Monday, August 30, 2010
Don't make fun of me, but I just spent the last 20 minutes trying to figure out how to put on my new gaiters. The damned things didn't come with instructions! I couldn't figure out if the instep strap went inside the shoe or not. Now, it seems fairly obvious. (No one ever accused me of being smart).
For a nice visual aid, refer to this video:
Have fun out there and happy running!
Sunday, August 29, 2010
I've been asked what a typical meal looks like for me. So on no particularly special occasion, I took a picture of my lunch plate. Here it is: It consists of a nice green salad with red bell peppers, sunflower seeds, olives, and shredded carrots. I dash on lots of Braggs Liquid Aminos. I usually eat one avocado a day. They are delicious. And, I'm a big fan of baked potatoes. To drink, I have water and an Odwalla Superfood. I would say my diet is 60% carbs, 20% protein, and 20% fat. I eat healthy probably 90% of the time and I eat crap 10% of the time. No refined sugars. I sometimes describe myself as a flexitarian. Maybe you've heard the term before. These are people who see the benefits of a vegetarian lifestyle but are also not opposed to eating the occasional piece of meat. So there you have it. It works for me.
Sunday, August 22, 2010
“It's not the heat; it's the humidity.”
I like the heat. Don't get me wrong. To want to do Badwater, I guess you sort of have to like heat. But, lately I've been feeling bogged down during my runs. I'm not going as fast, and it takes less effort to get my heart rate up high. Training in San Antonio, Texas, in the heat of the day takes its toll on you. But, I hate waking up early if I can avoid it. And night time running in my neighborhood just isn't that safe.
Now, I have moved back to Lubbock. I have been pretty sad about this move. First, my dad finally got to come home after spending two whole months in the hospital due to complications arising from diabetes. I was so happy to have him home, but so sad to have to leave that same week back to school. Then, two days before I am set to leave to school, I meet this incredible guy whom I would totally date. We had a wonderful time together. I felt really sad about having to say goodbye to him.
All things considered, I can't complain about my life. I'm not in a great deal of suffering. Good things are happening. But, nothing is good enough. There's always a catch. Nothing is perfect. That is life, I guess.
So back to the heat. I've been here in Lubbock for two whole days, feeling pretty down. And, I've been trying to be more positive. I've been trying to look for a way to make my circumstances better for myself. And today it finally happened. I went for a run in the late afternoon. It was breezy and cool and I was able to run long and fast. I realized it was the humidity that was slowing me down in San Antonio. If Lubbock can be praised for one thing, just one, it's the low humidity levels.
I know, it's not much. But, it's something that helps me see my situation in a different light. I'm gonna run with it. When you are going through tough times, you have to find something good about the situation and just go with it.
P.S.: My dad is doing very well, feisty as ever. And, yes, I am still keeping in touch with the sexy, smart, and fascinating guy I met.
Friday, August 20, 2010
Pam Reed stuck out from the crowd at runner check-in like a fluorescent bulb in a dimly lit room - a flash of energy, fast and fierce. Standing now in a sweaty auditorium in the puny village of Furnace Creek in Death Valley, CA, she mingles with the other runners. She shifts this way and that, her eyes radiating a wide-as-the-horizon blue, skin weathered by years in the sun.
She doesn't mean to be conspicuous, but any attempt to blend in would be futile. Does a bolt of lightning have an easy time hiding itself amongst the dour storm clouds? Here at the 2010 Badwater Ultramarathon, the woman is a legend. Her modesty, italicized by her small frame and coyish stature, is at odds with her reputation. Standing an unassuming five feet, three inches tall, magnificently lean, Reed is a giant among ultrarunners.
She won this race in 2002 and 2003. Badwater is an event where just finishing is accomplishment enough; it's a grueling 135-mile run through Death Valley in the heat of July, when temperatures can soar to well over 120 degrees Fahrenheit. The great Ann Trason swore off the event forever, calling it a "torture-fest." Most run it just to say they finished. Pam runs to win.
"I still don't think of myself as an exceptional runner," she confesses. "It's just really hard for me to fly with that. I don't feel like I'm any different or better than anybody."
She sells herself short. Her career is full of fantastic feats: her 300-mile, non-stop run in 2005 and her record-setting performance at the Self-Transcendence Six-Day Race where she ran 490 miles. The little lady is insatiable. Hers is a voracious appetite for the extreme. "I have this thing inside of me," she says. "I don't like to be normal or average. I want to do things that are above-average." Pam has pushed her body to a point few people have experienced.
Standing now at the 10 a.m. start line, moments before the countdown, she adjusts her headphones. Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance" plays joyously in her ears. She is pumped and ready to go. Any trace of hesitation or fear that might have existed prior to the race seems to melt away. To her left on the start line is Jamie Donaldson, the women's record holder of the race. Pam reminds herself to stay focused. Do your own thing. Race smart. Be patient.
"When I go up against some of these other athletes, I still feel like I don't belong," she admits. "They are way better than me." How can someone like Pam feel intimidated?
Perhaps age has something to do with Pam's trepidation. Donaldson is 14 years younger than her. "I try to be a realist" she says. But even age doesn't mean too much in ultrarunning. "A lot depends on the conditions of the race," Pam says. "When you increase the distance of the event, you level out the playing field." In a race like Badwater, so many things can go wrong, regardless of age. The body becomes a little unpredictable.
Pam is a woman who has come to terms with her aging. Getting older has its advantages. "You have a lot more mileage in your body. So you have a lot of muscle memory," she explains. There's another advantage to being older, and it's psychological in nature. "Patience," she proclaims. Simple and true. "When you're older, your mindset is such that you know how to be more patient. Patience is so important in ultrarunning."
