Harvey Lewis, a 45-year-old social studies teacher from Cincinnati, ran 354 miles in 3.5 days, winning Big's 2021 Backyard Ultra. (photo/David Kluthos)
Harvey Lewis, a 45-year-old social studies teacher from Cincinnati, ran 354 miles in 3.5 days, winning Big's 2021 Backyard Ultra. (photo/David Kluthos)

Harvey Lewis Breaks ‘Backyard Ultra’ World Record, Runs 354 Miles in 3.5 Days

On Oct. 19, 2021, endurance runner and high school teacher Harvey Lewis set a new ‘backyard ultra’ world record by running 354 miles in under 4 days.

Ultrarunner Harvey Lewis just set a world record at Big Dog’s Backyard Ultra World Championship in Bell Buckle, Tenn., where he ran 354.2 miles in 85 consecutive hours.

The Cincinnati man shook off 34 seasoned competitors and outstripped the standing world record for the format by a margin of 17 miles and 4 hours. The previous backyard record (337 miles and 81 hours) was set just last June by U.K. runner John Stocker at the Suffolk Backyard Ultra.

Chris Roberts of Kirkwood, Mo., earned second with 350 miles on the pedometer, and Terumichi Morishita of Toyota City, Japan, completed 333.3 miles for third.

Backyard Race Format

Laz Cantrell (center) scouts the trail loop for Big's Backyard 2021; (photo/Big's Backyard Ultra)
Gary Cantrell (center) scouts the trail loop for Big Dog’s Backyard 2021; (photo/Big’s Backyard Ultra)

The unrelenting “backyard” format is what sets races like Big Dog’s far apart from other ultras.

During a backyard ultra, runners must complete a 4.2-mile loop, or “yard,” every hour. Their only chance to rest is the time sandwiched between the end of one lap and the beginning of the next. Competitors are handed a “DNF” (did not finish) and eliminated if they fail to complete a loop within the hour timeframe.

So when does it all end? When just one runner remains. With Big Dog’s Backyard, the finish line isn’t just illusory; it’s irrelevant.

The ultramarathon where “there is no end” was thought up in 2011 by one of running culture’s most unlikely and mischievous heroes, Gary “Lazarus Lake” Cantrell — “Laz” for short. You might know Laz as the mastermind behind the infamous Barkley Marathons.

And he designed Big Dog’s Backyard course using signature Laz logic. The distance of each yard (4.167 miles) is 100 divided by 24, which, coupled with the time constraint, pushes competitors to complete 100 miles every 24 hours. It’s a clever shortcut that makes tracking the race a lot easier — on the organizer, that is.

Big Dog’s Backyard Ultra: Why Run?

Bigs Backyard 2021 final three: Morishita, Lewis, and Roberts; (photo/Tracey Outlaw)
Big Dog’s Backyard Ultra 2021 final three: Morishita, Lewis, and Roberts; (photo/Tracey Outlaw)

Although 2021 marks Lewis’ first Big Dog’s Backyard win, he’s run the race several times before, finishing second in 2017 and again in 2020. UTMB record-holder Courtney Dauwalter is also a Big Dog’s veteran. In fact, she won last year’s comp with 68 hours logged (283.3 miles), beating Lewis by a single yard. And 2019’s winner, Maggie Guterl, made the pilgrimage to Bell Buckle this year too.

Running 4.2 miles within an hour isn’t exactly Olympian, but running 85 4.2-mile yards back to back? That’s elite masochism. In a way, it makes sense why a few dozen decorated ultrarunners journey to Big Dog’s every October.

Big Dog’s Backyard Ultra 2021 results are available now. For the detailed roster, backstories, and race blog, head to BigsBackyardUltra.com, or follow @bigsbackyardultra on Instagram.

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Jilli Cluff
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Jilli grew up in the rural southern Colorado mountains, later moving to Texas for college. After seven years in corporate consulting, she was introduced to sport climbing. In 2020, Jilli left her corporate position to pursue an outdoor-oriented life. She now works as a contributor, gear tester, and editor for GearJunkie and other outlets within the AllGear network. She is based out of Austin, Texas, where she takes up residence with her climbing gear and one-eared blue heeler, George Michael.