Pam Reed: Age Is No Obstacle

Suc­cess­ful and pro­lif­ic, Pam Reed became the first woman to win the Bad­wa­ter Ultra­ma­rathon over­all in 2002, a feat she repeat­ed in 2003. A dom­i­nant ath­lete for much of her career, Reed is now 52 years old. She has com­plet­ed 73 runs of 100 miles or more and while still com­pet­i­tive, Reed said her goals and aspi­ra­tions have changed over time.

Here, she dis­cuss­es get­ting old­er and win­ning some of the tough­est ultra marathons on Earth. She was inter­viewed between fin­ish­ing 13th over­all in the 130-mile Bad­wa­ter Ultra­ma­rathon Race and an attempt at the Leadville 100.

The Clymb: What’s been on your mind since Bad­wa­ter?
Pam Reed: I’m get­ting old­er and try­ing to deal with not win­ning. I notice a lot of the peo­ple I ran with a long time ago are not in it any­more. I’m guess­ing it’s because they can’t win. I want to con­tin­ue doing this but I’m strug­gling men­tal­ly with not winning.

The Clymb: Do you have a recent exam­ple?
Pam Reed: I was doing a 50 mil­er and I was strug­gling from the get-go. They gave the option to change to the 50K halfway into the race and the 50-mil­er start­ed 2 hours before the 50K. I decid­ed to stop at 50K. Peo­ple were pos­i­tive about it, but it didn’t help. I was so embar­rassed for myself. It’s a dif­fi­cult thing. I would like to write a book on it. So many peo­ple have stopped.

The Clymb: You fin­ished 13th at Bad­wa­ter this year and were the sec­ond woman across the line. How did you feel about the race?
Pam Reed: I did real­ly, real­ly well. I had a smart race. The woman who beat me (Cather­ine Todd) had a real­ly good race and ran smart. You nev­er pay atten­tion to the peo­ple behind you, you only pay atten­tion to the peo­ple ahead of you. Ulti­mate­ly, the woman who won passed me at mile 110. When some­one comes up you want to be able to react, go faster. I couldn’t do anything.

The Clymb: So you are hap­py with your per­for­mance?
Pam Reed: I felt real­ly good about it. I’m bummed I didn’t win because it would be real­ly cool to be 52 and win a race like that.

The Clymb: What is it about Bad­wa­ter that keeps you com­ing back? 
Pam Reed: I’ve done 11 Bad­wa­ters and fin­ished nine. I love heat. Road is eas­i­er for me than trails because you don’t have to think about running.

You also have all these peo­ple with you who are tak­ing care of you 100 per­cent. It’s fun. They get a fun expe­ri­ence. When you win or do real­ly well, it’s way more fun for them. There’s always some­thing for them to do.

On the oth­er hand, it’s ridicu­lous­ly expen­sive. No spon­sors for the last two races. It’s about $5,000 with a $1000 entry. It’s a lot of mon­ey for one event. I’m not even pay­ing for the plane tick­ets. One guy spent $15,000.

The Clymb: As a vet­er­an of ultra runs, what advice do you have for run­ners tack­ling their first ultra?
Pam Reed: You have to go slow­er and you can’t get caught up in the com­pe­ti­tion. Espe­cial­ly if you’re new, 9 times out of 10, those peo­ple blow up. Swal­low your pride. Hold way, way, way back until the end.

The Clymb: So what would be a rea­son­able pace for me if I’m a 3‑hour marathon run­ner?
Pam Reed: For a 3‑hour marathon­er, do 10’s (minute-miles) for 50k. Then see if you can speed up.

The Clymb: Do you have any foods that work well that oth­ers may not know about?
Pam Reed: I start­ed doing dou­ble shots of espres­so from Star­bucks that you can get in the gro­cery store when I’m hav­ing a dif­fi­cult time from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. I’m tired, sleepy tired.

The Clymb: You’re run­ning the Leadville 100 again this year. What’s your goal?
Pam Reed:
My num­ber one goal is to go under 25 and get the big belt buck­le. The biggest one is just to fin­ish. I once went to win and was win­ning until 55 miles at the top of Hope Pass. I got real­ly sick and dropped. (Edi­tor’s Note: This inter­view was con­duct­ed the week pri­or to the Leadville 100. Reed fin­ished in 28:33)

The Clymb: What is the dif­fer­ence between Leadville and Bad­wa­ter?
Pam Reed: Bad­wa­ter is one that I want­ed to win. At Leadville, I don’t have a chance, so that’s not even on my radar. It’s more fun for me because I don’t have to wor­ry about it. I change my lev­el and say I want to win my age group.

The Clymb: What’s it like to run Leadville?
Pam Reed: Leadville is real­ly runnable except for going over Hope Pass. My hus­band calls it the most­ly road 100. The rock­i­est part of Leadville is that going around the lake and right after that first aid sta­tion. Com­pared to oth­er 100’s, the foot­ing is real­ly easy. You get on those roads and can real­ly hammer.

That age thing has real­ly been bug­ging me. In Leadville, there are hard­ly any 50 and over women. I’m amazed that there aren’t many old­er women doing this stuff. It’s real­ly hard. It’s uncom­fort­able, stay­ing up all night. Last year, only 5 women over 50 finished.

The Clymb: Are you con­cerned about injury when run­ning so many miles? (Bad­wa­ter was July 15–17, Leadville August 17–18)
Pam Reed: As you get old­er, falling becomes a lit­tle more scary, because the recov­ery becomes a lit­tle bit longer. That’s the oth­er part that makes me ner­vous about it. That’s part of why I’m going slow­er. I don’t want to fall.

The Clymb: Why do you find Leadville so tough? A lot of run­ners would look at the 130-degree temps at Bad­wa­ter and shiv­er with fear?
Pam Reed: It’s the alti­tude. It makes you get sick. What’s so amaz­ing about ultra-run­ning is how you can recov­er and keep going. Bad­wa­ter is dif­fer­ent because it’s so hot. But oth­er runs, you real­ly can recov­er. In Wasatch, I slept for three hours. When you’re feel­ing real­ly bad and going real­ly slow, it’s so frus­trat­ing. It becomes almost dev­as­tat­ing, but if you have patience, you can total­ly recov­er and fin­ish. You have to have patience and keep your­self going and feel like crap. If you’re there and have trained, you can fin­ish it. Just keep mov­ing for­ward. Don’t stop. Nev­er ever sit down.

The Clymb: What are your favorite foods dur­ing an ultra marathon?
Pam Reed: Ensure, Red Bull, Grape­fruit juice (it’s sup­posed to set­tle your stom­ach), Xzude (which does­n’t have any sug­ar but lots of elec­trolytes), Zico (a coconut drink), toma­to soup, oat­meal, chick­en broth, bread and hon­ey (I learned that some­where in France. I saw some­one do bread and hon­ey and thought, “Oh, that looks good.”)