Over the course of the next day and a half, she will need all the patience she can muster. The road ahead is long and difficult. The crowd yells "Go!" Pam takes off. The morning temperature is a mild 110 degrees. The runners eventually line up in a single-file line on the side of the blacktop road. They stick to the white line to keep the soles of their shoes from melting. Pam stays right in there with other top runners. She is one of just a few women doing Badwater this year. Of the 80 competitors, only 13 are female.
"When I started running in 1991, there were only a few women doing these events then," she reminisces. Things have gotten better, but there's still a considerable gender disparity in ultrarunning race participation.
"I think it definitely still is a male-dominated sport." Why? "Maybe it's because, in a family situation, it's easier for men to leave than for women," she ponders. "It's easier for them to go out and train and do this kind of stuff." It's an intriguing theory, and not without merit. Women have traditionally been relegated to the home, left there to cook, clean, and tend to the kids, while men were allowed to leave and do other things. "Maybe, mentally, men can leave and not feel as guilty about it. I remember the minute I had a child, I had guilt all the time about leaving." It's a double standard. The problem is complex, but things are evolving.
"Do you see what is happening with marathons right now," Pam asks. "The Rock 'n' Roll San Diego Half-Marathon had 9,000 women in it and 3,000 men [this past year]. The full marathon had 3,900 men and 3,300 women. That is unheard of. I think what's happening is that women are realizing that they can do it."
Of course women can do it. They've been doing it for a long time. Pam will be first to admit that a big part of long-distance running is pain management. "Women can endure pain," she exclaims. "Here is an example: up until three years ago, I had never had a facial or a pedicure. Well, I decided to get a facial done. Oh, my gosh! It hurts! Then I got a pedicure, and it hurt, too! I thought to myself, Women go through a lot of pain to look good. Some women do that Botox stuff. If they can endure all that, then they can run. (Laughs). Women are so strong."
Pam is married and has three children and two step-children. People have criticized her for putting running above her family. As a professional athlete, she spends a great deal of her day training.
"I’m always out doing something, either running or bike riding or swimming," she explains. "I'm sure a lot of people talk about me now and say, 'How can she leave her family? How can she go and do all these things and be away when she has a family?'" It's true. One need only go to Amazon.com and read some of the customer reviews of her book, The Extra Mile, to get a feel for the fire she has come under. They accuse her of abandoning her kids to go and run, but the truth is, Pam has always had her kids' best interests at heart.
"I try to set a good example for them. I want my kids to always be fit. I want them to be healthy for the rest of their lives. Emphasizing healthy physical activity is important for my family." Living in Jackson Hole, WY, there are plenty of opportunities for family physical activity. "We hike together; we play tennis together. You just hope they will watch you do good things and then come to the point of wanting to do it, too."
Coming up now on Stovepipe Wells at mile 40, Pam isn't feeling too hot. She's been running for hours already. Her feet are killing her. Blisters are forming. Her stomach is in knots. But, the worst part of it is the heat. The sun beats down on her relentlessly. It's 125 degrees. She's never felt this bad before. Each step is an effort. The only thing she can think to do is take a cold dip. "An ice bath," she tells her crew. "Can you get me an ice bath together?" The crew hustles off to get the necessary supplies. Then Pam realizes something: if she stops here for an ice bath, she might not be able to continue on. It might be too much to start back up again. The thought terrifies her. Something snaps inside. She can't possible allow herself to stop now. No way. She has to press on. As they pour the ice into the cooler, her crew watches her run right on by.
Pam has seen her share of rough times. For 15 years, she struggled with anorexia. "I’ve been through every level of anorexia," she explains. "I used to think that everyone went through the things I went through [growing up]. I thought it was completely normal. Eventually, it got to the point where I had to be hospitalized. I just couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t put food in my mouth. I couldn’t even drink water." How did she survive?
"Running actually helped my anorexia. I finally realized that if I wanted to run, I had to eat. If I don’t eat, I can’t run." Pam found her saving grace. "You have to put something in your body; otherwise, it’s just not going to run. I know a lot of people out there would say, 'Come on; you're full of it. You run because you're anorexic.' They think I exercise to get rid of whatever I'm eating. That is not true. Yes, I know that I'm very thin, but it is absolutely not true for me."
Pam feels very strongly about the issue of eating disorders in the world of endurance sports. "I really think we need to be talking more about anorexia and bulimia. You know what else we need to be talking about? Depression. It all needs to be brought to the forefront. There are so many people that suffer from these things, and they are afraid to talk about it because they are embarrassed. Mental illness is not an easy thing for people to be open about. I don't mind talking about it. I think that the more people talk about it, the more it will come out. We all have problems and we need to talk about these problems. It’s kind of like how parents don’t want to talk about when their kids get in trouble. They want to paint this picture for everyone else to see. It’s a façade, and it’s just not real. I want people to know real."
She feels for others who might be going through what she went through. "You need to go and get help," she urges. "Go to a hospital. It is so important that you get help and realize that you don’t have to go through it alone. But, in addition to that, I would also say that you have to find your own answers. All the hospitals and all the doctors won’t help you unless you come to terms with it yourself."
Find the strength to endure. Be patient. She tells herself these things over and over, but the pain is cutting through. It's nighttime now. The stars overhead put on a brilliant celestial light show. She tries to remain positive. She doesn't tell her crew about her feet hurting. Things will look up. They always eventually do. That's what ultrarunning is all about. You go through rough patches, but then you feel better. So why wasn't she feeling better already? I'm not going to quit! I am not going to quit! She repeated the mantra and powered on. But, the pain!
