The race went exactly according to plan. That’s hardly ever the case in ultramarathons, where the days are filled with highs and lows. But for Bob Becker, his plan set him up to stand on a podium for the first time in his 74 years.
It’s not uncommon for someone of this age to do so at , a Gary “Lazarus Lake” Cantrell creation alongside the likes of the , , and . The race consists of a 1-mile loop in Manchester, Tennessee, and runners only have a certain amount of time to run it—and how long depends on their age.
For example, Becker, of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is 74. Therefore, by race rules, he will get 74 hours to run as many loops as he can, whereas someone who is 67 will have to start seven hours after Becker. This gives the old timers a chance to win outside of their age group for a change.
“I’m usually the oldest guy running a race,” Becker told Runner’s World. “The oldest person gets bib number one and then it goes down the line by age. I was number 26. I couldn’t believe there were 25 people older than me.”
The age handicap ends after the 41-year-olds take off; that’s when anyone younger has the final 40 hours of the race to try to catch up.
Becker was drawn to the race not only for its unique premise, but also for a chance to reach a podium for the first time in his life. He had started ultrarunning when he was 60, and despite the pride he felt completing three times—including one year completing the Badwater Double, which entails running the race, climbing Mount Whitney, and then doing that route in reverse for a total of 292 miles—and other ultra and stage races, he never finished anywhere close to the top three.
Now, he didn’t only think he could place: He believed he could win, and also break the record of 228 laps.
“At my age, this was the only chance in my life to make it on a podium,” he said. “Maybe I could win it. Maybe even break the record. I thought I could be close.”
With 74 hours to work with, Becker understood he’d be out there a long time, but he wanted to be consistent. Too often he burned out late in races after going out too fast. So he trained on a 1-mile loop he set up near his house doing a .
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But this wasn’t just the traditional “stop when you’re tired, run when you’re ready” routine.
“I decide to run for 1 minute and then walk for a minute the entire way,” he said. “That was the most crucial decision I made because I usually run 50 percent of a race and walk 50 percent. This way, I could run and then recover quickly.”
Becker brought this strategy to the race: On the morning of August 30, he set out at his roughly 4 mph average pace and strove for consistency over his first 24 hours. By the next morning, he had reached 85 miles and was slightly ahead of pace.
But, not wanting to bear the entirety of the Tennessee heat, he chose to run for three more hours to get to 95 miles before taking a 90-minute at his hotel down the street.
After that and a shower, he returned to his 1-minute intervals. Everything was going according to plan. His legs felt fresh with the work and rest. His strategy of half a bottle of every hour or two and an every hour kept him around 200 calories an hour, which he supplemented with Coke, Gatorade, and chips for and .
The only worry came when Becker had 24 hours to go. The young bloods had been out for 16 hours, and he kept seeing them go around and around by him, making up the miles fairly quickly. A little nervous, he relied on some advice from the race’s official timer.
“He said, ‘They will either run out of time, or they’ll burn out,’” Becker recalled. “So just keep running and you’ll be fine.”
These words eased Becker’s nerves a bit, so he kept at his strategy, not stopping for more than a 10- to 20-minute cat nap—he took only four after that 90-minute nap 95 miles in.
When younger racers started to slow down, Becker finally knew he had it, but he still had the record on his mind.
Just on schedule, he completed lap 229 with 30 minutes to spare before his 74-hour mark. Exhausted, Becker wanted to call it a day after just over three days of running. But the crowd wouldn’t let him.
“Everyone said, ‘Make it a round number, go for 230,’ and ‘One more,’” he recalled. “I reluctantly said, ‘What the hell,’ and in retrospect, it was kind of fun, but also total exhaustion.”
With 230 laps in the books, Becker was done. His 230 miles over gave him the comfortable victory by 18 miles.
Since it is a Laz race, awards are typically nonexistent. But, this year, Becker received a small trophy for his efforts. He’s not sure what he’s going to do with it, but he think it’ll fit in nicely with the other bibs and medals he keeps in a drawer.
A few days after the race, Becker—who was recovering well, although he was a little sore— and his wife drove back to their Florida home, making a detour in Birmingham. Of all the things he planned, he thought this was the only bad part.
“Maybe not the best idea to be sitting in the car like this for so long after a race,” he said. “As expected, I’m sore, but we’re getting there.”
Gear & News Editor Drew covers a variety of subjects for Runner’s World and Bicycling, and he specializes in writing and editing human interest pieces while also covering health, wellness, gear, and fitness for the brand.