Contributed by Kevin Matthews, AURA member (WA)
HYSTERICAL CARNAGE BACKYARD, LOXTON SA, 11-13 Nov 2022
Hysterical Carnage 2022 was to be the last piece of the jigsaw in the Ultra Series Backyard Ultra Grand Slam, running all four of the backyard ultras in a calendar year. Myself, Jen Millum and Renton were the only three runners who would complete this magnificent task. The image below is the Grand Slam runners and one of the race directors, Michelle in fancy dress. The three of us have had many adventures together over the four events and travelled to Adelaide twice (No Time to Die and Hysterical Carnage as well as Lake Towerinning in regional WA (for Birdy’s Backyard and inner city Perth for Herdy’s Frontyard ultra.
A special mention to Margie Hadley who had run three of the four as well as the World Team Backyard Ultra in November (and set a new Women’s Australian Record ) and also Nico Watkins who had also ran three of the four but fell at the last hurdle.
I also had another objective for this event after running the Feral Pig 100 miler the previous weekend, I was after back to back milers, a feat I had never achieved or even attempted. To do this I needed to complete 24 laps.
The conditions in sunny Loxton were as the name suggests, sunny. It was going to be a hot one but after Feral Pig the previous week I wasn’t that worried, living and training in the heat of WA summers had acclimatised me to the heat and it was no longer a worry. I have said many times I consider the climate of WA to be just about perfect all year around for running. We haven’t a winter to speak off; spring and autumn are great temperatures and you can avoid the heat in summer by running early if you so desire or just slower in the heat of the day if that’s your thing.
Shaun Kaesler and his pregnant wife Sarah were also running and the five of us posed for the cameras before the start of the event, all smiles before the first lap. Sarah had targeted three or maybe four laps while Shaun was keen to smash his 10 lap PB and see how deep he could go. Shaun’s father, Frank, was also running and is as big a character as his son, surprisingly.
The course had changed since last year which was a pity as it was one of my favourite courses. A large hill you had to walk and then a few kilometres of level running before a road section into a nice trail and then a swamp section before some more level road running to finish. It made for fast laps which meant more time to recover, on the hour every hour. We also had great conditions last year and I managed an assist to Phil Gore, for the second time that year. More than happy with my 37 laps coming two weeks after the Feral miler.
This year we had water issues. The Murray River had burst its banks and Shaun had to come up with a new course. He did this by adding a big hill and a loop section around the Pioneer Village. On the plus side we actually got to run through the Pioneer Village this year rather than around it last year. This was pretty cool, especially late at night when you had the place to yourself bar one disgruntled security guard. I’m not sure it made up for the extra elevation but I can’t complain, I still enjoyed the course as the last hill was a good reason to walk for a few hundred metres.
Another bonus was the Loxton Council had been busy and put in stairs to help the runners climb the first hill. Last year the path got more and more challenging as the event went on with new ruts forming each lap. This year no such problem although I’m sure, as last year, the hill grew during the event, it certainly got harder. We started the event in the caravan park and ran to an improvised trail before the stairs and this trail was undulating and technical, made for some near misses as we tired.
The 10am start was upon us and we were off into the heat of a spring day in Loxton. It was a beautiful day initially but we all knew the heat was coming and it didn’t let us down. I ran a few laps with Shaun who was enjoying his last event of the year for Ultra Series, I think it was number 18?
As I mentioned before Loxton in South Australia, where the event is run, is Shaun’s home town and his family even have their own street. It was only a hundred metres off the course so we couldn’t resist sneaking a photo though please note we exited and re-entered the course at the same point. I love the photo, me trying to see my iPhone over the top of my sunnies and Shaun just being Shaun, sometimes an image can capture the moment perfectly.
Right back to racing. I always divide any backyard ultra course into three separate sections, this is a big tip so make sure you digest it. For Hysterical Carnage, the first part is from the start (obviously) to the top of the hill after the first road section. This encompasses the first hill, the next kilometre or so through the paddock and then the trail section before the road. This was the hardest section as the paddock was sapping on the legs and there was some gradient gain. From the top of the road to the end of the Pioneer Village was section two. Mostly all down hill or level this was easy running although the gradient was steep enough to test the legs later in the event. The final section was from the exit of the Pioneer Village back to the start which included some level running before the road hill you ran down on the way out and a steep final descent back to the event village.
By breaking down the course into three sections you hit targets quicker and could also gauge where you were, time wise, if you were struggling to make the loop within the hour cut off. You also knew when to put in more effort and when you could cruise. For me the first section was the hardest and when I got to the top of the road hill I could cruise to the end of the Pioneer Village before putting in some more effort to finish. By doing this the lap passes quicker.
This event was always going to hurt coming so soon after Feral. I always struggle for the first 15 or so laps at any backyard ultra but if I can get past 100km then the 24 hour lap becomes a target and I can normally find a second wind to get there. This proved to be the case at Hysterical. I enjoyed the heat of the day but was also relieved when it was time to don head torches and the temperature dropped.
Sunset came quickly on Friday. I was finishing each lap around 45 minutes which is where I wanted to be, towards the front of the field. It gave me time to get everything charged, nutrition and hydration and also a few minutes with the shoes off relaxing in my chair. I was sharing a marquee with Renton and Jen who were both relaxed early on, both experienced enough to pace themselves, remember in this event it’s the runner who finishes last that eventually wins. Time between laps is as important as the running time. Get it right and you’ll be fresh for the lap, fueled and watered. Get it wrong and fatigue will start to creep in.
Once the sun came up every runner was reinvigorated. The morning was cooler than the previous day as we had some cloud cover and the impending storm was brewing on the horizon. It was predicted to rain on Saturday and boy did it rain later in the day. The storm that was predicted also arrived.