"Pain comes and then it goes," Pam explains. "When it goes, you try to learn how to manage it. Managing it is accepting it. So, accept it, and then move on. You have to accept that it's there, and you have to be grateful that you're able to run in the first place because there are so many people that can't."
She's accepting it, damn it, but the pain isn't doing what it's supposed to do. It isn't subsiding. She has dealt with pain before in other races. She's had it all: foot problems, stomach issues, heat exhaustion. You name it. But, never before have all those things hit her at once. The pain is accumulating. Her body wants to stop. This has never happened. It's the afternoon of day two. The finish line is close. Pam has been running now for over 30 hours. That's 30 hours of pure misery. She already stopped to change her shoes once, at mile 95, and it didn't help. In fact, it might have made things worse. Her feet were screaming. The climb up Mount Whitney is steep. The Portal Road seems to go on forever. She could very easily call it quits right here. It's a tempting idea. Her mind goes back to a few years ago when she was forced to drop out of Badwater.
"I quit one year because at mile nine, I got dehydrated. I have a few theories as to how that happened. First, I had that Hi-Tech shirt on. That thing was wicking away the moisture off my body, and I felt like my body wasn’t cooling itself. When I wear cotton, I’m fine. So, I will never wear Hi-Tech stuff again. That was one thing. Another thing was that my crew that year, for the first 17 miles, didn’t crew me like they normally do. From then on, my crew has always been very cognizant of my eating and drinking."
There's the finish line. She sees the crowd of spectators gathered ahead. The cool pine-scented breeze on the mountain serves only to remind her of the inferno she made her way out of just 32 hours earlier. It feels like ages have passed. She doesn't know how she did it. As she crosses the tape, the people around her cheer. Her crew gathers around to congratulate her. But, Pam doesn't feel the glory of the moment. She feels disappointed.
"I guess I should be really proud of myself for finishing," says almost wistfully. "I gutted it out for the whole time." Pam comes in third woman, 14th overall. "I just have so much more in me than that. I feel like I let a lot of people down. It was my worst Badwater ever." Yet, coming in third woman seems like something to be extremely proud of.
"I am disappointed at the way I behaved. I wasn’t grateful enough for just being able to be there. I kept thinking about all my aches and pains. It makes the whole experience so different if you go out there being grateful for being able to run and for being able to be there." You sense that Pam truly loves this race. She loves to run, and she loves adventure.
"Badwater is such a cool event," she exclaims. "It’s a great experience. The desert is just so beautiful. It’s gorgeous out there. Running on the road, surrounded by mountains, it is so serene." But, there's more to it than that. Running has shaped Pam's life in a such a huge way. Her ability to endure through these races serves as a metaphor for life in general.
"I used to say that [I run] for my sanity. I think it's evolved. I feel like God has given me a gift and that gift is running. And I feel like I need to honor that by running and sharing that with other people - that running really helps your self-esteem; it boosts your confidence. It helps you do a lot of different things in your everyday life. I love it."
Having the patience to endure is not easy. It requires focus, discipline, and a strength of the soul. Races like Badwater can bring out the best in a person, highlighting all that is good and worthy in people. To endure is to affirm your humanity. "Partially, it’s fun," Pam offers. "But, it’s not always fun. It’s not easy for sure. If it were easy, at the end of the day, we wouldn’t have that feeling of accomplishment. That is what running is. When you’re doing it, it’s not exactly the best thing in the world. But, when you cross that finish line, then you get to say, 'Oh, wow! That was really cool.'" Pam has been through some hard times, but she never resigns to defeat. Never, never give up. Pam plans to be back at Badwater next year.
For a complete transcript of the interview with Pam Reed, click here.
Thursday, August 19, 2010
I didn't want to go back to law school this year. My dad has been sick in the hospital and I felt like I needed to stay here by his side. But, I guess you have different plans. That's cool, I guess. All I ask is that you give me the strength I will need to be away from my family and to handle whatever little dramas come up throughout the year. Also, about that whole career thing and the future, please help me figure something out soon. I'm getting scared. Another thing: please don't let me get injured while running. I need running now more than ever. Help me train well for the Cactus Rose 100. I want to kick ass at that race. I know there's something else, but I can't remember what it is. I'll get back to you. Thanks, God.
Sunday, August 15, 2010
Friday, August 13, 2010
It's official: I'm running for the kiddos! On October 30, 2010, I will be running 100 miles - yes, 100 miles - to help raise money for the kids of St. Gerard High School in San Antonio, Texas. The money I raise will go to towards the Melissa Villapando Memorial Scholarship, which is awarded to junior students who excel academically and display exemplary commitment to volunteerism and community service. The recipient uses the money to help pay their high school tuition. Hard work, community involvement, and strong moral character are highly cherished values at St. Gerard. You can help promote these same values by donating money to my run!
Why should you care?
These kids are our future! The values we promote and nurture within them now will help shape the rest of their lives. There is an old Ashanti proverb that says, "It takes a whole village to raise a child." We are that village. All of us. In a very real sense, you have the ability to play a role in these students' education. When you donate money, you are contributing to their future.
About the school
St. Gerard is a wonderful school in a closely-knit community of good, hard-working people. Since 1927, this school has provided high-quality Catholic education to its students. Graduating students have gone on to serve in religious life, the medical profession, local and state politics, social services, law enforcement, the field of labor relations and the business world at large. Ninety-one percent of graduates go on to college with many Seniors taking Educational and Technical courses for college dual credits. St. Gerard also offers its students the opportunity to participate in a variety of sports, organizations, and extracurricular activities. These include National Honor Society, Cheerleaders, Student Council, Mu Alpha Theta, Royal Ambassadors, Dance Team, football, basketball, baseball, tennis, and volleyball.
