretch along the trail. During my walk of the course I envisioned runners using the manhole covers as a measurement for running and walking, “I’ll run the next two and then walk one…”

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What most of the course looks like.
What most of the course looks like.

After completing a yard, runners have access to a designated corral area where they can refuel, hydrate, stretch, and rest for a duration that aligns with their pace during the preceding run. This time tends to diminish throughout the run. When a runner fails to finish a yard or decides to quit, they are required to ceremoniously bang the Backyard Gong.

Bang-a-gong.
Bang-a-gong.

This slow, grinding torture is administered by Jake Anderson and Rusty Harvey of Syllamo Events and Norfork Adventure Center. They tempt runners to continue by cheering each runner in every hour, keeping a party atmosphere in the corral area, and even have set up “The One More Yard Cafe” where every six hours tasty food is offered to runners and their supporters.

Jake and Rusty have been dishing up this abuse for 3 years now. The record distance was set last year by Monica Showers of Trussville, AL with 154.7 miles or 37 yards. Women have done well with this event having won the last two years. This year’s winner was Lilly Charles of Winona, MO with 104.17 miles or 25 yards. 73 runners toed the line for the race this year.

Jackalope
Finishing yet another yard.
Finishing yet another yard.

Welcome to Big Spring Park

The course begins and ends at a large pavilion, port-a-potties are nearby and a nicer bathroom is just across the road. The park is beautiful with grand views of the iconic Cotter Bridge, the Big Spring Swimming Hole complete with rope swing, a boat ramp, and some great fishing. This is certainly one of the best running races to watch due to the hourly visual of the runners and so much to do and see while they are out on the course. Bring your swimsuit and fishing pole.

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Over 400 photos of the event are available on our Flickr Page.

The iconic Cotter Bridge.
The iconic Cotter Bridge.

 

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