This piece first appeared in the July issue of Competitor Magazine.
Written by: Celestia Calbay
One bad race hasn’t discouraged ultrarunner Jamie Donaldson.
The 37-year-old remembers the first time she competed in the 135-mile Badwater Ultramarathon, an event known as the world’s toughest foot race. She was leading the 2007 race for 75 miles when everything fell apart and she ended up walking to the finish line. “I underestimated the heat and went out too fast; I couldn’t process any liquids,” said Donaldson, who had hyponatremia and gained 20 pounds by the end of race. “It was crazy. I swelled up like you couldn’t believe.“
Donaldson, who has competed in more than 50 100-mile-plus races over the last six years, is a three-time Badwater Ultramarathon women’s champion, and holds the women’s course record with a 26:16:12 finish in 2010. She’ll head back to Death Valley, Calif., on July 11 to defend her title.
“My goal is to give it a good fight and finish,” said Donaldson, who aims to finish in less than 26 hours. “It’s hard to compare this race year-to-year because the temperature varies and that changes your race, even though the course is the same.”
Zach Gingerich, who finished first at the 2010 Badwater race, said he’s impressed by Donaldson’s determination and confidence. “There are so many elements to deal with in this competition and she always seems to come out on top,” said Gingerich. “I’m sure she has rough points just like everyone else, but she’s able to battle through and finish strong, and that says a lot about how tough she is.”
Donaldson, a middle school math teacher and retired tap dancer, trains by running 100 to 200 miles per week and simulates course conditions, such as the 130-degree weather, by running in place and performing step-ups in the sauna or running with layers on in the afternoon in her hometown of Littleton, Colo.
“There are a lot of mental challenges and uncertainties involved as you ask yourself, ‘Can I really run for 24 hours?’ You just have to find strength, think back to your training and know that you’re prepared,” said Donaldson.