Be apart of the St. Gerard tradition and donate today. Do your part and set a good example for these kids. Please visit the St. Gerard website here.
A little about me
My name is Gerard Martinez and I am a law school student and ultrarunner from San Antonio, Texas. Running has helped change my life, and I have lost over 180 pounds since I picked it up in 2008. I believe in the power of a balanced diet and in maintaining an active and healthy lifestyle. My dream is to inspire others, especially children, to be active, healthy citizens and to give back to their community.
In October, I will be doing my part by running a 100 mile race. The Cactus Rose 100-Mile Ultramarathon is put on by Tejas Trails. It is described as "a nasty, rugged trail run," not for "whiners, wimps, or wusses." I will have 36 hours to complete the race. I will set out at 5:00 a.m. on Saturday, October 30, through the trails of the State Natural Area in Bandera in the Texas Hill Country. I will run all day and all night and into the next day. You will be able to follow my progress at Tejas Trails and on my blog at http://theboywholovestorun.blogspot.com.
Running 100 miles without stopping is tough. It requires a good amount of endurance. But, more importantly, it requires a purpose. There will be many times during the race when I will want to quit. But, I will think of the kids during the moments of distress. I will do it for them, because I know that they are the future and they are worth the sacrifice.
What you can do
If you want to make a difference in these kids' lives, send in a check or money order made out to "St. Gerard High School" to the following address:
St. Gerard Catholic High SchoolOr you can call the school office for more information at 210-533-8061. Any amount is greatly appreciated. Thank you for your contribution and for supporting the kids!
Melissa Villapando Memorial Scholarship/100 Mile Run
521 South New Braunfels Ave.
San Antonio, TX 78203-1798
running, Badwater, ultramarathon Melissa Villapando Scholarship St. Gerard Run for the Kiddos Cactus Rose donations charity
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Losing weight is hard. Not everyone understands this. I've heard some people explain it to me like this: "you just burn up what you put in," referring to calorie intake and expenditure through exercise. "It's pure mathematics." The problem with this logic is that it completely ignores the complicated physical, chemical, and psychological factors that make us overweight to begin with. If ever someone tells you this, you can be sure they haven't had to lose a lot of weight before. People are too complex for such irreducible formulas.
When I was losing weight, I had to evaluate my relationship with food. I had to look at what I ate and why I ate it. I struggled so much to understand my habits and where they came from. I still struggle with food today. For example, I sometimes feel overwhelmingly guilty for eating, even when I know that there is nothing wrong with what I am eating. Where does that guilt come from?
I had been heavy most of my life. Growing up, I was always the chubby kid. Food was such an important part of my life. Mexican-Americans place a great emphasis on culinary traditions. If you ever go to a pachanga, you will find plenty of food available. In my family, eating was very much a social event, a part of the cultural fabric that allowed us to relate to each other on deeper, more personal levels. I came to love food.
There is nothing wrong with loving food. I think food is meant to be enjoyed. I've met people that take a purely utilitarian approach to food. "Food is fuel," they say. "Nothing more." I do not share this view. Food has the potential to awaken us to the most cherished sensory experiences of our lives. It is both tradition and culture, memory and expression. To eat food is to partake in one of the most fundamental experiences of the human condition. Truly.
So where is the problem? The problem for me was when I ate for the wrong reasons. Emotional eating, for example, often leads to problems. I remember eating to soothe my emotional pains. This started at a young age. When I would cry as a child, my parents would give me candy to cheer me up. Is it any wonder that I came to see food as an emotional crutch, something I could lean on for comfort during the rough times?
When I was losing weight, I had to stop my emotional eating. Not completely, though. I still allowed myself to eat for emotional reasons. Food and emotion are so closely intertwined in our modern times that I think it's unreasonable to expect to shut off the habit completely. But, rather than associate food with negative emotions, I tried to associate it with positive ones. So, if I was having a good day or I accomplished something good, like getting a good grade on a school paper, I would allow myself a culinary treat - maybe a big bowl of homemade vegetable soup that evening.
I believe associating food with positive emotions is essential to weight loss. So often, the diet books emphasize the negative. "No" to this. "No" to that. Food becomes something we fear and we try to avoid it. Of course, this ends up in diet-disaster. We abstain from eating because we are afraid to eat, but we can only abstain for so long before we give in and chow down. Then, we overeat. We binge. This leads to guilt, which leads to more eating. We shouldn't fear food.
That's a hard concept to put into practice, especially for someone trying to lose weight. As I mentioned, I still sometimes feel guilty when I eat. I can't help it. All through high school I was called names and teased because of my weight. College, too. I saw myself as fat, and I blamed food for it. When I tried a new diet, it was always with that do-or-die attitude. With each new attempt to shed the pounds, I would set out on a mission to conquer food, the archenemy of my desired waistline.
Eventually, I realized that I couldn't conquer food. I had to embrace it. Most importantly, I had to acquaint myself with new culinary experiences: eating healthy, making smart food choices, opening up my palette to new tastes - fruits instead of candy, vegetables instead of junk food. I eliminated fast food from my life. I cooked 95% of my meals. With this new approach to eating, and with the benefits of exercise and running, I lost 180 pounds.
However, losing weight is just the beginning. A lot of people, after successfully losing weight, put it back on within a year. There are many culprits behind the problem of yo-yo dieting. One culprit, and I think it is the most important, is that some people, while dieting and losing weight, never fully analyzed their eating habits. They never understood their relationship with food, and they never fully embraced food as a part of life, not to be feared but rather to be enjoyed. By that same token, our relationship with food changes as time goes by. It evolves. But, the basic tenant of the relationship should always stay the same: love.
