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.”)