Yoder’s World ultra experience leaves him primed for bigger, better things

Yoder’s World ultra experience leaves him primed for bigger, better things

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Levi Yoder lined up for the beginning of his day-three excursion of the Backyard Ultra World Team Championships 2022 with high hopes of continuing in the demanding sport that forces competitors to run 4.1667 miles every hour, 24 hours a day, until only one runner remains.

While day three didn’t last long, making it through more than 48 hours of continual running served as great motivation for a runner who is basically a babe in the woods compared to most seasoned ultra-marathon competitors.

Yoder was one of 15 United States competitors who went up against ultra-marathon teams from three-dozen nations, each boasting a team of 15 competitors and running on courses in their home nation.

Yoder ended up going 52 hours, placing ninth on the U.S. team while running 39th overall out of 555 individual competitors. His effort helped the United States battle to a second-place finish, behind only the team from Belgium, who had two runners go more than 100 hours before calling it quits.

The challenge was one Yoder will not soon forget, and it also was an experience that will drive him to pursue a return appearance in the future.

“It was an amazing, inspiring experience, and representing Team USA was pretty incredible,” Yoder said. “Reaching day three was a huge goal for me.”

Yoder said he had no numbers in mind in terms of goals for distance or finishing spots, only the goal of running until he could run no further. He said that goal was accomplished.

Yoder, who qualified at Bob’s Big Backyard event in Glenmont, felt the track in Tennessee was a little more difficult, with more rocks and roots on the trail.

“The first day it didn’t seem to have much of an effect, but the second and third day, it was much more noticeable,” Yoder said of the terrain. “I think the rocks got bigger as we progressed.”

Reaching day three was a big boost for Yoder, who admitted he struggled immensely to stay awake throughout the second night.

It got to the point where he did something that seems impossible, but he said was very real.

“I started falling asleep while I was running,” Yoder said. “I have never before pushed myself to that level, and I found out that you can actually fall asleep while you’re on the move. It usually came on when I slowed to a walk to take a break, and I’d find myself weaving uncontrollably. You hallucinate and see things, but the daybreak on day three changed everything, even though I was only able to go a couple more hours.”

He said having his teammates encourage him while he tried to do likewise was a sensational feeling to take from the event.

“The team effort I felt running there was incredible,” Yoder said of competing alongside the USA’s top distance runners. “There were multiple guys who had injuries who thought they couldn’t keep going, and they ended up going 10 or 12 miles further just because of the encouragement. That was so inspiring to see, and it was a neat experience to see that type of commitment.”

Yoder said the U.S. team was talented, and he was proud to be part of a machine like that. Next year the winner from each country has an invitation to compete, that event switching with the team event every other year.

He said there are qualifiers that take place where runners can qualify for next year, and while he is currently on that list, he expects others to outdistance him and take his place, meaning he will have to boost his numbers to move up the ranks even higher, expecting it will take more than 60 hours to make the event.

He is eyeing an event in Virginia that has a little easier track but also is deciding between that and another race in Colorado.

“It’s without question my goal to go back and compete and to reach that fourth morning,” Yoder said.

The two runners from Belgium set a world record in running 101 hours, both refusing to move on for a 102nd lap attempt, thus leaving as co-victors.

Yoder said the two men have been friends for years, so it was nice to see them leave as co-champs.

As for the friendships he made, Yoder said running with teammates from all over the United States was awesome, and he found himself running much of the race with Harvey Lewis from Cincinnati, Ohio, who ran the event last time and finished second on the U.S. team this time.

Yoder said as a strategy he tried to keep his pace steady every lap, leaving himself six to eight minutes to grab a catnap, rehydrate, refuel and get a massage at different times.

Then there were times he ran a little harder to finish four minutes quicker, allowing for a lengthier nap.

“I think the first night I slept a total of 45 minutes,” Yoder said. “The second night I only slept a couple minutes. I was coming back in later and later.”

Yoder said he learned so much in both running and talking to other teammates. He said he might do some things differently if he had a chance, but going to 52 hours was exciting. And as the team rookie, he said the veterans treated him like one of their own, which made the experience that much more gratifying.

He will now rely on this experience to help him grow into an even better runner as he moves along the path of this unique career.