Florida resident Bob Becker made running history with his 2015 completion of the Badwater Double. Less than 40 people have accomplished this feat but Becker ensured his was an extra-special finish by coinciding it with his 70th birthday; enabling him to best the existing age record for completing the Badwater Double…by nearly twenty years.
The idea began shortly after finishing the 2014 Badwater 135. He thought to himself “what could I do that would be a personal celebration of my 70th, but also be ‘out there’ a bit.”
The Badwater Double is definitely ‘out there.’ Runners not only cross some of America’s harshest landscape, but they do so for little more than personal recognition.
The 292-mile journey begins and ends at Badwater Basin, California, the lowest point in North America. From there the runner traverses 146 miles through Death Valley and up Mt. Whitney, then turns around and retraces the route back to Badwater Basin.
It would be a bit of a misnomer to call it a race, though, since there are no officials, central organization, or swag. Instead, each participant agrees to follow an unofficial set of guidelines. Those interested in completing the trek publicly post their intention including start date and time, then use some sort of GPS to record and verify their progress. There’s very little fanfare upon completion; just the satisfaction of having completed a physical feat very few others have attempted.
For most people, the idea of truly making history is just a wild dream. And if television is any indication, people thrust themselves into the limelight to extend any 15 minutes of fame. Bob is not one of those people. When you talk to Bob you very quickly learn that this was no publicity stunt. “It was,” he says simply “for personal satisfaction. I did not expect [an] outpouring from so many people.”
Testing physical and mental boundaries through extensive miles is just a way of life for him, and runners like him – ultra runners. What draws people like Becker to such long distances may surprise you.
Becker told me: The entire notion of camaraderie at these races, and actually supporting each other out there when someone is in trouble, is the first thing I observed at my first ultra. More than any other factor, that is what created the “love at first sight” [that] has kept me coming back and [drove me to become] immersed full time in the sport as a race director.
Indeed, Race Director of the Brazil 135, Mario Lacerda, echoes the sentiment noting that camaraderie is necessary for most ultra-runners. He explained that most people in ultra-running aren’t runners; they’re people looking for something different in their life, an experience to be had for the duration of all those miles. “We really understand that we need help. We understand that we need a support team because we are all facing something bigger and harder than we can do by ourselves.”
Because of ultra’s anchor of teamwork it comes as no surprise that Becker had a team helping him behind the scenes to complete his spectacular Badwater Double. Such support teams, called a crew, are common within the ultra-running circuit; they’re like the NASCAR Pit Team, except for a runner instead of a racecar. Crews provide a variety of functions including first-aid, logistics, and moral support.
Using crew is largely an individual choice; few races actually require them. Some runners, like Byron Roca also from south Florida, only use them in specific circumstances. He says he’ll use crew as a safety net if he plans to try a crazy pacing strategy. Other runners don’t use a support crew at all – runners Dusty Hardman and James Schroeder have both finished uncrewed hundred-mile runs.
Bob likes to have a crew accompany him on his long races, he says, to support and maintain the race plan that he has for that event. “When changes to that plan have to be made along the way, they help determine and support the best alternative to help get you to the finish line.”
Two teams accompanied Bob; one for each leg of the trip. Roger Burruss was part of both teams who handled logistics, pacing, and making sure Bob had the fuel he needed throughout.
Roger agrees with Mario’s assessment on the nature of ultra-running and noted that the crew’s experience mirrors that of the runner. “We experience ups and downs,” he says, “and tend to share our thoughts not only on the race but life; and that brings a closeness to one another.”
Bob’s noticed something the longer he races: There is, for me, an increasing dependence and closeness to each crew, no matter the role they are playing on the team. It is true that it is on the runner to get the job done, to tough it out and finish. But it is that crew support that makes it possible to retain the focus in “down” moments when all you want is for it to be over.