Anchorage’s Carrie Setian outlasted Girdwood’s Zach Behney and 13 other runners to win the second Tsalteshi Backyard Ultra on Friday night and Saturday morning in Soldotna.
In a backyard ultra, competitors start each hour and must complete a 4.167-mile loop, or what is known at the events as a “yard,” in an hour. Friday’s event started at 5 p.m. in a rain that eventually cleared up.
Running a loop at Centennial Park and Campground that started and finished in the parking lot of the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex, Setian completed 16 laps, or 66.672 miles, for the victory.
Behney called it quits after 15 laps, or 62.505 miles. The race automatically ends when the winner goes one more lap than the second-place finisher, who earns what is known at the races as an “assist.”
Setian’s victory gets her entry into the Tartarus Backyard Ultra in Spokane, Washington, on Aug. 19.
In the first Tsalteshi Backyard Ultra last year, Behney had won with 17 laps, while Setian earned the assist with 16 laps.
Last year, which also had 15 runners, Setian and Behney were the only two to go over 10 laps.
This year, Talkeetna’s Tony Covarrubias and Soldotna’s Jenny Neyman also made it past 10 laps, clocking in at 12 laps for 50 miles.
The biggest difference between last year and this year, other than the winner, was the course.
Last year, the event was held at Tsalteshi Trails, and didn’t shy away from the biggest hill on the whole trail system.
This year, Doug Hogue, who organizes the race, said the event was moved at the beginning of the week to Centennial due to ornery moose that have been frequenting Tsalteshi.
Hogue said that with the event expected to last through the night on the same loop, the risk of an escalating conflict with a moose was too great to ignore.
“The city of Soldotna was awesome as far as allowing us to use the space and, of course, running through Centennial campground,” Hogue said.
The moose may be on to something. Hogue said there is a temptation to keep the event at Centennial.
For starters, backyard ultras are social affairs, with all the runners — and their supporters — having to stick mostly together due to the diet of a loop per hour.
“The whole point of the backyard ultramarathon is the social aspect,” Hogue said. “Every caliber of runner is running with the best person and the person that’s the slowest.
“It’s not to see how fast you can do this. It’s based on pacing yourself and giving yourself enough time before the next hour starts, but not too much time.”
Hogue falls back on his restaurant experience at Kenai River Brewing to amp up the social experience in the start-finish area with good food.
He said he extra space in the parking lot of the sports complex is nice for socializing.
Plus, the mosquito hatch normally comes this time of year, and the sports complex lot has fewer mosquitoes than the wooded wetlands of Tsalteshi.
“I was at the trailhead earlier, just to make sure nobody was there,” Hogue said of Tsalteshi. “I was like, ‘Holy cow.’ They’ve really come out.”
Hogue also said the new course may mesh better with his goals for the race.
“My dream would be to get an international crowd to come in,” he said. “Backyard ultras are the fastest growing ultra race in Norway and Switzerland, and some other European countries.
“It would be really cool to get some of those people to jump on an Alaska race.”
The new course includes a section on the metal grates bordering the world-famous Kenai River. Hogue said that’s the type of thing that could draw people in from out of state.
He said, to his knowledge, there are only two backyard ultras in Alaska. The Tsalteshi Backyard Ultra was the first in Alaska to be a qualifier Tartarus Backyard Ultra.
Hogue said he’d like to keep the event going to see if it can get traction.
“My job is really for three minutes,” he said. “I give the warnings before they go out and run.
“They go, and we’re just kind of doing whatever to help the volunteers and just sitting around the fire. You see them come back in and you’re like, ‘Holy cow, it’s three in the morning and they’re still doing this.’ It’s crazy.”
Also at the backyard ultra, Homer’s Yvonne Leutwyler had seven laps for 29.169 miles, Kenai’s Eric Thomason had six laps for 25 miles, Kenai’s Emma Blake and Anchorage’s David Short had five laps for 20.835 miles, Kenai’s Sean Goff, Kenai’s Rustin Hitchcock and Kenai’s Maverick Boyer had four laps for 16.668 miles, Sterling’s Carl Kincaid had three laps for 12.5 miles, Soldotna’s CO Rudstrom had two laps for 8.334 miles and Soldotna’s Hollis Swan had a lap.