Saturday, March 2, 2024

That Time Chris Got Kicked Out of a Race


Sad Chris (PC: Rick K, in his awesome 2017 Grindstone Top Finisher jacket!)


I was just kicked out of a race.

Not just any race, a Backyard Silver Ticket race, an auto-qualifier for The Big's Backyard World Championships. How the heck did that happen?! Well, here are ALL of the details!

Grab a drink and find a comfy place to park your rear for an eternity, cuz this is going to take some time to unpack.


Chris: "The world needs a 30 minute blog post about a silly race!"


Instead of running through the night and catching 5minute cat-naps in my awesome Backyard tent set up, I'm spending untold hours writing an unnecessarily long blog post. But I'm doing it all for posterity!

So Why Did I Want To Run This Race?

I love the Backyard format (I also hate the Backyard format). 4.1666 miles per hour, every hour, until you can't go on. Simple. Elegant. Brutal.

The Backyard Community is like nothing else I've ever experienced. The longer the race goes on, the more everyone bands together. Crews are helping crews, runners are helping other runners, runners that tapped out long ago (and their crew) jump in to give whatever support they can to those still trying to survive. I've been on the receiving end of this multiple times. It's awe-inspiring. It's humbling. It's everything you want "Sport" to be -- folks coming together so athletes can find their limit, and so a special few might push the bounds of human endurance, together. It's inclusive, supportive, uplifting. It's humanity at its finest.

For the past 3 years, I've qualified for The Big Show in Laz's delightful Tennessee backyard each October. The finest multi-day runners in the world, coming together to run laps until they decay into frail little shells of a human being. The first year, I was The Assist, with 84 hours, to Harvey Lewis. I crapped out because of a progressively deteriorating knee issue ... I ran and hobbled until I could hobble no more. The next year I crapped out, literally, when I partially tore my achilles standing up after, ahem, doing my business in the treeline during a night loop. Only 60 hours that go-around. For 2023 I gave up my spot to prioritize representing my country at the 24 Hour World Championships -- I'm no Harvey, I'm just a human, and I knew my body wouldn't be able to go the distance at Big's and then run competitively for 24 hours a mere 6 weeks later.

My 84 hours "expired" as a qualifying mark, and my 60 hours from 2022 isn't good enough to secure 1 of the 15 Big's Team USA slots for this year's World Team Satellite Championships. So I needed to re-qualify. You do that by running a Silver Ticket race. You win and you're in (or you go to the hyper-competitive Capital Backyard Ultra where a couple runners might go far enough to snag an At-Large spot). Guess what! There just so happens to be a Silver Ticket race 10 minutes from my house in St. Louis this go-around: The Queeny Backyard Ultra.

Story Time

(be patient, it'll all come together, eventually)


In the Summer of 2019 my family and I moved from DC to St. Louis. Wanting to dive head-on into the local ultra scene, I was looking forward to signing up for a lot of local races. I signed up for the Ozark Foothills 100, 20 minutes from my house. I ran the trails around that race course all the time and couldn't wait to give it a go. The race was scheduled for April 2020.

Anyone remember what happened in the Spring of 2020?

COVID sucks

The Race Director kept trying to find ways to host the race, hoping a solution could be found and permits could be secured. It sucks. It was a tough break. So many elements of "normal" life were upended, with folks struggling mightily to keep carrying on.

Everywhere around the world was going into lock down. Schools were shuttered. Races were getting cancelled left and right. Parks were getting shut down. People were wearing latex gloves to the grocery store and washing produce in bleach (and ... drinking bleach? ... sigh), and then they disrobed in the garage for fear of contaminating their house. Folks were dying and getting seriously sick. We were all clueless and had no idea what the hell was going on. Seriously. Do you remember Spring of 2020? It was absolutely insane.

I wasn't comfortable with the Race Director trying to put on the race. After the Virginia Happy Trails Running Club (VHTRC) Board announced the cancellation of all their events, and their reasoning behind doing so, I spoke with a number of East Coast runners with clout in the sport, whose opinions I valued. They suggested I contact the Race Director and voice my concerns.

The Deferral

On May 1st, 2020, the Race Director sent out an email, explaining the situation. They had COVID protocols in place. They were still trying to host the race and were working with the County Parks Department on possible dates outside of the current lock-down orders, to include Memorial Day weekend. I'm not going to post the entire email or the protocols ... if this were a senior thesis, it might go in an appendix somewhere.

