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Running on empty

JBLM MP finds new way to test her limits during recent 135-mile Badwater Ultramarathon

Northwest Guardian

Published: 03:49PM August 2nd, 2012
Running on empty

Courtesy photo

Claire Heid, a first lieutenant and executive officer with the 571st MP Co., 504th MP Bn., finished the Badwater Ultramarathon in just over 41 hours.

Claire Heid has yet to reach her limit. The 24-year-old endurance athlete continues to push herself further and faster, always looking for a challenge but never reaching her max.

She had barely finished the 135-mile Badwater Ultramarathon in Death Valley, Calif., in the middle of July, before Heid was already thinking ahead.

“Even after finishing Badwater I knew I could do better,” Heid said. “I know I could go back and run a faster race.”

A first lieutenant and executive officer of 571st Military Police Company, 504th Military Police Battalion, Heid finished the ultramarathon July 18 in 41 hours, 15 minutes, 57 seconds — 67th out of 96 runners. She won the title as the youngest female to finish the race at 23. Four days later she turned 24.

Heid decided when she was a 20-year-old junior at West Point that she was going to be the youngest female to finish Badwater, before she had run her first ultramarathon. The previous youngest finisher was 27.

“I didn’t want to just get it by a little, I wanted to get it by a couple years,” Heid said. “I backwards planned from there.”

She ran her first ultramarathon in 2008 and followed with several 100-mile races before she submitted her application to Badwater. She planned each race she ran from 2008 to late 2011 with her sights on the grueling 135-mile desert race.

Heid was accepted to the Badwater Ultramarathon in February and the training began, about the same time she became company XO. Heid had to figure out how to train without detracting from her work schedule. The solution was waking up at 4 a.m. to run eight miles before physical training, followed by eight more miles during PT and ending the day with a four-mile run. Heid woke early on Saturdays to log 20 to 25 more miles to record 120 miles per week.

Running wasn’t the only training Heid had to do to prepare for Badwater. Heid was concerned about handling the triple-digit weather in Death Valley, where temperatures reached 120 degrees during her race. After researching how to build her stamina, she trained in a sauna every day in temperatures reaching 200 degrees.

“I think being in a cooler area and having a very intense sauna training program actually helped me because I think my concept of heat was only the sauna,” Heid said. “It was either 75 degrees outside, or it was 180 to 200 degrees in the sauna. I didn’t know what 120 degrees felt like.”

The first Badwater Ultramarathon was in 1987 when just five runners completed the course that covers three mountain ranges. It is described as the “world’s toughest foot race” that includes 46 uphill miles, 20 downhill and 69 on flat ground. Before Heid ran her first ultramarathon she read a lot about ultrarunning, where she first read about Badwater.

Heid started the race July 16 at 8 a.m. and just about every mile her three-man crew team sprayed her down with water. To prevent the sun from tiring out her muscles, Heid covered her limbs with a long sleeved shirt and leg sleeves. In the beginning Heid focused on setting a steady, but not overly fast pace. At night, pacers told her stories to prevent her from falling asleep while running.

“I consider myself a pretty strong runner mentally,” she said. “Usually you break it up by focusing on getting yourself to the next time station (miles 17, 42, 60, 72, 90, 122, 131). Focus on getting yourself to the next point. Take it mile by mile.”

Heid knew she would finish the race before the 48-hour cutoff when she made it to Mile 100 in under 28 hours. The realization that she had 21 hours to run the last 35 miles boosted her confidence during the final stretch.

The race starts at 280 feet below sea level and finishes atop Mount Whitney, elevation 8,300 feet. Heid fought through fatigue and blistered feet for the final 13 miles straight up the mountain. She knew it was all worth it when she crossed the finish line at 1:15 a.m. July 18.

“At night you can’t see how tall the mountain is,” Heid said. “You’re almost not ready for it to be over. Even though you’re in so much pain, you’re so tired, and in my case I had been running for 41 hours, no sleep, no rest. I hadn’t sat down for longer than two minutes. When you cross that finish line and they told me I was the youngest female to finish the race, that’s a dream.”

The next day, even as Heid was hobbling around at the closing festivities, she was already thinking of when she would return to Badwater. But first Heid has to get rid of her Death Valley tan lines for her August wedding in her hometown of Chicago. She said she plans to enjoy the remaining months of 2012 as a newlywed until her unit deploys.

“I get to sleep-in Saturdays now,” Heid said. “I get to run when I want, and I know when I get back from deployment there will be some race that I’ve decided I want to do and will be training again. But for now, it’s nice to be able to focus on my wedding.”