Late last year Pam Reed was at about the 65 mile mark of the Daytona 100 Ultramarathon when she fell.
It wasn’t the first time she’s fallen mid-race, and in her initial assessment of the situation she figured she might have broken her hand. It wouldn’t have been her first time competing with a broken bone, either.
“I just got up and was like let’s go,” she said. “I’ve got to keep going.”
She got up, pressed on, foot over foot, and crossed the finish line. The 99th time she’s crossed a finish line in a foot race 100 miles or longer.
It was the 10th such race she had run in the calendar year 2020. She ran 10 last year because in 2019 she found out she was about 11 finishes shy of the century mark: 100 100-mile races in her life.
The milestone was met earlier this month at the Grandmaster Ultra in Arizona, where she wound up third overall. She turns 60 years old on Feb. 27.
According to UltraRunningHistory.com, Reed became just the 17th person in history to run 100 of 100 mile-plus races.
Last Friday, from her part-time home in Arizona, Reed recounted her day. She woke up, ran 6 miles, swam 2,000 yards, biked for an hour and then did two yoga classes. She figures she gets about six to seven hours of sleep a night, which is about the only time her roughly 100-pound frame makes contact with any house furniture.
“I literally do not sit down throughout the day,” she said. “We have couches in our house and I just don’t sit on them. That’s just the way I am, and I’ve always been that way.”
Her resting heart rate is roughly 42 beats a minute. She said she inherited that from her father and grandfather, who weren’t athletes but just “really hard workers” with “a lot of energy.”
“At 60 years old you get stiff, but the other thing is if you move more, if you keep moving, your body will keep moving,” she explained.
Reed said she was always a runner. She was raised on the upper peninsula of Michigan before eventually coming to Jackson more than two decades ago, and she was athletic. Tennis, cheerleading, gymnastics. She did track and field but quit her senior year.
“I hated track,” she said. “My coach in high school was a really cool guy, though. He told us we should run to get in shape, so I started running at 15 and have run ever since.”
Still, the line between being someone who runs to stay in shape and one of the more famous ultra runners in the world is about as long as, well, an ultramarathon. That talent didn’t really rear its head until she was around 30, when in 1992 she and her husband, Jim, signed up for a 100-kilometer race and finished. They finished last, together, but they finished it and it started her on this path to a feat only 16 other people worldwide have completed.
The real fame began about a decade later, when Reed won her first Badwater Ultra in 2002. She didn’t just win on the women’s side, she won the thing outright, and she repeated outright victory again. That race is especially notable in her world, as the Badwater Ultra goes through California’s Death Valley, with temperatures soaring near 130 degrees and the race going 135 miles in the middle of July. In 2003 she made an appearance on the “Late Show with David Letterman.” In 2004 the TV show “60 Minutes” followed her at that race, where she eventually placed third overall.
She competed internationally on the U.S. 24-hour team, which led to both an American record and United States of America Track and Field naming her the Women’s Masters Ultrarunner of the year in 2003. In 2005 she ran 301 miles in 79 hours without any sleep in Tucson, Arizona, beating the previous record of 262 miles. In 2007 she published her memoir, “The Extra Mile: One Woman’s Personal Journey to Ultrarunning Greatness.”
In 2009, Reed broke the women’s American six-day record with 490 miles completed.
And somehow, victories have yet to dry up as she closes in on her seventh decade on earth. She won the Arrowhead 135 her last time there, in a race where runners pull a sled across snow-covered ground. She won The Drift in Pinedale, too, another frozen ultra like the Polaroid negative of Badwater. In years past she’s dropped out races along her hectic schedule, due to everything from feeling ill to simply not “being into” them. In 2020 there was no way she was dropping out of any. And even though in her 100th race, she admits to blowing up about halfway in, it was still one foot in front of the other until the finish line.
“2020 was like a blessing,” she said. “I didn’t have any broken bones and it was good, no injuries. Those things can happen, especially at 59 years old.”
Injuries are a constant in distance running, though they generally manifest in pulled muscles or stress fractures. Other than one, following some time in a cast, Reed said she hasn’t really had any stress fractures. Real, true, broken bones though? Oh yeah.
One time in Hawaii, Reed fell down hard three days before she was scheduled to compete in an Ironman, which is a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and 26.2-mile run. The fall was hard, but she got up and kept running. At mile 23 of the race, she said, her leg began to hurt a little bit, but she went on and finished. Normally the day after any race she goes out for an easy couple miles, but the leg still hurt then too. Seventy miles of running later, she got home, had her leg looked at, and it turned out she broke her tibia three days before she even raced.
As for what the doctors think: “They just think I’m nuts,” she said. “With broken bones you have to be careful. I just try to listen to my body and then when it feels better, I get better. I had like 1 1/2 years of broken bones, but now I’m knocking on wood.”
That ability to bounce back physically in a life that sends Reed pounding pavement and trails hasn’t gone unnoticed by those whose job it is to keep her moving. Her massage therapist, Shannon Helton, has been working with Reed for over a decade now. Whatever it is they’re ironing out when they meet, Reed’s body responds quickly.
“What’s surprising to me is the immediate response,” Helton said. “Her body just seems to immediately respond to where we’re a well-oiled machine. I know I can listen to her body and I know what she needs, and her body responds to the way that I work.”
Helton said she chalks at least some of that up to the type of training Reed does. Reed chalks her physical abilities up to at least two things: One, a Finnish ancestry — “Finnish people have a lot of energy,” she said — but also what she calls “protecting her running.”
“I’ve watched so many people get burned out from this,” she said. “The cross-training is 100% a game changer. The hot yoga is a game changer for me.”
Her husband was there when this whole thing got started back in 1992. They both agreed that when they signed up for that first 100K they never could have imagined it would become like this. And yet, now that it is, he can’t imagine it any other way.
“This is 100% how it’s going to be,” Jim Reed said. “It’s either running or death, and I’ll choose running over death. She will run until she drops.”
And yet the possibilities of those infrequent injuries gaining ground on his wife will be a concern.
“We’re not getting any younger,” he said. “She’s 98 pounds and brittle, and falling is not a good thing. I definitely worry about that.”
With now 100 ultras and close to 60 Ironmans under her belt, rattling off a list of favorite moments in racing doesn’t come easy. There might as well be a full life lived in running shoes alone. But doing the Hawaiian Ironman eight times and winning Badwater twice are up there. There’s also the year 2015, in which she ran Western States, Hard Rock and Badwater all within seven weeks of each other. At Hard Rock that year her son joined her for the final 11 miles, “the most fun I’ve ever had in an ultra,” she said.
Notching that 100th ultra was a motivating factor for the past year and change, and for some reason that’s not yet enough. Reed said her schedule this year is chock full, so much so that she “tries not to think about it it’s so big.” She’ll compete at The Drift next month, where she’ll be defending her 2020 title, and then between ultras and Ironmans Reed rattles off a list of starting lines to the tune of roughly two a month.
It’s not as if Reed is still getting faster. She’ll be able to home in on age 60 and up records, surely, but at some point one would think she might like to take this next decade to bask in the glory. Not a chance.
“I heard this funny thing. I heard some guy said he’s going to slow down when he’s dead,” she said. “And that’s how I’m going to be, seriously. I have to live life. Life is very short, and you never know what’s going to happen.”
On Monday, Reed traveled to the Grand Canyon to run from the South Rim to the North Rim and then back. Roughly 40 miles, though she said her watch says it’s really between 45 and 50 miles. The goal was to complete it in under 40 hours.
“And then on my 60th birthday I’m going to run from like 7 in the morning until 3:30 in the afternoon,” she said. “I don’t know how far I’m going to get.”