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Doctor breaks Backyard Ultra for childhood cancer

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Johannesburg doctor Jacov Lalou, 42, set a new South African Backyard Ultra record by running 38 consecutive laps of 6.7km each on Sunday, 1 May. Lalou achieved this 38-hour-long running challenge during the third edition of the Delta Backyard Ultra.

He began at 07:00 on Sunday, and ran for 38 hours, stopping for only 10 minutes between laps. He covered 254.6km in that time and raised tens of thousands of rands.

The Backyard Ultra, referred to as “the race that never ends”, is a form of ultramarathon race in which competitors must consecutively run the distance of 6 706m (6.7km) in less than one hour.

In his first Backyard Ultra, Lalou was able to take 10 minute breaks because it took him 50 minutes on average to complete each lap.

Lalou competed with more than 60 other runners in the race at Delta Park in Johannesburg. He was the last man running in the challenge. He took on the challenge to raise funds for CHOC Childhood Cancer Foundation.

His reason for choosing CHOC wasn’t personal. “I’ve seen them at so many races. They obviously know what they are doing there, and it’s a great organisation,” he says.

You could spot those running to raise funds for CHOC because they were wearing cow kits – much like the one that Lalou sported, with a black and white running vest and running shorts.

Lalou broke a previous record of 33 laps in 33 hours.

The Delta Backyard Ultra is based on Big Dog’s Backyard Ultra, also known as Big’s Backyard Ultra, which is the original Backyard Ultra invented by Gary “Lazarus Lake” Cantrell of Bell Buckle, Tennessee, in 2012.

Since then, Backyard Ultras have appeared across the globe, especially garnering popularity during the pandemic.

“You keep going until you’re the last man standing,” says Lalou. “You can only go as far as the second last remaining guy does. If that guy dropped out, for example, after 12 hours, then I wouldn’t have been able to test myself further. The whole race format is about testing your limits. It’s not necessarily about winning it.”

Other than the winner, all other entrants record a DNF (did not finish).

Every lap starts every hour on the hour. “If you miss the start even by a second, you get a DNF,” says Lalou. “It’s a very interesting psychological component to the race. We planned to be there for a while. We had the right setup for being there as long as we needed to be.”

Lalou says there isn’t really any specific training you can do for the Backyard Ultra. “You can do some trial runs of 6.7km every hour on your own, but I’ve just been doing endurance sports and events for quite a while. I’ve run about 100km in 24 hours. This time, a friend said to me, ‘You’re doing all these anyway, do it for a cause.’ This was the first time I’ve done any fundraising. I’m quite a quiet guy. I don’t like being in the limelight.”

Cheering him on was a large support crew. Lalou says he wouldn’t have been the last man standing without it. “A whole lot of guys from Glenhazel, where I live, were at the race with their kids to support for like eight hours. I had amazing support. My wife and my kids came. My mom came from Cape Town. Rabbi [Matthew] Tucker [from Sandton Shul] was there with his kids, and people were there for hours and hours to support.”

The reason this year’s Backyard Ultra started on a Sunday and not on a Saturday, as usual, was courtesy of a meeting Lalou had with the race organiser last year. “We hit it off and he said this year, he was going to organise one for me specifically that didn’t go on Shabbos,” recalls Lalou, who had previously gone after Shabbos to support some Backyard Ultras.

Having previously completed Ironman and with a silver medal in the 2014 Comrades Marathon to his name, Lalou knew there was a possibility of him being the last man standing. “I knew who my competition was, and I knew I could go far, but it was just a matter of if the muscles would allow it. You never know whether you’re going to get a little niggle, injury, or blisters, so we planned for everything that was under our control. Then, obviously, we just had to get there, do it, and take it hour by hour.”

He says there are different strategies to adopt for the Backyard Ultra. “You could rest longer or rest less. Every two laps, I went a bit faster just to get some extra things done. Otherwise, while I was out on the lap, I would take nutrition with me and have my nutrition the entire hour.”

  • If you want to donate towards Lalou’s fundraising efforts for CHOC, you can email him on donoharm18@gmail.com, or donate directly on thecow.co.za. The reference is DBU.

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