Tusconians Reed and Gungle Tackle the Badwater Ultramarathon

By Amit Mehrotra for the Arizona Daily Star

With three national film crews scrutinizing her every step and overconfident runners virtually nipping at her heels, Pam Reed was under extreme pressure.

Her energy level was simply not at its typical unrelenting heights, and with temperatures lower than last year, Reed finished in fourth place overall at the 135-mile Badwater Ultramarathon in Death Valley.

"It was a very, very difficult event for me," said Reed, who was attempting a three-peat at Badwater. She won the event overall the past two years.

"I'm really happy I finished. When you expect to win and then people pass you, just staying in there is hard. All the publicity and all those television stations were there. They were all in my face."

Reed was the second woman finisher. Her time of 31 hours, 17 minutes and 55 seconds was nearly three hours slower than last year and close to three and half hours slower than 2002

Dean Karnazes, from San Francisco won the event in 27:22:48. He had finished in second place behind Reed in 2003. Monica Scholz from Ontario, Canada, won the women's side in 29:22:29.

The 27th annual event began in Badwater, Death Valley, the lowest point in United States at 280 feet below sea level and ended halfway up the 14,494-foot high Mount Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous U.S.

Runners braved temperatures reaching 120 degrees, but it was cooler than last year when the mercury soared to 133 degrees at the start line.

As of Tuesday night, another Tucson runner's quest to finish the race is still alive. Bruce Gungle, who is running for the first time, passed the 90.3-mile marker in 26 hours and 11 minutes. The forty-five year old is the only other local runner to ever compete in Badwater. He has a 60 hours, until 6p.m. Thursday, to finish.

Reed felt the burden of being number one early in the race. Up until the 17-mile point, Reed said she had several runners mimicking what she was doing, running alongside her.

"This one woman in particular wanted to run my race, so she was right behind me stepping on me, literally," said Reed.

As anticipated, until the second time station at 41.9 miles, the race was wide open with several runners posting top times. By the third time station at 72.3 miles, Reed led the women's field and was in third place overall, about two hours behind the leader.

But in next 17 miles she gradually lost her edge. At mile marker 90.3, she was five minutes behind the Scholz and in fourth place overall.

"When (Scholz) passed me I went after, and then I was feeling pretty good but then all of a sudden my energy level wasn't there," said Reed. "I couldn't do it."

Reed's only intake during the race was Ensure, Red Bull and half a peanut butter sandwich. She never slept and estimates that she ran or jogged over two-thirds of the race.

Having the benefit of training in Tucson, her friends have said that she is more competitive when the temperatures are hotter. Last year Karnazes, who has completed an ultramarathon in Antarctica and four Badwater Ultramarathons, said he couldn't keep up with Reed in the dire, 128-degree heat.

Throughout the race, three television crews interviewed her and her five-person crew. And the day before they were conducting interviews in her hotel room.

This fall she will be featured on PBS's Nature program, 60 Minutes and the Discovery Channel.

"It was dumb on my part to let it happen. But on the other hand it was exciting," said Reed.

At the final time station on mile 122, Reed was in fourth place, 55 minutes behind Scholz.

The exhausting 13-mile climb up Mount Whitney was her toughest ever. It took her over four and a half hours.

"We walked the entire time, extremely slow," said Reed. "I got completely killed on Mount Whitney. I just didn't have anything left."