St. Albert's Stewart Wyllie is set to represent Canada in an international ultra-running competition next month.
In early August, Wyllie won the Okotoks Backyard Ultra by running a nearly seven-kilometre loop once an hour for 30 straight hours. As the last competitor standing, Wyllie earned himself a spot on the Canadian national team for October's Big Dog's Backyard Ultra World Championships.
Wyllie will join 14 other ultra-runners from across Canada in Summerland, B.C., for the World Championship race on Oct. 15.
In the backyard ultra-format runners complete a 6.71-kilometre loop once an hour, for as many hours as necessary, to have only one person left standing. The last runner in an event must complete one additional loop after the second last person calls it quits. In the backyard format, the second-place finisher is called the "assist."
The Canadian team will compete against 40 other countries in "satellite" races. Each national team will race concurrently in their home country, and a country will be declared the winner based on the total of the representative runner's collective number of loops.
Wyllie said he has completely recovered from the Okotoks competition, and is training hard for the World Championships.
“I took about four or five days off running and just did some cycling and rowing," Wyllie said. "I slowly got back into running again — I didn’t really do too much until the second week — and then I got my mileage back up to over 100 kilometres in probably close to 10 hours again.
"I’m feeling pretty ready for next month, I’ve got a little bit more training to do but I’m feeling pretty confident and excited to represent Canada,” Wyllie said.
The Okotoks race was Wyllie's first time trying a backyard ultra, which is a format he said he has always been interested in.
"You can run a lot slower because you have one hour to do the 6.7-kilometre loop," he said. "Whatever time it takes you, you can rest for the rest of that hour. It gives you [more of] a chance to concentrate on fueling and taking care of yourself a bit more, compared to your typical race where you’re going all out for the whole race.
"It’s a format where you can test yourself mentally and physically to see what you’re capable of," Wyllie said. "I think we’re all more capable of what we think we are in pushing our bodies.”
Wyllie's average pace in Okotoks was 46 minutes per loop, he said, and the remaining 14 minutes were spent eating, hydrating, addressing blisters and chafing issues, and changing clothes if he wanted to.
"Anything slower [than 46 minutes] I would have felt a bit more stress in being able to take care of myself and head back out again," he said.
"That 15-minute window seems to be my sweet spot when it comes to transitioning and giving myself time to get back out there and do the same thing over and over.”
For food throughout the race in Okotoks, Wyllie said he found rice pudding got the job done.
"I love rice pudding and I’m able to stomach that pretty well," he said. "I try not to have too much sugar [and] I try to keep my sodium levels pretty high.
“I felt more comfortable trying different things because of that down time that you have where you’re not constantly running,” Wyllie said, adding that he saw other competitors eating ice cream and pizza during rest periods.
“Whatever you feel like you can get down you for that period, and if it doesn’t work for you then you’re running to the washroom.”
Leading up October's World Championship, Wyllie said he'll be pushing his weekly running mileage to between 160 and 180 kilometres.
"That’s all comfortable, conversational pace running," he said. “I’m doing lots of long and slow mileage."
In B.C., Wyllie's goal is 50 loops, if need be, of course. "I think it’s possible, and obviously it all depends on how the other 14 athletes can keep going for as well because you need one more person to push you up to that number," he said.
Wyllie said he wouldn't be able to compete in ultra-running without the constant — and race-specific — support from his wife, Jessica Wyllie, who acts as the support crew.
"She … does a fantastic job of keeping me running,” Wyllie said. "She allows me to train for so many hours each week to make these races possible."