I enjoy food, just as you should enjoy food, just as we all should enjoy food. I also enjoy exercise and running. Whether you are trying to lose weight, or just struggling like me to come to terms with your ever-shifting relationship with food, remember that love conquers all. It is the opposite of fear. And when you learn to love good food, you also learn to love yourself.
Monday, August 9, 2010
What do you do when you just can't seem to get into the groove of things? Ever since Badwater, I have been feeling down. My runs haven't been as good as they used to be. I feel slow and out-of-shape. I feel fat, like I'm gaining weight. I feel like I haven't progressed at all as a runner this summer. I just feel down. Part of it may have to do with the fact that my dad is still in the hospital. Maybe I'm depressed over that. Maybe I'm also depressed over going back to law school. I really don't want to go back to Lubbock. I dread it so much and would give anything not to have to endure the ordeal. But, that's just not possible. I have to go back and finish my last year of school. Meanwhile, I seem to be in a running rut and I don't know how to work my way out of it.
This is turning into a rant, so, to avoid that, I want to leave some constructive advice... wisdom for the Gerry of the Future who may decide to read back on this entry: stay strong and realize that things will get better. This too shall pass. What seems like an insurmountable obstacle now, will someday seem trifling and silly. Just, keep moving forward and be grateful for what you have. Count your blessings. Keep running.
This is turning into a rant, so, to avoid that, I want to leave some constructive advice... wisdom for the Gerry of the Future who may decide to read back on this entry: stay strong and realize that things will get better. This too shall pass. What seems like an insurmountable obstacle now, will someday seem trifling and silly. Just, keep moving forward and be grateful for what you have. Count your blessings. Keep running.
Friday, August 6, 2010
On July 21, 2010, days after the Badwater 135 Ultramarathon in Death Valley, I had the opportunity to speak to elite ultrarunner and world-class endurance athlete, Pam Reed. Pam, a veteran of the race and overall winner two years in a row, describes this last attempt as her “worst Badwater ever.” She discusses what went wrong; We talked about life, family, running, and the limitless potential of human endurance. Pam is 49 years-old and lives with her husband and three kids in Jackson Hole, WY. She is the race director of the Tucson Marathon in Arizona.
Pam, why do you run?
I used to say that it was for my sanity. I think it's evolved. I feel like God has given me a gift and that gift is running. And I feel like I need to honor that by running and sharing that with other people - that running really helps your self-esteem; it boosts your confidence. It helps you do a lot of different things in your everyday life. I love it.
Do you remember your very first race?
I do. My first race was a 10 mile run up in Houghton, MI. I was going to school there at Michigan Technological University; I was an aerobics instructor, and one day these hockey players said they were going to do a 10 mile run. I'm thinking, "Oh! Sure! I can do that." I'll have you know every one of them beat me! (Laughs). That was my first introduction to running races.
A lot of people love to run, but not everyone runs as much as you do. What attracts you to ultramarathons?
I have this thing inside of me that I don't like to be normal or average. I think that's what attracted me to Badwater and to different ultra runs. They are not your normal kind of thing. Ever since I was really young, I never wanted to be average. I always thought to myself, I want to do things that are above average. I wasn't really very good in school. I didn't even like school. So, I chose athletics. When it comes to running, I always look for something that's different or challenging. Another thing is that I am not a fast runner. I never really have been fast. I go for distance. Longer distance races really level out the playing field. I really need the race [I enter] to be longer in order stay in the competition.
When did you start thinking of yourself as a top-level athlete?
I didn't and I don't. Honestly, I still don't think of myself as an exceptional runner. It's just really hard for me to fly with that. I don't feel like I'm any different or better than anybody. Let me tell you, this last Badwater a couple of days ago, oh-my-God, I just felt so horrible. I felt like, I am not a runner. I know I've done a lot of things and I guess I'm at the top, but I don't know. I just feel like I put myself in more weird situations, and that's why I'm up there. (Laughs). It's hard for me to explain. I definitely don't feel like an elite runner.
Do you get intimidated by the competition?
When I go up against some of these other athletes, I still feel like I don't belong, that they are way better than me. I try to be a realist. Look at Jamie Donaldson. She is 35 years-old. I'm going to be 50. There's a definite separation there. That's not to say I cannot win. What is so interesting about these kinds of events is that you don't know what is going to happen. No matter how much you train, you never know who's going to show up, what body is going to show up.
The competition is younger.
I don't want to look at age as a definitive factor, because it isn't. Well, it is and it isn't. First of all, when you increase the distance of the event, you level the playing field. That's what I like about longer distances. But, now, with advances in technology and nutrition, people are running a lot faster. It's amazing how fast these people can go in a 100 mile race. And they are younger people. A lot also depends on the conditions of the race. Badwater is an extreme race. The conditions in Death Valley are just so extreme. It really levels out the playing field.
Jack Denness finished his 12th Badwater at the age of 75. Do you think older runners have some advantage in the sport?
Yes, definitely. I think they have lots of advantages. Number one, you have a lot more mileage in your body. So you have a lot of muscle memory. Number two, patience. Your mindset is such that you know how to be more patient. Patience is so important in ultrarunning. The longer the race gets, the more patience comes into play.
What do your kids think about your running?
Right now, they are kind of tired of it. (Laughs). My 15 year-old is tired of me leaving and going to do this stuff. He definitely is. Part of it is that my kids don't think of it as a big deal at all. They almost never ask me how I did in a race. I say, "Guys, I'm going to Badwater!" They say, "Oh. Okay. That's fine. Good luck." They just don't think of it as a big deal anymore.
