Girdwood’s Zach Behney and Anchorage’s Julianne Dickerson run along the Kenai River at the Tsalteshi Backyard Ultra on Friday, June 8, 2024, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Girdwood’s Zach Behney and Anchorage’s Julianne Dickerson run along the Kenai River at the Tsalteshi Backyard Ultra on Friday, June 8, 2024, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Girdwood’s Behney runs 75 miles to win his 2nd Tsalteshi Backyard Ultra

The Tsalteshi Backyard Ultra is an unusual running race, so it’s no surprise the metrics Doug Hogue, race organizer, uses for success are a little different than the standard 5K.

In all three years, including the Friday and Saturday race out of the parking lot of the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex, 15 runners signed up to race.

“Of course I’d like to see it bump up a little more, but I like it because it’s manageable,” Hogue said.

In a backyard ultra, competitors start each hour and must complete a 4.167-mile loop, or what is known in the events as a “yard,” in an hour. The event goes until every runner, except the winner, has bowed out.

Once the winner does one more lap than everybody else, the race is over. That’s why the person finishing second is credited with the “assist.” To go long, at least two people have to go long.

What Hogue wants to see is runners piling up more and more yards, and he has gotten that.

The first year, Girdwood’s Zach Behney won with 17 laps, or 70.839 miles, while Anchorage’s Carrie Setian had 16. Only one other runner made it to seven laps.

In 2023, Setian won with 16, while Behney had 15. But two runners made it to 12 and another did seven.

In this year’s event, Behney set a new event record with 18 laps for 75 miles, while both Setian and Anchorage’s Julianne Dickerson made it to 17 laps. Behney ran his first lap at 5 p.m Friday, and started his last lap at 10 a.m. Saturday.

There were three other runners at seven or more — Soldotna’s Jed McGlasson at nine for 37.503 miles, Bozeman, Montana’s Carolyn Garriott at eight laps for 33.336 miles, and Kenai’s Rustin Hitchcock at seven laps for 29.169 miles.

What Hogue really wants to see is 24 hours of running, which is when the 4.167-mile lap distance makes sense. Twenty-four laps equal 100 miles.

“If we truly hit a 24-hour period, I think that’s when we’re going to see even a little more interest,” Hogue said. “If people are traveling from the Lower 48, they don’t want to come up for a three-hour race.

“If it’s going to go for 24 hours plus, they’re like, ‘Yea. This is cool.’”

The elements were in place for a 100-miler this year. Kenai’s Sean Goff, who did six laps for 25 miles, said Behney told Goff during a lap that Behney was hoping the race went to Sunday.

Word around the campfire in the parking lot was that Setian wanted to go as long as possible.

Garriott, who ended up with eight laps for 33.36 miles, was aiming for 100 miles, according to Garriott’s daughter, Nicole Garriott.

Then there was the wild card of Dickerson, who was raised in Kenai and won the Kenai River Marathon in 2023.

Thursday, she competed in the Full Monty at Kal’s Knoya Ridge Run, an uphill-only race that is 8.5 kilometers and climbs 4,300-feet.

Dickerson also wanted to get in a time trial on Seward’s Mount Marathon, which she did Sunday, but stuck around at the Tsalteshi Backyard Ultra much longer than the planned 30 miles or so and ended up with a new distance PR.

Hogue didn’t get the 100-miler that he wanted, but he did get his first two competitors from the Lower 48 in the Garriotts.

On Jan. 11, Carolyn Garriott completed the Bandera 100K in Texas. Hogue said she dropped out of the backyard ultra due to knee discomfort.

“She’s like, ‘This is my year to just do a bunch of big things,’” said Nicole, who finished four laps for 16.668 miles, of her mother. “Big races which she’s not even sure she can do. Which is fun.”

Carolyn was not the first person looking for big things to turn attention to Alaska.

“She’s like, ‘Let’s go to Alaska,’” said Nicole, who lives in Oakland. “I’m like, ‘That sounds cool.’ And then she asked me if I wanted to come up and crew for the race.

“I was like, ‘Maybe I’ll just sign up too.’”

The Garriotts arrived in Anchorage on Thursday and were flying out Sunday.

Nicole said her mother was not concerned that she might go a long way for a short race.

