Lisa Tamati has arrived in California to tackle Death Valley in one of the world’s most gruelling ultra-marathons.
In sweltering heat the New Plymouth woman next week will run 217km non-stop through the desert.
And the place names in this most unforgiving part of the planet say it all – Furnace Creek, Devil’s Cornfield, Coffin Peak, Starvation Mountain, Badwater and Hell’s Gate.
Tamati has been preparing for months for this most extreme of events that is the Badwater Ultramarathon, but something that’s been impossible to prepare for is the heat.
Speaking to the Taranaki Daily News, Tamati said the heat was like being in a sauna and not being able to find a way out.
“The heat is just phenomenal here. It’s like someone’s opened the oven door and it just keeps coming and coming. It’s just incredible and it slows everything down. So it’s certainly a wake-up call … but it’s going to be all right,” said an upbeat Tamati, who is the first New Zealand woman to attempt the race.
She’s no stranger to running in the desert. Tamati has events in the Libyan desert, Morocco and Jordan under her belt.
“I’ve done hundreds of kilometres in the Sahara, but it’s another 10 to 15 degrees hotter here. So this is going into unknown territory, really. You sort of can’t know how you’re going to cope with it until you’re running in it.”
There is no doubt the Death Valley run will take Tamati to both her physical and mental limits.
The average finish time for the event is about 48 hours, while the overall time limit to complete it is 60 hours.
It’s expected that the winner of the 2008 Badwater Ultramarathon will finish in 22 to 26 hours.
For Tamati, just finishing is the priority.
“The clock is ticking from the start. Obviously I’ll stop to go to the loo, or I’ll stop to have quick massages, or I’ll stop if I collapse or anything like that.
“But you have got a pretty tight time-limit, and I want to get through in a reasonable time. I’m not going to be getting any places or anything like that.”
Tamati and her support crew are now in Furnace Creek, having spent a few days in Las Vegas since arriving earlier this month.
She says in Las Vegas it was 47 degrees Celsius, but in the desert temperatures will rise to 55 degrees Celsius.
“In Vegas we’ve been training every day, but there was nowhere to run properly so you’re running down The Strip in Las Vegas with a million other tourists looking at you as if you are nuts.”
Now in the desert proper, Tamati says she’ll probably train for an hour a day before the race begins on Monday (5am Tuesday, NZ time).
But before even getting there, Tamati had an emergency dental hurdle to pass, a problem with a root canal and chipped tooth.
While funds are short, she had no choice but to go ahead with the expensive dental work in Las Vegas.
Fortunately, an anonymous New Plymouth donor has picked up the tab.
Tamati’s Oakura-based project manager Andrea Needham said finding the $6000 for the dental work came “down to the wire” and she approached a local contact who had been supportive of the athlete.
“The money was in the bank account in an hour. It’s just amazing what people have done.”
Tamati says completing the race is 90 per cent psychological, but she’s done all the training and is well-prepared.
A New Zealand 20/20 television crew will join Tamati and her crew over the weekend.
This is the 31st Badwater Ultramarathon and Tamati is the third New Zealander to attempt the gruelling race.