Do you and your husband try to emphasize the importance of athletics to your kids?
Yes. My kids are all really athletic. We hike together; we play tennis together. I want my kids to always be fit. I want them to be healthy for the rest of their lives. But, right now, I think my 15 year-old is trying to find himself. He's a great soccer player. He is a really good athlete, but he is rebelling. He doesn't want to be athletic. But, he's getting straight A's in school. He wants to go to pharmacy school and he's reading lots of books. He is trying to come up with his own identity, and I think he's trying to do everything opposite of what I represent right now. I might have to force him because he has to be in some type of sport at school. It doesn't have to be competitive sports. Now, they have bike riding, skiing; you can run on a treadmill. Emphasizing healthy physical activity is important for my family. I try to set a good example for them, and maybe that's all you can do. When kids are very young, you can make them do things, but as they grow up, you have to let them make their own decisions. You just hope they will watch you do good things and then come to the point of wanting to do it, too.
This year at Badwater, there were 80 runners, and only 13 were female. Do you feel like this is a male-dominated sport?
When I started running in 1991, let me tell you, there were only a few women doing these events then. I think it definitely still is a male-dominated sport. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's because, in a family situation, it's easier for men to leave than for women. It's easier for them to go out and train and do this kind of stuff. I may be wrong. People can argue with me. It just seems that way to me. Maybe, mentally, men can leave and not feel as guilty about it. I remember the minute I had a child, I had guilt all the time about leaving.
That makes sense. Traditionally, women were expected to stay home and cook, clean, and take care of the kids, whereas men were allowed to leave and go do other things.
Exactly. I think the expectations of a male are different than the expectations of a female. I'm sure a lot of people talk about me now and say, "How can she leave her family? How can she go and do all these things and be away when she has a family?" I think it's the social expectations for a woman.
As a race director, do you have any recommendations as to how other race directors can encourage women to sign up for these kinds of events?
I don't know that we as race directors can do anything to encourage women to race. The event is there. The course is there. It is what it is. But, I do think that things are evolving. Do you see what is happening with marathons right now? For instance, this past Rock 'n' Roll San Diego Half-Marathon had 9,000 women in it and 3,000 men. The full marathon had 3,900 men and 3,300 women. That is unheard of. I think what's happening is that women are realizing that they can do it. So, I guess in answer to that question, my message to women is, Why not do this stuff? You can do it. Don't be afraid to take on the challenge. Also, women can endure pain. Here is an example: up until three years ago, I had never had a facial or a pedicure. Well, I decided to get a facial done. Oh, my gosh! It hurts! Then I got a pedicure, and it hurt, too! I thought to myself, Women go through a lot of pain to look good. Some women do that Botox stuff. If they can endure all that, then they can run. (Laughs). Women are so strong.
What is your personal philosophy on pain in ultrarunning?
I don't know if I believe those people who say they love the pain. But, I guess all I can do is speak for myself. I don't love the pain. I don't. Look, the pain comes and then it goes. When it goes, you try to learn how to manage it. Managing it is accepting it. So, accept it, and then move on. You have to accept that it's there, and you have to be grateful that you're able to run in the first place because there are so many people that can't. Then, the pain just goes away and it's not pain anymore. It subsides. Some women I know have compared the pain to going through labor. I don't buy it. When I think of labor, I think of the most intense pain. In ultrarunning, the pain totally subsides. It gets better.
In your book, you talk about your own personal struggle with anorexia. You certainly are not alone in that struggle. A lot of endurance athletes grapple with it. Especially female athletes. Anita Fromm, for instance, talked about her struggle with anorexia and bulimia in an article in Marathon & Beyond. On the Internet, there are message boards full of people, distance runners, who are talking about their experiences with eating disorders. Do you think this is an issue all of us should be talking about more?
Yes, I do. It’s really cool that you bring that up. I really think we need to be talking more about anorexia and bulimia. You know what else we need to be talking about? Depression. A friend and I googled "anorexia." You know what came up right next to it? “Depression.” The two go hand-in-hand. It all needs to be brought to the forefront. There are so many people that suffer from these things, and they are afraid to talk about it because they are embarrassed. Mental illness is not an easy thing for people to be open about. I don't mind talking about it. I think that the more people talk about it, the more it will come out. We all have problems and we need to talk about these problems. It’s kind of like how parents don’t want to talk about when their kids get in trouble. They want to paint this picture for everyone else to see. It’s a façade, and it’s just not real. I want people to know real.
How did you overcome anorexia?
Running actually helped my anorexia. I know a lot of people out there would say, "Come on; you're full of it. You run because you're anorexic." They think I exercise to get rid of whatever I'm eating. That is not true. Yes, I know that I'm very thin, but it is absolutely not true for me. I’ve been through every level of anorexia. I used to think that everyone went through the things I went through. I thought it was completely normal. Eventually, it got to the point where I had to be hospitalized. I just couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t put food in my mouth. I couldn’t even drink water. I finally realized that if I wanted to run, I had to eat. If I don’t eat, I can’t run.
What did the doctors at the hospital tell you?
Some psychiatrists try to force labels on it. There was this one label of, You’ve been molested. I’ve never been molested before in my life, but in the hospital, that’s what they tried to tell everyone who had anorexia. You’ve all been molested. They wanted to have this quick fix, and I don’t think there is one.
What advice would you give to someone who might be going through the same things you went through?
Seek help. You need to go and get help. Go to a hospital. It is so important that you get help and realize that you don’t have to go through it alone. But, in addition to that, I would also say that you have to find your own answers. You have to come to grips with it yourself. All the hospitals and all the doctors won’t help you unless you come to terms with it yourself. Once you leave the controlled environment of the hospital, you have to do it for yourself. Most anorexics are very intelligent people, but what they are doing to themselves is not smart at all. Look, it might even help to look at food as fuel. Forget about food as tasting good, and just look at it as fuel for your body. You have to put something in your body; otherwise, it’s just not going to run.
