Badwater Salton Sea shifting focus back to 3-person teams for 2019

by Larry Carroll

Appropriately enough for a race that stands out with its two and three person team style, last year’s Badwater Salton Sea 81-Mile Ultramarathon was marked by its camaraderie and sportsmanship. As teams amiably fist-bumped passing competitors, team Too Legit to Quit proved worthy of their moniker while taking first place.

Of course, part of the fun for this particular race is watching the athletes adjust their strategies to embrace a format that demands each member of the team stay within 25 meters of each other, essentially running the entire 81 mile race in single file. The other fun part is watching these eccentric teams coalesce under such names as “Huey, Dewey and Louie,” “That Married Couple,” “Funky Pickles,” or for the follicly-challenged among us, the inspiring “Bald and the Beautiful.”

It’s no surprise, then, that as AdventureCorps counts down to the next run, they are keeping the focus on teamwork.

“We worked well together,” runners Walker Higgins and Dan McHugh of Too Legit to Quit, seen hugging after crossing the finish line first, said after their first place finish last year. “We were very opposite in many ways. When he was strong for the first half, he pulled and cut the wind for a good 30 miles. Then I started feeling strong on the trail. We talked and communicated and respected each other, and it worked.”

Of the 36 teams that started the 2018 race, 35 crossed the finish line. Without a doubt, AdventureCorps is hoping for similar results with the 2019 race, scheduled for April 28th. From Salton City (elevation: 234 feet below sea level) to Palomar Mountain (the tallest mountain in San Diego County, competitors will once again run on a challenging mix of road and trail, with a total elevation gain of more than 9000 feet.

This year’s Badwater Salton Sea has been capped with a limit of approximately 115 runners, consisting of twenty 2-runner teams and twenty-five 3-runner teams. The race will feature runners from 23 American states, as well as countries including Australia, Poland, Russia, Moldova, Japan and the Cayman Islands.

There are many things that make this race stand out from the pack, most notable being the “Team Ultra Racing” format. Long before the first step has been taken, a runner must consider who his teammate(s) will be — and select those with a similar running style and pace. Beyond that, you can determine whether you’d like to run with a same-gender partner or a mixed race (teams of two men and one women, or 1 man and two women, are considered equal). If you choose well, the result could be a once-in-a-lifetime bonding experience alongside someone else who similarly enjoys talking to pass the time or staying quiet to concentrate; if you choose poorly, it could yield 81 miles of staying within 25 meters of someone who is like a pebble in your shoe.

The Badwater Salton Sea website recommends several intriguing methods for selecting a teammate. Among those: “Why not pick teammates with whom you actually compete directly? You’re likely the same speed, so why not work together instead of against each other, for a change? Why not ‘bury the hatchet,’ so to speak?”

Such a Kumbaya moment is undoubtedly inspiring, as is another nugget of guidance the site offers for team selection: “What about fellow runners that you are mentoring, whether ‘formally’ or just in a friendly way? Why not help another runner have an amazing experience in your company, with you playing the role of ‘grizzled old veteran’ or Jedi of ultra-running? There is no Luke Skywalker without Obi-Wan Kenobi, after all.”

It would be easy to get distracted talking about the Badwater Salton Sea as one of the most demanding and extreme races in the world — after all, its centerpiece is an 8-mile, 3500 foot single-track trail ascent — but ultimately, what the folks at AdventureCorps want to focus on is the life-changing opportunity to bond with other runners. Which is why the company is pushing harder for 3x teams to compete.

“With no offense intended towards any 2x teams – past, present, or future – we want more 3x teams to compete because that’s the original spirit of the event and because it’s harder to enter – and finish – as an intact 3x team,” the company explains on its site, alongside an entrance fee which is actually cheaper if you have more runners, and guaranteed slots in the Badwater 135 for 3x teams who win their division. 

For the first two years of the race, only 3x teams were allowed. Now, in hopes for “a transcendent and meaningful [experience that] will resonate far and beyond after the race is over,” the Badwater Salton Sea is embracing its roots and reminding runners that while there is no “I” in team, there are three of them in sociability.

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