Within the email was information about deferring until 2021:

Snippet of May 1st, 2020 race update email

I didn't think it was wise to host the race. I felt that I'd be able to run the whole thing without any aid or race support (it was 4x25mi loops), not interacting within 6 feet of anyone. But I also felt that'd send the wrong message. So I chose to defer my entry. While doing so, I took the opportunity to privately share my concerns with the Race Director about the COVID protocols and what I believed to be bad optics for the running community if the race were to still take place.

Below is my email, from May 5th, 2020, in full:

I think I start out really well! Sympathetic, referencing the decision-making process of another running group. Great job, Chris!

I then listed my concerns. Again, I think I start off on the right foot. Towards the end, perhaps I get a bit ... snarky and punchy. But I wanted to drive home the absurdity of it all.

I then tried spitballing some alternative ideas. Remember the Quarantine Backyard Ultra? That was a HUGE hit. Let's think outside the box and come up with a solution that satisfies the runners AND keeps the community safe.

I then closed with a post-script photo of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Was that a bit much? Yeah. But, in my defense, I didn't even come up with the idea, and I ran it by 2 other runner friends who were basically like "well, you're not wrong".

The Deferral Response

I immediately received the following response from the Race Director.

Race Director response to deferral request and voicing of concerns

 And then I deferred my entry, as instructed.

Things Get Weird

That October, I went to roll my registration over to 2021. Surely by then we'd have some of this COVID crap sorted out. We were learning more about transmission. The vaccine was just around the corner. Some events were testing the waters with rolling starts and what not. So let's do this!

Except, Ultrasignup wouldn't let me sign up for the race and recommended I reach out to the race organizer. Maybe something was wrong with the deferral/rollover process and I somehow missed a step in the process buried in the race cancellation notice or something. So I reached out...

And here was the email response, in full:

Did you catch that?

Here it is again: "as a result of [the deferral request and COVID concerns] email I received from your end your race registration was placed on hold without deferment for 2021."

In the May 1st, 2020 email she says we can defer our race entry to 2021. Now, I didn't use the exact language she requested: "that you would like to defer your 2020 race entry to 2021". But I did say: "I would like to be removed from the 100M starter's list for 2020." And her response gave no indication that I would somehow be prevented from using my deferral, my money that I'd already paid for the race, for 2021.

I had had no correspondence from or with the Race Director between the deferral request and this moment. So she had made the decision to prevent me from using my deferral for 2021 without ever telling me about it or reaching out. That seemed ... very unusual.

So I went back to Ultrasignup and tried to register for another one of her races. And wouldn't you know, I couldn't do that either. And then I tried another. Same thing. Did she ever, once, notify me that I was not allowed to sign up for any of her other races, or provide reasoning for that action? No, no she did not.

At this point, I could read between the lines. This Race Director was clearly pissed off at me because I privately ... PRIVATELY ... shared my concerns about hosting the race during a pandemic that was scaring the holy hell out of the entire world. I criticized her race management decisions. I should be punished. She was so pissed off that she kept my race entry fee and blocked me from signing up for her races. Again ... without ever telling me that she was doing this, or why she was doing this.

And yes, she was "happy to reinstate [my] deferment credit for 2021 race registration", but I saw what was happening here. And it was reinforcing a number of things I'd heard about this Race Director from other runners in the community -- a reputation that did not seem to embody the inclusive, supportive, and uplifting qualities I valued.

So I did not respond. I dropped it. I forfeited my race entry fee and went on my way. I'd come to St. Louis in 2019 excited to run her races all year long, year after year. And a year later, I chose to cut my losses and go elsewhere. And I never brought it up publicly, except for some eye-rolling amongst friends if the Race Director or her races came up in conversation.

One final point that I must drive home. Never. Ever. Ever. Did this Race Director ever tell me that I was "banned" from her races. What you see above is all of the correspondence between me and the Race Director. Nowhere in there is the word "banned". Nowhere in there is any mention of me not being welcome at her races in the future. Nowhere in there is any valid justification for banning me. Nowhere.

