An ultramarathon is any sporting event involving running longer than the traditional marathon length of 26.2 miles. Ultrarunner Pam Reed, 49, has achieved amazing records. In 2002 she was the first woman to become the overall winner of the 135-mile Badwater Ultramarathon. She subsequently repeated as overall winner of the race in 2003.
Also in 2003 Reed hit the streets of the Boston Marathon four hours before the official start, running the course in reverse in 3:36. Then she drank some water, and ran with the masses, finishing in 3:30.
In 2005, she became the first person to complete a 300-mile run without sleep, finishing in slightly less than eighty hours.
The Badwater Ultramarathon describes itself as “the world’s toughest foot race.” It is a 135-mile course starting at 282 feet below sea level in the Badwater Basin, in California’s Death Valley, and ending at an elevation of 8360 feet at Whitney Portal, the trail head to Mount Whitney. It takes place annually in mid-July, when the weather conditions are most extreme and temperatures over 130, even in the shade, are not uncommon. Consequently, very few people—even among ultramarathoners—are capable of finishing this grueling race.
Listen to this excerpt from a 2003 article in Running Times magazine:
“In reality,’It was the hottest I’ve ever seen it out there,’ said Giles, who spent five hours bicycling next to Reed. ‘It was so hot that I couldn’t hang on to my handlebars. Even with gloves on I was burning my fingertips. It was murderous! The recorded high was 133 degrees. That’s just the ‘recorded’ high, not the real temperature out on the street.’
“Surface temperatures on the black asphalt probably topped 200 degrees. Most Badwater participants experience painful blisters that cover their entire feet. Reed was no exception. Last year she developed blisters around mile 70 and stopped momentarily to drain them. This year, at mile 40, she felt heat and sharp pain from blisters on her forefoot, but she just kept running. Soon, the sharp pain subsided and a cool feeling covered her feet, signaling that the blisters had popped under the pressure of her footfalls. Still, she kept running.”
For laughs, check out David Letterman’s interview of Pam after she won her second Badwater and told Dave that she loves heat and her prize was a belt buckle…skip to 2:25 to get right to the interview.
Reed’s small frame and lithe figure belie her strength. At 5 feet 3 inches and 100 pounds, she doesn’t appear to be your typical high mileage runner, but nothing about Reed’s training, racing or life is typical.
“My personal goal,” says Reed, is to motivate people of all speeds and ages to do something for themselves and set a fitness goal that will encourage a healthier lifestyle.”
When she’s not winning the world’s toughest races, Reed is the race director of the Tucson Marathon and more-than-full-time mother—two things she is quite proud of. Keeping up with three boys hardly gives her time to put in long training runs. Instead, she sneaks in 45-minute to one-hour workouts a few times a day in between dropping the kids off at school or shuttling them to soccer practice. The thought of speed work on the track turns her stomach, as do really long training runs. Reed refuses to keep a training log, tally her weekly miles, or follow the advice of coaches. “I just love to run. Period. I don’t do things that could interfere with my love of running,” she said. “It’s such a huge part of who I am.”
When it comes to racing, though, she’s no slouch. Reed has completed more marathons, 50-milers and 100s than she can count. She regularly participates in the Western States 100, Leadville 100, Wasatch 100 and other prestigious events that most runners hope to finish just once.
In 2008 she wrote the following on the website of the Tucson Marathon:
“…I was honored by Competitor Magazine as “Runner of the Year” and have had many opportunities to share my story with many runners in the U.S. and overseas. The reason I’m telling my story is to show that you don’t have to give into your age, you can continue to improve the same as races such as our marathon has the last 12 years.
My success hasn’t come easy. I’ve raised a family, having three boys and a dog, which has included supporting the boys in their sports, school activities, working and trying to fit in my training to accomplish these goals. If you’re interested in how I’ve been able to bring all this together, you can read my book, The Extra Mile.”