Pam Reed ran the 135-mile Badwater Marathon through Death Valley again last week, her ninth in nine years, and her only excuse continues to be "after a few weeks, I seem to forget how bad it can be."
It can be expensive to run through hell. The Tucson mother of three spent $750 on the entry fee and another $4,000 to house, feed and supply transportation for her six-person crew.
Where's the fun here? For the first time since she won Badwater in 2002 and 2003, finishing ahead of all men and women competitors, Reed struggled. She got over-heated and sick. Blisters on her feet cried for her to stop. She ran for 32 hours anyway and finished 14th.
"It was the hardest ever for me," she says. "I've had a hamstring injury and a tender ankle for almost a year."
Reed is 49 now, and you'd think that, someday soon, she will slump over, gasp for air and say "that's it, I'm finished; I'm going to take up snowshoeing."
But rather than recover and retreat to her summer home in Jackson, Wyo., Reed agreed to go back to Death Valley on Wednesday, 36 hours after running 135 miles. She would accompany British Olympic rowing gold medalist James Cracknell on his journey through the no man's land.
Cracknell, 38, has a journey-across-America plan in which he will run through Death Valley, cycle Route 66, row across Lake Erie and swim the Hudson River. He describes himself as "an adventurer."
If the Olympic rowing gold medalist is an adventurer, Reed, at 102 pounds, is the Iron Woman.
She agreed to meet Cracknell as his crew at noon in Death Valley. It was more than 120 degrees when Reed got there. She waited and waited and waited. At 3 p.m., Cracknell arrived and said he needed some rest.
"It wasn't getting any cooler," Reed says with a laugh.
Finally, at 5:55, Cracknell emerged from his RV and ran a mile. Then he walked a mile. Then he quit, about 78 miles shy of his planned finish.
"I'm not being critical of James," says Reed. "But he would've never made it through Death Valley."
If Cracknell's journey across America, accompanied by a Discovery Channel film crew, is a bold one, what shall we call Reed's proposed adventure? Next summer, when she turns 50, she plans to run across America.
"I want to run 50 miles a day," she says. "That should take me about two months. The world record for a woman is 46 miles a day. I know I can do it. It's my next goal: 50 miles a day at 50."
If Reed can put together the logistics and generate the sponsorship finances required for her Across-America-At-50-Miles-a-Day Tour, she would complete the Grand Slam of Distance Running. She would be alone at the top in ultradistance running, if she isn't already.
Reed already has the first three legs of a Grand Slam:
• She is the only woman to win the Badwater Marathon. It attracted so much attention that Reed appeared with David Letterman on the Late Show. "It was 133 degrees during portions of the race," Reed told him.
• In 2005, she ran 300 miles without stopping on a frontage road near Picacho Peak, an endurance feat of such magnitude, a world record, that 60 Minutes sent a film crew to Tucson to detail her accomplishments. It took Reed 79 continuous hours from Friday night through Tuesday afternoon.
• She ran 490 miles last summer in Flushing, N.Y., in something called the Six-Day Race. This time she didn't run through the night.
Rather than spend the rest of the summer cooling down in Wyoming, Reed's running calendar overflows with mileage.
She will run the Teton 100, a 100-mile race through the forests of Wyoming. She will also run the Wasatch 100, another 100-mile endurance test through Utah's Wasatch Mountains. She will compete in Ironman Canada, which includes a marathon, a 112-mile cycling race and a 2.4-mile swim.
She will also run marathons in St. George, Utah, and Chicago. By December, she will return to Tucson in her role as director of the Tucson Marathon.
By then her feet may stop hurting, her hamstring injury may have fully healed, and she will have once again forgotten the hellish days of running 135 miles in 120 degree temperatures.
"Running the Badwater and then going back to Death Valley in such a short turnaround might not be the smartest thing I've ever done," says Reed. "But to do what I do, you can't be a wimp."