Queeny Registration

So let's jump ahead to the summer of 2023, where I give up my spot at Big's and realize I'm going to have to re-qualify for 2024. Queeny Backyard Ultra is put on by Terrain Trail Runners and the previously-discussed Race Director. It had been around for a couple of years. It's mere minutes from my house. I never bothered to try and sign up before because:

  1. I'd already qualified for Big's in the past and if my goal is to go to Big's, then why would I torture myself with unnecessary Backyards?!
  2. I only wanted to do Backyards that had deep talent pools (no offense to anyone that signed up for the race in the past, but the point of a Backyard, for me, is to find my limits, and I was unlikely to do so in any race that historically ends before 48 or 60 hours ... yeah, that sounds a bit smug and cocky, but it is what it is) ... and
  3. I didn't want to support the Race Director

But ... it's a Silver Ticket race for 2024, so the winner auto-qualifies for Big's! Huzzah! And guess what, the Race Directory pays for the winner's entry into Big's! Double Huzzah!

An auto-qualifier Backyard that I don't have to spend 2 days traveling to and from, 10 minutes from my house, with the opportunity to "earn back" my lost 2020 race entry fee if I win?! Alright, sure. I'll suck it up and register.

Except. Well, that's right. I can't.

I tried registering, thinking, hoping the Race Director had somehow only blocked me for 2020 and 2021 ... cuz of COVID or whatever. But deep down I expected this would happen.

The Pseudonym

So to run the race I'd have to reach out to the Race Director and get un-blocked from registration. Even though I had seen through her ridiculousness, I could play dumb and do the whole "hey, this registration isn't working" thing again. Because ... again ... she never, ever, ever banned me from her races. At least, she never told me she banned me from her races. Or I could be an adult and be somewhat confrontational and be like "did you ban me from your races, what gives?! let's fix this please!" 

Very briefly, the thought occurred to me to go running to Laz and whine that he take care of it for me. But that's like having a parent deal with two annoying kids that are bickering with one another ... he has better things to do and it's not his responsibility.


Chris: "Laaaaz! The Race Director won't let me play with the Silver Ticket! It's not fair!"

Race Director: "Ugh! That's just cuz he called my COVID protocols stupid. He's stupid!"

Laz: "Good god, figure this out yourselves and leave me alone. All I wanna do is come home after a long day and watch Love is Blind without being interrupted. Is that too much to ask?!"


Either way, I'd basically be begging the Race Director for the privilege of being allowed to participate in her events.

Except! Wait a minute! Laz ... laz ... laz ... Lazarus Lake ... Gary Cantrell! Oh my god! Genius!

I'll come up with my own "Running Name" and use that for registration. I'd recalled a point in the past when, maybe it was Jim Walmsley, or one of the "Coconino Cowboys", used an alias for a race. Granted, it was done purely in jest, I assume, and had nothing to do with trying to get around a, umm, what should we call it exactly, a silent ban?

At any rate. I had my amazing non-confrontational solution in the form of an homage to Laz.

Now, to pick a name.

Christopher. Chris. Topher. Boom, annoying first name (I was sometimes called Topher in high school). And now for a last name. Let's make it something to do with running, or speed, or something. What's that on spotify right now? Taylor .... SWIFT!

And that's how Topher Swift was born. The not-nearly-as-cool ultraruning cousin of Taylor, or something like that.

I perused Ultrasignup's website and Terrain Trail Runners website, and couldn't find anything that explicitly banned the use of an alias/pseudonym. So I set up an ultrasignup account and registered for the race. Avoid awkward confrontation and get the chance to re-qualify for Big's. That's a Win-Win.

The Conundrums

Okay. I was registered. But there were some problems.

Even though I feel a runner in a race should be able to face whoever else enters the race, I did feel a bit bad for folks signing up for Queeny, a Silver Ticket Big's auto-qualifier, not knowing a genuine superhero of the sport would be in their midst (that's obviously sarcasm guys). But seriously. I don't think anyone that signed up had ever gone past 48 hours. And I'd never run under 48 hours.

So I privately reached out to a few of the "top contenders" and let them know that I'd signed up for the race under a pseudonym ... and that I was looking forward to sharing all the miles with them. So at least the folks who had the biggest right to be mad at me would be notified in advance. When none of them did anything other than go "that's awesome!" my mind was at ease.

But my wife started getting in my head as the race drew near. "What are you gonna do if she kicks you out of the race?" I honestly didn't give it any consideration, but now I was trying to play out what the heck I was getting myself into.

I was effectively forcing the Race Director's hand. Assuming she viewed me as banned ... though she never, ever, ever told me I was banned ... she would have to decide if she was willing to take action against me.

