Little heat, no worries: Pam Reed running steady and calm past mile 42

By Amit Mehrotra

On mile 42, Pam Reed, the defending overall champion of last year’s Badwater Ultramarathon, asked her crewmate and friend Susy Becal, “Do you think it’s hot outside?” The temperate was about 130 degrees. Reed had passed two of the top three men. She had never stopped, not once, except for restroom breaks. She hardly walked.

“I thought it was cooler (than last year),” said Reed as she ran down about mile 33. “I thought it was slower. I felt slower.”

Reed actually ran faster through the first time station. At the Furnace Creek time station on mile 17, Reed’s time was two hours, 37 minutes, two minutes faster than last year.

Through the mile-42 time station at Stovepipe Wells, she was ten minutes slower than last year, arriving in four hours and six minutes.

But as the first overnight of the races nears its end, runners and crew have generally stated that it has been hotter than last year, if only few degrees. The mercury last year is estimated to have reached 126 degrees. This year it reached about 130 degrees.

“She also had about an hour and fifteen or twenty minutes of shade last year when she started and none this year,” said crew chief Chuck Giles, who regularly biked alongside Reed.

Last year Reed became the first woman to win the race and set a new course record in 27 hours and 56 minutes. Her performance was regarded as one of the greatest Badwater performances ever.

The temperature was about 30 degrees hotter than last year’s 6 a.m. start. When she began at 10 a.m. Tuesday morning, the mercury reached about 110 degrees.

For the first 17 miles, the crew that kept her going through a series of water bottle and spray handoffs every quarter-mile. Rules don’t allow pacers to run alongside runners until past the Furnace Creek time station.

Last year handoffs weren’t needed, because it was much cooler at the 6.a.m start. This year, it was the toughest segment for the crew.

Giles, who is also a veteran Badwater official, nearly burned his hand on his bike. Becal spent much time running and biking alongside her, spraying Reed from a water-filled weed killer bottle.

Lee, Reed’s friend, handed-off water bottles and biked alongside her. Benny, Reed’s long-time mentor, rode with Lee in the second van.

Reed is 5-foot, 4-inches tall, about 100-pounds. She runs about 10 ultramarathons per year. Her tolerance for pain is extraordinary. Her comments to her crew and others are to the point. She says exactly what she feels.

Her race mentality is consistent. She has very few idiosyncrasies and pet peeves. Her friends say she has an aura of ambivalence about her running, much to the bewilderment of Reed herself.

As Becal, one of her best friends, ran and rode alongside Reed, telling her stories, keeping her mood positive, Reed would comment and smile.

The crew, jumping in and out of two white, cargo vans, was trying to avoid heat stroke. Reed was asking if it was hot outside.

“I think (it’s) pretty remarkable,” said Giles. “I don’t know how she does it, but that’s Pam.”