What is your training regimen like when preparing for Badwater?
I go run about five times a day. I only do that four or five days a week. I run some mountains here in Jackson Hole, WY. I do about 120 miles a week. Once in a while, I will go bike riding. I swim three to four times a week. I’m always out doing something, either running or bike riding or swimming.
How far in advance of Badwater do you train?
I'm always ready to do anything. I don't necessarily prepare for anything. It's just kind of my life, so I don't necessarily train.
Do you heat train?
Well, I used to live in Tucson, so I never really had to heat train. This year, I went to Tucson to train. Next year, I’ll have to do that again since I’m living in Wyoming now. I don’t believe in the sauna thing. I really don’t think heat training in the sauna is going to help you at Badwater. The sun is what’s so intense in the desert. You have to train for that sun, and you just can’t do that in a sauna. I really believe that you have to be somewhere where it’s hot and where there’s sun. That is so important. It’s funny, because I personally love saunas. I have a sauna. They’re wonderful. But, when I think of Badwater, I just can’t see the sauna as helping much. Maybe it does and I don’t even know it.
You don’t pull the treadmill into the sauna like some runners do?
One time, way back when I was in high school, I was exercising in a sauna and I got a cramp. I could barely get out. I never exercised in a sauna again.
This year at Badwater, you had some heat problems.
I did get hot. I got overheated. One thing that’s going on is that I’m going through menopause. As a result, I get these hot flashes. I don’t know if that was part of the problem or if I just didn’t train in the heat long enough. It’s hard to tell. But, it was just bad. It was my worst Badwater ever.
Was it really?
It was! Absolutely. I was so slow. This year, I feel like I let a lot of people down, even though they all tell me, "You did a great job" and blah, blah, blah. I feel like I did not perform at the level that I wanted to perform at. I came in third woman, 14th overall. I just have so much more in me than that.
Everything went wrong. I got sick and threw up; I’ve never thrown up at Badwater before. I got tired, sleepy tired, which has also never happened to me before. I got really bad blisters. My feet started hurting at about mile 20, and they never got better. That’s a long time to go with aching feet. All these things were accumulating and it slowed me down. Once all this stuff starts going wrong, you start thinking, Oh my God! How much farther do I have to go? (Laughs). Everything just happens at an exponential rate. First one thing goes wrong, then another. It just makes it so much harder. You know, it’s not like I haven’t dealt with any of those things before either. I’ve had all of those things happen to me many, many times before. But, when it all happens at once, it’s just overwhelming.
You’ve dropped out of Badwater before, right?
Yes. I quit one year, a couple of years ago, because at mile nine, I got dehydrated. I have a few theories as to how that happened. First, I had that Hi-Tech shirt on. That thing was wicking away the moisture off my body, and I felt like my body wasn’t cooling itself. When I wear cotton, I’m fine. So, I will never wear Hi-Tech stuff again. That was one thing. Another thing was that my crew that year, for the first 17 miles, didn’t crew me like they normally do. From then on, my crew has always been very cognizant of my eating and drinking. This year, we totally did a great job on the first 17 miles, but then the heat thing kicked in and the feet hurting.
How did your crew respond to the feet problem?
Well, I didn’t really tell them about my feet hurting. I didn’t even mention my feet until about 95 miles into the race. I finally told them, “Guys, I’m going to stop and change my shoes. So they helped me put a different pair on.
Did it help?
No. It actually turned out to be worse. When I look back, I don’t think I should have stopped. I think it’s better not to talk about stuff like that. Just keep going and deal with it.
Did you ever think to stop and just take the DNF?
Oh, yes. I was really hot. I just felt awful. My feet were starting to get very painful. I was coming up on Stovepipe Wells, which is mile 40. I told my crew, “I feel like I need a cold dip. Can you get something together and make an ice bath for me?” So, they went and got all the stuff together. As they were putting the ice in the cooler, it just hit me; I thought, If I stop here, I don’t know if I’m going to keep going. I just told myself, I’m not going to DNF! I’m not going to DNF! So, I just kept running. I just ran on by.
What kept you going?
Well, part of me was going, I can’t do this. I just cannot do this. But, I also kept thinking, This will pass. You will feel better. Usually, that’s what happens in ultrarunning. You bounce back. You start to feel bad, but then, you feel good again. So, I just kept telling myself it would get better. Keep going. The sad thing is I never felt better again. Till the end of the race, I was miserable. I guess I should be really proud of myself for finishing. I gutted it out for the whole time.
Definitely. But, why do I sense that you are disappointed in yourself?
I am. I am really disappointed in myself. I’m just so disappointed.
Pam, you just ran the toughest footrace on the planet, and despite severe issues, you finished third woman. That seems like something to be extremely proud of.
You know what’s funny? I am disappointed in my head. I am disappointed at the way I behaved. I wasn’t grateful enough for just being able to be there. I kept thinking about all my aches and pains. It makes the whole experience so different if you go out there being grateful for being able to run and for being able to be there. Then, as things come up, you just deal with them.
You really love this stuff, don’t you? Badwater. Everything.
I really do. I love it all. I love the heat. By body likes heat. I love the extreme of it. The whole thing is so neat. Badwater is such a cool event. It’s a great experience. The desert is just so beautiful. It’s gorgeous out there. Running on the road, surrounded by mountains, it is so serene. The course is just so runable. It’s totally runable. And, definitely, it’s the people. You’re on a level playing field with everybody, and it’s so wonderful being surrounded by these incredible athletes.