If I won the race, the jig would be up and I'd ... unmask. At which point she'd have to decide if it was worth disqualifying the race winner and thereby completely give up the auto-qualifying spot into Big's ... or it'd be no big deal and we'd all go on our merry little ways like adults.

Or at packet pick-up she'd recognize me and kick me out  ... or it'd be no big deal and we'd all go on our merry little ways like adults.

Or at packet pick-up I'd tell them I signed up under a pseudonym and she'd kick me out ... or it'd be no big deal and we'd all go on our merry little ways like adults.

Or mid-race she would figure out that Topher Swift = Chris Roberts and she'd have to decide if it was worth it to kick out a runner mid-race ... or it'd be no big deal and we'd all go on our merry little ways like adults.

On my end of things, I felt like I hadn't done anything wrong. I didn't deserve to be disallowed from registering. I had a right to run the race. I signed up for the race. And yeah, the pseudonym thing was a bit of an issue with respect to deceiving my fellow runners, but I felt that I took some steps to mostly mitigate that concern.

You can say I was being deceptive, or childish, or non-confrontational. That's fine. That's valid. But on the Race Director's end, she'd have to decide if I really was banned and if she was willing to enact that ban and prevent me from running the race and having the chance to re-qualify for Big's ...

... which would allow me the opportunity to publicly explain precisely why I was banned ...

... the core reason being that the Race Director likes to hold grudges against people who privately question any decision she makes.

I was entering into a game of chicken.

Race Day

And then it was race day!

Yard One

I ran the first yard/loop with Dave Kwiatkowski (solid East Coast runner that I'd shared many hours with at Hellgate in December) and we started to catch up. I missed chatting with Cody Eubanks (fellow 2022 Backyard Team USA alum) but figured I had all the time in the world to catch up. And I was looking forward to talking to a handful of other runners I'd been hoping to meet and hang out with.

Well, That Was Quick

Only, as I came into the start/finish after the first yard, I read off my bib number and then immediately was confronted by the Race Director. Right there. At the corral. In front of everyone.

This is roughly how the conversation went. Not exactly because my memory is a bit foggy and I was feeling ambushed, but you'll get the idea:

Race Director: "Chris, I need you to leave."

Me: "What? Why?!"

RD: "You know why. Topher Swift? Come on! You signed up with a fake name!"

Me: "Okay, and that's why you're kicking me out?"

RD: "That's against the rules. You used the fake name because you're banned from my races. You know you're banned. You're not welcome here. I need you to vacate the premises now."

aside: this is the first time that the Race Director has ever, in any conversation, used the term "banned" towards me

Me: "Are you serious? You're kicking me out because I signed up with a different name?!"

RD: "I'm kicking you out because you're banned from all of my races. Remember? That COVID email!"

Me: "Can we talk about this?"

RD: "No. I'm done talking to you. You need to get out of here." <she starts walking away>

Me: "You're not going to talk to me?"

RD: "Please leave."

Me: "So I'm not allowed to run because I privately voiced concerns about your COVID protocols four years ago?!"

RD: "I'm not having this conversation. You know what you did. I have all the emails. I'm reporting you to Laz. I'm telling him everything."

Me: "Alright then. I'll be contacting Laz, too."

another aside: below is the closest thing that Terrain Trail Runners has in their policies as it pertains to this situation...

You could argue that I, the physical personage legally known as Chris Roberts, did not have the permission of the race directors. Though, I did officially register as Topher Swift and was given my bib (again, I know of no policy that explicitly requires the use of legal names) and I did not use another runner's bib. I do technically violate the "but is not limited to" catch-all either way (as does every runner for that matter).

Oh, and it's also worth mentioning that actual race bandits get a 1 year ban according to the Terrain Trail Runners policy, yet I somehow had been "banned" for going on 4 years now just for, well, you know why.

Just gonna leave this right here for some random reason

At this stage of the game I do believe that the Race Director reserves the right to ban anyone she wants from her races so long as it complies with State and Federal anti-discrimination laws (though, I do also believe if I had reached out before the race and she'd not allowed me that Laz would have stepped in and corrected that, given that it is a Silver Ticket race and all). So I fully accept this ban, this new ban, that was just now placed upon me. The previous ban, the silent ban, the blocking of registration of all races that I was never given the courtesy of being notified about ... I do not accept that ban.

