By day, Lisa Bliss is a physician, helping people non-surgically rehabilitate from musculoskeletal injuries. In simpler terms, she helps people get rid of their pain, which is ironic because in her spare time, she enjoys the opposite for herself.
Bliss – an ultra runner in addition to being a doctor and medical director – puts herself through the ringer. The 39-year-old enjoys running distances so much, she’d prefer to do five marathons at once.
Bliss returned last week after winning the Kiehl’s Badwater Ultramarathon, a 135-mile non-stop run from Death Valley to Mount Whitney (Calif.), where she finished the race in 34 hours, 33 minutes and 40 seconds – well ahead of second-place finisher Noora Alidina (35:12.13).
For the first time in the race’s 30-year history, two men broke the 24-hour barrier. Brazilian Valmir Nunes, the overall champion, finished in 22:51.29. Spokane’s Dave Remington also finished the race, coming in 64th with a time of 47:12.30.
In addition to the drastic change in elevation throughout the course (it starts at 280 feet below sea level and ends at approximately 8,300 feet above sea level) the racers have another important factor to consider (besides running for 135 miles straight): the unforgiving heat.
This year’s 84-man race was run in average temperatures of 114 degrees Fahrenheit.
“I was thinking it’d be about 130,” said Bliss. “It was relatively cool at 114.”
Three days after the race, the swelling in her ankles finally went away and as of Sunday, Bliss was still feeling a bit sore. Of all the questions someone might ask athletes willing to put themselves through such a thing, people always ask Bliss about two things: what she eats and where she goes to the bathroom.
Bliss, who said she constantly eats during the race, goes for spaghetti, pop tarts, soy chips, peanut butter and jelly – anything to replenish the 100 calories a mile she burns throughout the race.
It’s pretty simple as far as the bathroom goes – she goes wherever she can, whenever she needs to.
“At first you are looking for cactuses, but eventually it doesn’t matter,” Bliss said.
But other questions are more important. Why does she do it?
Because she loves it. It’s a personal challenge as well as a worthwhile cause. Bliss runs for Team St. Luke’s to raise money for the wheelchair athletes program at the hospital. She has also been the race’s medical director for five years and placed third when she ran in 2004.
How Bliss does it is far less simple.
There’s the training – which doesn’t involve running hundreds of miles a week. She doesn’t have time.
Beyond some mental preparation, Bliss goes for lower-mileage runs, does the occasional marathon to put in some longer-distance runs and trains almost daily in her personal sauna, where she cranks up the heat to 130 degrees and does core exercises.
The point is to prepare her body for the heat.
“You have to teach your body how to sweat and how to process fluids,” said Bliss, who added that the sauna training paid off.
“I had no trouble with heat or nausea. There were people puking, they had diarrhea, there were people christening cactuses – and I was running by eating spaghetti and meatballs.”
When race day arrives, it’s the people around her that get Bliss through what she said becomes a team event. Her crew – local physical therapist Larry Ham, Mead girls track coach Dori Robertson and out-of-towners Glenn Tachiyama, Dave Bursler and Dave Heckman – are a huge part of her finish.
“It’s the type of race where you rely heavily on your crew,” she explained. “They give you ice, spray you down, give you calories to eat, motivate you and they can pace you from mile 17 to the finish.”
This year was the first time Bliss had to deal with blisters – something that slowed her in the race, but never stopped her.
“I knew I would finish – but I wanted to run,” Bliss said.
She caught race leader Jamie Donaldson of Littleton, Colo., at the 122nd mile and held her pace through the finish.
“This race was risky, but I was going to risk it,” Bliss said. “I was going to run faster for as long as I could, and I stepped out of my comfort zone and let my crew push me. … It was the first time I had stepped that much out of my comfort zone and it was worth it.”
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