Will you be back next year?
Yes. I can’t believe it; this is the earliest I’ve ever said that I want to go back! I want to do it again just so I can do a better job.
What about after Badwater? What lies in store for Pam Reed?
I’m going to turn 50 next year, and I want to do something big. We’re talking about running across America. If we can get enough sponsorship, I want to do that. Or maybe I will run fifty 50k runs or fifty 50 mile runs. We’ll see what happens. The message I want to get across to people is that you can do a lot more than you think you can. Just get out there and go for it. Just do something extraordinary. Walk. Run. Do a 5k. Do a 10k. Go for a bike ride. Just do something. You feel so much more alive when you’re moving.
Earlier, I asked you why you run. You said it’s a gift from God. But what does it all mean? Is there a purpose?
How old are you?
Okay, you are very young. Let me tell you: way back when, back when Jane Fonda came out with her aerobics, she’d smile as she was exercising on the TV; she’d say things like, “Smile! This is fun!” Partially, it’s fun. But, it’s not always fun. It’s not easy for sure. If it were easy, at the end of the day, we wouldn’t have that feeling of accomplishment. That is what running is. When you’re doing it, it’s not exactly the best thing in the world. But, when you cross that finish line, then you get to say, “Oh, wow! That was really cool.”
Pam, thank you so much for talking with me today. It has been an absolute pleasure. I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors, and I look forward to hearing great things about your upcoming accomplishments.
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
Is running an art? Well, that's an easy one. Of course it is, despite the fact that a substantial part of running involves science. Most would agree that running is an art, I think. But can a race be a work of art, comparable to the works of Picasso or lines of Shakespeare? This is a sexier question, and it's not easily dismissible. It goes back to the root question of "What is art?" What do you think?
Monday, August 2, 2010
My next run will be to raise money to fight childhood obesity in San Antonio. There is a school here in town called St. Gerard. It is a good school in a strong community of hard-working, low-income, mostly Hispanic people. They have no cafeteria. They can't afford to build one. So they get their food catered from fast food restaurants. This is unacceptable. I want to help raise money to build them a cafeteria! The following is a proposal letter I wrote to the principal of the school:
[To the principal of St. Gerard Catholic High School in San Antonio]
My name is Gerard Martinez. I am a 24 year-old law school student at Texas Tech University and a San Antonio native. I am also a runner and I'm interested in running on behalf of St. Gerard Catholic High School. My sister, Rebecca Martinez, will be attending St. Gerard this coming fall as a freshman. I'd like to tell you a bit about myself.
Running is a passion of mine. Just two years ago, I was sedentary. I was overweight and had never run a mile before. When my aunt passed away due to complications arising from diabetes, I decided to make some changes in my life. I started paying careful attention to what I ate. I made smart, healthy food choices, and most importantly, I started exercising. Eventually, I started running greater and greater distances. Over the course of two years, I lost 180 pounds. In 2009, I ran my first marathon here in San Antonio, and then, a week later, I ran my first ultramarathon. I attribute my success to eating right and incorporating exercise into my daily routine. I believe in the power of a balanced diet and in maintaining an active lifestyle. I am very passionate about fighting childhood obesity.
As a child, I didn't have good role models for making healthy eating choices. Today, kids are bombarded with advertisements for fast food. As a society, we seem to be promoting unhealthy lifestyles. However, I think St. Gerard is in a perfect position to be able to counter those social messages and teach its students that there are better, healthier alternatives.
My proposal is this: to raise money for St. Gerard Catholic School. This money is to be used for building a cafeteria for the school, so that more control can be exercised over the ingredients put into the students' lunches. This will be a long-term project, but I think it is doable. On October 31, 2010, I will be running 100 miles, without stopping, in a race called the Cactus Rose 100. This ultramarathon is held every year in Bandera, Texas. It is a rugged trail run that takes 36 hours to complete. The runners start in the morning and run all day and all night and into the next day. I have already signed up to do the race and have begun training. I want to run in the name of and on behalf of St. Gerard. However, this is to be a community effort. If you approve this project, I would like to give a presentation at the school to all the students, parents, faculty, and community members who would be interested in donating to the cause. I would like to solicit for donations from the school and parish community. I would also like to ask local businesses for donations for my run.
I believe this is a wonderful opportunity to truly make a difference in these kids' lives. I don't want any of them to have to go through what I went through. Obesity in San Antonio is a severe problem that relates to so many serious health risks. Your students, and all future students of St. Gerard Catholic High School, deserve a better, healthier future.
Sunday, August 1, 2010
It occurred to me that not a day has gone by in the past two years where I have not thought of Badwater. It's officially an obsession. I simply must do that race. Since I read about it in Karnazes' book - a book I otherwise despised - I have not been able to get it out of my head. It is my muse, my guiding star, the thing that keeps me going. I sound like I'm exaggerating; I'm not.
I suppose I could just try to squeeze in a couple of 100 mile races this year, finish them, and then apply to do Badwater this summer. But, I don't want to do that. It would feel to sudden, too rushed. I don't want to do Badwater just to do it. I want to do it and give it my best shot. That means I need to come to terms with the fact that I am not ready to do Badwater. Not yet. Not this year. Trust me, it's a hard truth to face.
I want so desperately to do Badwater now. Not later. Now. But, patience is a virtue, especially in ultrarunning. I will wait. One more year. Get stronger. Get faster. Train. Get smarter at racing. Get to know my body better. All that stuff. Who knows! It may even take longer than two years (I hope it doesn't). But, no matter what, I will someday run that damn course.