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Sumter runner to take part in virtual last man standing race

By TIM LEIBLE
tim@theitem.com
Posted 4/3/20

With the overwhelming majority of people across the country is stuck inside during the coronavirus pandemic, people are looking for an outlet. That doesn't mean running for over a day straight for most people, but Sumter resident Stephen Kelly isn't …

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Sumter runner to take part in virtual last man standing race

Posted

With the overwhelming majority of people across the country is stuck inside during the coronavirus pandemic, people are looking for an outlet. That doesn't mean running for over a day straight for most people, but Sumter resident Stephen Kelly isn't most people.

Kelly is one of the thousands of runners across the country who is taking part in the Quarantine Backyard Ultra on Saturday as a way to escape from the isolation that comes from quarantining.

So what does that involve? Well, runners will set up a video feed either in front of their treadmill or, if they're in a part of the world where they're allowed to leave their house, at their front door. Runners will then run a 4.167-mile (6.706 kilometers) loop every hour on the hour until they can't anymore. That loop distance translates to 100 miles in 24 hours. The winner will be the last person left running, and he or she will take home The Golden Toilet Paper Roll.

"I'm gonna be outside," Kelly said of his approach to the race. "I've mapped out a 4.17-mile loop around the neighborhood where we live. We start on Saturday (morning) at 9 o'clock, so I'll set up my Zoom camera at my front door as a start and finish line, then I'll run that loop and then upload my running data. When the new hour starts, I'll go back and run it all over again."

Personal Peak, the endurance running company sponsoring the event, wanted to give people an outlet after so many running events were cancelled across the country. That led the company to put on this free race, which will be livestreamed on YouTube so people can follow along.

Kelly is running this race on Saturday because of his own cancelled event. He was originally scheduled to run a last man standing race in Ohio in May, but that has already been postponed indefinitely. As the world is forced to stay home as much as possible, Kelly was thrilled to have this outlet and social activity.

"It's really cool. The one thing I love about ultra-running is that it has this really unique community that's a part of it. One of the things that attracts people to the sport is this unique community," said Kelly. "It's really unique to be a part of something like this where you can participate virtually with people across the world.

"There's also some of the best runners out there taking part," continued Kelly. "There's all kinds of unique people that you get to participate in this event that you don't get the opportunity to interact with on any other stage."

Some of those runners include Dave Proctor, who owns the Canadian record for most distance covered in 24, 48 and 72 hours, respectively, and other record-holding runners from across the world.

As crazy as it sounds to anyone who isn't an ultra-runner, this race will probably need more than 24 hours to find its winner. Kelly has experience in ultra-running - he's run a 100-mile race, a 50-mile race and nine marathons - but this is his first last man standing. He doesn't expect to be that last man standing, but he is shooting for a new personal best.

"The longest I've ever run is 100 miles, so my goal is to certainly go beyond that. After that, every time the bell rings for a new hour is the chance to set a new personal record, so for me, I want to get to that 100-mile mark where I've been running for basically 24 straight hours," said Kelly. "I just want to see how far beyond that I can go."

The challenge for Kelly in this race is the format. Running this shorter loop every hour is a new concept for Kelly, so he's not really sure where he's going to start to hit a wall.

"The guy that created this race, he's famous for saying, `It's easy until it isn't.' So I think that's probably going to be the biggest challenge," said Kelly. "Running 4.17 miles in an hour isn't that hard of a thing to do it you have any sort of endurance, but at some point that's going to become incredibly hard to do.

"When that time comes, are you going to be able to push yourself to take that next step? Because you're only out of the race when you say you're out of the race. Finding that point where you're actually willing to say you quit is something that I cannot even imagine."

While Kelly could've run this race on a treadmill like many of the runners will be forced to do, that was never an option in his eyes. Running inside for over a day provides more of a psychological challenge from just running in place all day.

"I detest running on a treadmill so much that I think I would quit sooner, mentally, not going anywhere. It drives me crazy, I hate when I'm confined to a treadmill," said Kelly. "Plus, as much as I love my family, I do have four children, and I think them seeing me on a treadmill over and over and over again for that amount of time would also drive them crazy, so it's probably better to get out of the house."

While he jokes that his family would prefer him running outside, the Kelly family has been extremely supportive of their ultra-running patriarch. Kelly says his family's support has made running an event like this a lot easier.

"It takes a big commitment not only from me, but for my family," said Kelly. "They've got to buy in as much as I do, and it's been incredible to have so much family support."

As for the race itself, Kelly said his kids are excited to help with the little things like making sure he has enough water or that his telephone gets charged during his small breaks.

"They're pumped about it. When I ran the Daytona 100 back in December, my two oldest girls were part of the crew, so they met me at stages along with my wife along the course to get me fluids or food or to change my socks, things like that. My second daughter actually paced with me the last 12 miles of that race," said Kelly. "The two younger boys have never been a part of one of these races, so they're excited to be a part of that crew."