An ultra-marathoner from Maple Ridge will be representing Team Canada in the upcoming Big Dog’s Backyard Ultra World Championships.
Mike Huber received an early morning call a few weeks back from the Canadian race director telling him he was being considered for the team, and asking him if he would be interested.
The 46-year-old, who wouldn’t describe himself as a racer, had been upping his game for the past couple of years, putting more kilometres under his belt through time trials and races.
“I don’t really enjoy the race as much as the run itself,” said Huber, who has only been back running for a little over three years after a hiatus since college.
“But I needed to put myself out there,” he explained.
Huber ran cross country in high school and college, but after life took over. He didn’t get the bug again until 2017 when he went to watch his former college room mate run the Vancouver Marathon.
“I’ll run a marathon,” he said that day. Four months later he completed his first one and has been running around 100 kilometres, six days of the week, since then.
In the last two years he has run six or seven road-race marathons. However, his trail experience was very limited.
“I’ve only done two 100 mile races in trail,” said the local realtor.
In March, he ran one of his very few ultra-endurance trail races in Washington State, right before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and placed first overall men’s in the Chuckanut 50 kilometre trail run.
An ultramarathon is any footrace longer than a marathon distance of 42 kilometres, according to TrainingPeaks, a company that offers guides for training to run an ultramarathon.
There are distance-based ultra’s that can vary from 50 kilometres to 160 kilometres or more. Then there are timed ultra’s. Ultra’s can be run on singletrack, dirt roads, pavement or a combination of the three.
In April Huber ran for 25 hours in his Thornhill neighbourhood with only about 15 minute breaks in between laps during the first annual Quarantine Backyard Ultra. He ran a total of 170 kilometres in 6.7 kilometre loops as he competed against 2,400 runners from 64 countries. The winner of that race, a man from Virginia, ran for 63 straight hours.
Huber has also completed four 100 kilometre runs in the last year. Most recently he placed third overall in a 12-hour time trial in the Personal Peak Summer Race Series.
However, Huber is humble in his accomplishments.
Team captain, Dave Proctor, who hails from Alberta, is a former two time world record holder in the 100 mile race, said Huber, who considers him Canada’s top ultra athlete.
And some of the people Huber will be running with have been competing in the world ultra for more than a decade.
The person who won the event last year, when there were no teams, was American Maggie Guterl who ran for 60 hours, covering a distance of 402 kilometres.
This will be the first time in the history of the world backyard ultra championships that it will be a team event. So instead of individuals racing to beat their own times, every competitor will be accumulating points for their team every lap they do.
“You have to have the right group of people who are not going to take away or create negative energy for the top runners to have success,” explained Huber.
“It truly is a dynamic of personalities coming together to work as one unit,” he said of the Canadian team.
Each team will have 15 competitors and a crew of about the same size. Every racer around the world will start off at the exact same time. They are given one hour to run a 6.7 kilometre loop. If a racer finishes before the hour is up they will get that time to rest, get hydrated and change wet clothes before the next loop. If you don’t ring the bell and start the lap at the top of the hour, you are disqualified. Runners are also disqualified if they finish the loop beyond the hour given to them to complete it.
Around 30 teams from around the world will be competing.
This year the team that runs the most combined hours will become the world championship team.
Huber believes the team that will do the best will be the one that has the camaraderie and support of each other.
“Because you are not trying to race your team mates in this race,’ said Huber.
“Although you want to have a great race, you want them (your team mates) to continue to go if they can and drag them out for another loop,” he said, adding he would not be surprised to see someone from Team Canada potentially get into the 60 or 70 hour range.
“There’s a huge potential, they have the ability,” he said. The top two records are 68 and 69 hours for this particular race.
Huber will be happy if he is able to hold out into the 30 hour range.
“I truly believe in the shape that I’m in right now and the miles I put on over the summer, I feel like I am mentally strong and I could go further,” he said.
For this race he has made the mental decision that nothing will stop him from running unless he times out.
“Meaning I just physically don’t have the strength to run it in an hour anymore, and then I know I’ve left everything on the table,” said Huber, who hopes one day he will successfully complete a 200 mile race, even though he knows very few people in the world have accomplished this.
And when he does time out, he is determined to use every last ounce of energy to help his team however he can – whether it’s crewing, helping with supplies, or putting lights on the course.
Big’s Backyard Ultra Championships start at 5 a.m. on Oct. 17.