So here I am. Laying it all out there.

Am I perfect. Of course not! This could have all been avoided if 1) I'd never signed up for the race, 2) I'd attempted to amicably resolve the situation ahead of time, or 3) the Race Director chose to rise above her petty grievances and just let me run. That 3rd one certainly did not take place. Just as I chose to go down this path, the Race Director chose to stick to her guns.

And because of her decision, I feel compelled to explicitly detail everything that transpired.

Some folks are gonna walk away from this and say "good god, Chris, you should have just reached out to her before the race." Which, yes, fair point. Very fair point. Excellent point! But this evidence hopefully makes clear just how awful of a road that might have been to go down. This Race Director banned me without logical cause, failed to inform me of the ban, and then, effectively, kicked me out of her race because of the ban. I could've grovelled ahead of time. But I didn't. I guess I chose some kind of weird pride over the chance to get my auto-qualifier.

Even so, it is my hope that a majority of the 4 people who actually read (let's be honest ... skim) this whole stupid blog post are going to walk away thinking "that Race Director does not embody the values of the trail, ultra, or Backyard communities".

Rest of the Day

Despite being told to vacate the premises immediately, I was in no hurry to spend an hour packing up my gear that I'd just set up a mere hour before (cuz the Race Director, I have inferred, did not secure a permit for the prior day to make it easier on the runners to set up the tents they'd be living in for multiple days straight).

So I spent 15 minutes haphazardly writing an email to Laz letting him know about the situation. I didn't want the Race Director to "control the narrative" and shit-talk me. I didn't ask for anything to be done. I didn't whine like a baby. I just wanted to make sure he knew about the situation (in a much more succinct manner than is presented here!).

And then I hung out with Dave Kwiatkowski's parents for a bit, did my best to dish out any worthless Backyard wisdom I had, and give away any perishable food I had.

I chatted with a number of folks. Including one dude who was crewing and this was his first time even being at a Backyard or hearing about it (he was just there to help out his runner buddy that he'd recently reconnected with). I explained the whole Big's qualifying concept and other things, and he wanted to know about my running history. When we discussed why I wasn't "still out there, man", this dude got genuinely worked up. He straight-up said that the Race Director soured his whole view of Backyards, a newbie to this whole world ... how she's supposed to be an ambassador for the race format, for this awesome thing that's supposed to bring out the best in people, and instead she was on a power-trip, excluding people just because she doesn't like them. It was a strikingly clear and focused argument he made to me, and I walked away feeling pretty confident that I wasn't in the wrong ... this time around.

Then I went on a little jaunt of the race course because it's a public park and I have that right. And I made sure to cheer on all of the other runners along the way. Because they're all awesome, and they're all out there doing awesome things, and they deserve to be supported by people who care.


I observed a couple of race format irregularities -- rule violations relating to the corral -- as well as some race management decisions that were ... sus (kids these days with their ridiculous lingo). There's video evidence out there of some of it, and a Backyard Race Director that was there also noticed these things, among other folks. I'm not going to detail that crap here at the risk of looking petty. But such concerns will be passed along to those entrusted with protecting the integrity of the Backyard format or whatever. I'll happily comment if others bring it up in a public forum and want my confirmation.

Why In The Hell Did I Write This?

(from 10pm to 3am)

I needed to clear my head, and that meant putting it all out there.

But mostly, I want to make sure that anyone out there that cares about Backyards and what went down at Queeny has as much information as possible so that they can make their own informed decisions. I'm not looking for retaliation against the Race Director. I am now 100% done with her. And I'm not looking for folks to go out and ban her races or whatever. But if someone out there reads through this and starts to think twice about what races they sign up for and what race directors and race companies they want to financially support with their race entry fees or give up their time to as a volunteer, well then it might have been worth it.

I've already been productive with this new-found free-time, spending hours writing a stupid blog article. I guess it's cool that I won't have to miss my daughter's first ever violin concert. Maybe I should go file my taxes, too.

...onwards... to Ohio Backyard Ultra??? (nope, it conflicts with spring break plans, but that Race Director is salt of the earth).

So then Capital Backyard Ultra??? (not sure I can swing 6 days away from the family for a silly race, no matter how much I admire and respect that Race Director and the super-human cadre of runners that'll be showing up there in May)

Or Bob's Big Timber??? (nope, conflicts with the family summer vacation)


Finally...behold, all my unused crap: