Maggie Guterl is returning to the race with no end, but her goals are far more lofty than defending her title, or even just setting the record. She wants to last for 100 hours.

Big Dog’s Backyard Ultra is one of the most intimidating concepts in running. Participants have one hour to complete a 6.7km loop. If they finish in 30 minutes, they have a 30-minute rest. If they take 55 minutes, they have a five-minute rest. So long as they are on the start line, ready to go again at 60 minutes, the pace is up to them. The runners then keep going until there is just one runner left. The winner is only allowed to complete one more lap than the second-placed runner and it’s all over.

The longest anyone has lasted is 68 hours – Johan Steene in 2018 – which amounts to 455km. He beat Courtney Dauwalter who, at 67 hours, has gone the longest of any women. Guterl lasted 60 hours last year, becoming the first woman to win Big Dog’s (although other women have won races of the same format, Big Dog’s is considered the most competitive).

“I’m going into it like I did last year and the goal is to go beyond 400 miles (643km, 100 hours). Guillaume [Calmettes, 2017 champion, 59 hours] started the 400 miles chat, I’m not sure if he was joking or not, but I think we can one day do that. I’m not sure if this will be the year, but I think it’s a really high goal,” Guterl, 39, said.

“I want to get to that 400 miles, or 100 hours. I have the desire to see what that’s like and if we can get there. That is primary goal. And then secondary, is to see if anyone is still with me and keep going.”

To break 100 hours, Guterl needs someone else to go for 99 hours. In this year’s race, she will have Dauwalter to contend with. Last year, she benefited from having Will Hayward at her heels, a runner who few would have heard of outside his home in Hong Kong and who surprised everyone by sticking in there until the end.

Big Dog’s Backyard Ultra to be held in 19 countries simultaneously

Guterl said Hayward selflessly pushed himself just so she could keep running as everyone else had dropped out.

“Will’s motivation last year was that he wanted me to go far and give me motivation. He just wanted to give a good performance, even though he thought he couldn’t win. Everyone says that once you don’t think you can win, your race is over. But Will proved that wrong. He dragged himself through hell just to keep the race going,” she said.

“I was lucky to have Will. It takes two people to go really far,” said Guterl, who is sponsored by energy nutrition company Tailwind.

The 2019 victory was Guterl’s second time in the event. In her debut, she had a lot of physical issues such as tight hips. She pre-empted them by using the breaks more proactively. The first year she sat and rested, the second year she stretched.

Hayward last man standing on Bowen Road after 25 hours of non-stop ultra

But it was the experience on the second night in 2018 that really prepared her for the eventual win.

“I just really understood what it meant to be up over two nights, and sleep deprivation, better,” she said. “I’d been up over one night many times. I’ve done races that took me 30 hours. But that second night in year one caught me by surprise, I couldn’t troubleshoot. I was having mechanical issues but I couldn’t problem solve.”

In 2019, she made sure she napped in between loops.

“I’d lie down for seven and get ready for five minutes. By the second night, it was a good solid five minutes each time. Who cares what quality it is, just tell yourself your sleeping. Maybe it added up to an hour that night,” she said.

“I learned things in my training and I hope I’m more ready to be more sleep deprived for a third night. I’ve never done that before.”

Being the first woman to claim the title was important to Guterl. The race is organised by Lazarus Lake, famous for his fiendishly difficult race designs such as the Barkley Marathon.

“I do think that on any of Laz’s races you feel like you are doing it for a whole gender. He’s not sexist, but he does make these comments, particularly on Barkley, that it’s too hard for women. It’s just to wind you up, some people don’t see it that way, but it’s just the way he is,” Guterl said.

To add more pressure, this year national pride is at stake. With Covid-19 preventing travel, the Big Dog’s Backyard Ultra will be held simultaneously in countries all over the world. Each individual race will end when there is just one runner left locally.

But the world champion will be declared by the last person standing globally. Even the second last runner will feel pressure to continue, knowing that by dropping out their country drops out too.

“Last year, it was for the whole gender,” Guterl added. “This year it’s for your country.”