The Murray River looking resplendent, it really did put on a show for us over the few days we were there. The locals were saying this was a once in a decade like conditions so next year it’ll probably be dry and dusty, which is the norm apparently. On the Saturday we had a month’s rain in a few hours and for a lucky few we were able to appreciate it on the course. Luckily my Kathmandu Gore-Tex jacket did its job and even though I was nearly drowning while standing up I was never uncomfortable.
As you can see from the image below the sky started to turn early morning, around 9am I think I noticed something afoot. You could see trouble ahead. They had predicted a good storm and you could feel it coming. Once I hit sunrise I knew I was a shoe-in for the 24 hour mark I coveted. I began to enjoy the loops and with the aid of fisiocrem and some Panadol my legs were behaving. I know I say this constantly but fisiocrem really does make a huge difference on multi-day events, just puts the spring back into tired muscles. No idea what they put in the product but it works.
Seven runners left for the 100 mile lap, not sure where Kevin Muller was ? Anyhow, mission accomplished and even better all the three Grand Slam runners made 24 hours, how good is that? Backyard Ultra number four for the year and Renton, Jen and I could still finish high up the field, it looks like experience really does make a difference for this format but I always knew that.
A massive congratulations to Renton on a PB and he looked so good until he wasn’t, which happened quickly at lap 25 and he DNFd. Not a problem though, he was stoked to finally make the 100 mile club on a backyard ultra. I’m sure if Nico Watkins had made it to the start he’d have also made the 100 mile distance but alas no, he is still on the outer and has to wait outside, probably in the rain, while we bask in the glory of the 100 mile club.
As is now tradition I finished lap 24 and adopted the ‘dead runner’ pose, as I call it. Again as usual everybody takes a photo rather than check I’m ok, they could at least pause my Coros? The photo below is a classic from Michelle and it sums up the day, bleak and lonely with worse to come, the weather gods were about to play their hand and it was a good one.
The final laps and things began to hurt. It seemed my strong anti-inflammatories were starting to give in to the pain from the now visibly swelling ankle. This was an injury I had picked up from Feral Pig, caused by tightening the ankle timing bracelet too tight, rookie error. I had not ran, or even attempted to run, in-between the two events but knew that eventually the ankle would probably say enough is enough. Around lap 26 I mentioned this to the RD Michelle, expecting sympathy, and she responded by pulling up my sock over the offending swelling and sending me back out onto lap 27, priceless.
I nearly forgot to mention lap 26 when the heavens opened up and I mean opened up. It had been brewing all morning and when it came it was a serious down pour. I’ve been on this planet for over 55 years but I can’t honestly remember a downpour as bad, or good if you’re a farmer which at the time I wasn’t. The course changed completely and I went from running in a dust bowl to running in a river with a strength to nearly take your feet from under you. It was crazy but also pretty cool as I said earlier I was prepared for the deluge and enjoyed the experience of running in extreme conditions, albeit for half a lap. I managed to get back to the start, dry off and then Michelle kicked me out again, one more lap.
Lap 27 and all was dry again, so quickly, where did all that rain go? I struggled from the start and was left alone with my thoughts by the other 5 runners. Wayne Chapman was on course clapping us as we passed and he could see I was suffering. Wayne was brilliant the whole time. He managed 5 laps himself then spent the rest of the day and night supporting us, popping up at every corner. His support did make a difference. I managed to get in around 55 minutes and the five minute warning song was already playing as I slumped into my chair. By this time the foot had gone very troublesome/annoying and was moving towards very painful with possible long term injury. I had achieved all my goals and was obviously the weakest of the remaining 5 runners as I was being dropped early each lap.
Undeterred I thought I’d go for one more lap and call it if I made it to the finish. Again I was dropped by the top of the hill but this time I was walking early with little chance of even a stumble. I eventually made the left turn before the road with Wayne patiently waiting for me. This time though there were no words of encouragement good enough to send me on my way. I took up his offer of a lift back to the start after making a quick detour to say my goodbyes to the remining runners on the course.
Wayne drove me right up to the start line, through the event village, and I popped out of his front seat and ran that bell for all I was worth. DNF lap 28, bloody awesome result. This left 5 runners on the course but the weather had yet to play its trump card, a thunder and lightning storm for the ages. This was enough to stop the event at lap 30, the right call, and that was it. The last five runners DNFd with Mother Nature the winner, such is life.
So that’s it, four backyard ultras for the Grand Slam, 130 laps, (Herdy’s 34 /6th /Birdy’s 36 /5th NTTD 33 /LOS / Hysterical 27/6th ) just over 870km of fun, fun, fun, at least I think it was? That’s eight backyard ultras and I hope to compete in many more, it’s an event like no other and when you know, you know. If you haven’t tried one, you won’t regret it, you’ll go further than you ever thought you could and at some point you’ll enjoy it, remember as Lazarus Lake says ‘it’s easy until it’s not’
I have so many people to thank for this event. My Grand Slam buddies Renton and Jen, we had so many laughs over the events, so many. Shaun and his army of volunteers including the three race directors Michelle, George and Kirk. These guys put in a monster shift and coped with all Mother Nature could throw at them. All my fellow competitors who always encouraged me and everybody around them, it really is a brotherhood (or sisterhood) of suffering but this bonds us. Wayne Chapman for just being there on every corner, encouraging us all. Everybody who made me a cup of tea and there were a few of you. Tamas for being Tamas. George’s or Michelle’s mum for the best omelette ever and also the best Anzac biscuits. My wife for crewing and doing a damn good job, Charlotte and Jasmin, two of my three daughters, for turning up occasionally and not complaining too much and finally Michelle for the medical advice, I never knew you could fix most running injuries’ just by hiding them.
Photos – Supplied.