“I think it was just about going to a place we’ve never been before, and making it an adventure vacation,” she said. “She’s pretty aware that if people stop at a certain point, then that’s it.”

Nicole said the course also is appealing because it’s very flat and follows the Kenai River. Nicole said her mom was dancing around and having a great time in the early laps due to the beauty.

“It’s just really beautiful right next to the river,” Nicole said. “We don’t really, I don’t really, see any rivers quite like that river.”

Nicole also said the ultra was intriguing because it never really got dark at night.

Backyard ultras get more interesting the longer they go. Nicole said that’s also the case for the crew.

On each lap, she had to have food, new shoes, new socks, blister pads, towels to dry feet, an inhaler and Advil ready to go.

“Crew is actually a sport in and of itself,” Nicole said.

Hogue said crewing is just one of the many ways the race gets interesting the longer it goes.

“I know in some of the super long races that have occurred, you’ll get some people that go really fast on a loop to sleep for 20 minutes or something,” he said. “I mean, last year’s national race went for four and a half days.”

Hogue said fueling also gets interesting the longer a race goes. In a normal race, runners have a fueling strategy based on how long the race is.

“In this one, if you’re gunning to win it, you don’t know how long it’s going to go,” Hogue said. “The person right next to you might be doing the same thing.

“And there you are four days later.”

The backyard ultra has plenty for those not planning to go four days.

Goff has done all three backyard ultras, doing six laps in 2022, four laps in 2023 and getting back to six laps this year.

“It’s a fun idea,” Goff said. “You can challenge yourself as much as you want or don’t want.”

Goff said the format is surprisingly tricky to handle. A runner can go slower than a normal pace, but how much slower?

“I still don’t think I hydrate enough,” he said. “You don’t necessarily feel super, super sweaty when you first get done.

“It’s just a slow four-mile run, yea?”

He also said there’s a nice camaraderie that develops during the race, with the best runners offering everybody encouragement.

“They want to keep going,” Goff said. “They want to have an all-nighter. They’re still ultimately enjoying it.

“It’s kind of cool to see. You’re mentally fighting to do the next lap, and they’re like, ‘Come on guys. Let’s go. This is fun.’ It’s a fun group.”

Also in the race, Soldotna’s Dylan Hogue power-walked his way to six laps, Soldotna’s Raife Bowman had five laps for 20.835 miles, Soldotna’s Hollis Swan, CO Rudstrom, Andrew Cox and Jayme Jackson all made it three laps for 12.501 miles, and Soldotna’s Madi Young went two laps for 8.334 miles.

When runner exit the race, they cut down a cup from the tent at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex at the Tsalteshi Backyard Ultra on Friday, June 8, 2024, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

When runner exit the race, they cut down a cup from the tent at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex at the Tsalteshi Backyard Ultra on Friday, June 8, 2024, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Carloyn Garriott of Bozeman, Montana, runs along the Kenai River at the Tsalteshi Backyard Ultra on Friday, June 8, 2024, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Carloyn Garriott of Bozeman, Montana, runs along the Kenai River at the Tsalteshi Backyard Ultra on Friday, June 8, 2024, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai’s Sean Goff cranks the siren to signal he is done at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex at the Tsalteshi Backyard Ultra on Friday, June 8, 2024, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai’s Sean Goff cranks the siren to signal he is done at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex at the Tsalteshi Backyard Ultra on Friday, June 8, 2024, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Doug Hogue, race organizer, starts the sixth lap at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex at the Tsalteshi Backyard Ultra on Friday, June 8, 2024, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Doug Hogue, race organizer, starts the sixth lap at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex at the Tsalteshi Backyard Ultra on Friday, June 8, 2024, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Anchorage’s Carrie Setian runs along the Kenai River at the Tsalteshi Backyard Ultra on Friday, June 8, 2024, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Anchorage’s Carrie Setian runs along the Kenai River at the Tsalteshi Backyard Ultra on Friday, June 8, 2024, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Runners start the fifth lap at the Tsalteshi Backyard Ultra at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex on Friday, June 8, 2024, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Runners start the fifth lap at the Tsalteshi Backyard Ultra at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex on Friday, June 8, 2024, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

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