Navy Lt. j.g. Hannah Roberts was the top female finisher May 12 at the Zion 100-miler in Virgin, Utah. Her time of 22:45:10 put her in the top ten overall.
Now Roberts, 25, will continue to train for July’s Badwater 135-mile ultramarathon while underway on the destroyer Hopper, based out of Pearl Harbor.
So how does someone — especially a trail runner — train for a punishingly-hot ultra aboard a ship?
“I do have a few more underway days than I’d like or am comfortable with to train, but I have to remember I have the miles on my legs and it’s going to be better to show up undertrained and hungry for the miles than overtrained and in survival mode off the bat,” Roberts told me in an email. “I plan on doing as much as I can but I know that the next underways will be VERY busy and I’m going to have to fight for any miles and heat training I can get. ”
Roberts said she can do quick workouts on the treadmill, but she tries to avoid it at all costs. Instead, she often runs figure-8 loops on the ship’s weather decks. She’s done several marathon-length training runs this way, she said, on short underways and during past deployments. Roberts said she also plans to do CrossFit training and kettlebell workouts.
“I know I’m really lucky to have my command behind me for this because my captain easily could pull the plug on this dream this year for me.”
Roberts — like 23-year-old Army 1st Lt. Claire Heid — is one of the youngest runners in Badwater this year. At 25, she’s 20 years younger than the this year’s average age of 45.
“I feel really grateful and lucky that I found my passion and my sport so early,” she said. “I get schooled all the time in races by people way older than me. It’s humbling.”
Also like Heid, Roberts didn’t start running until college. She ran her first marathon when she was a sophomore at the Naval Academy and finished her first 50-miler the following year. She ran her first 100-miler — Virginia’s Grindstone 100 — for her 22nd birthday.
This year alone she’s already finished at the top of two 100s — her win at Zion, plus a second-place finish in January’s HURT 100 — and is now all eyes on Badwater.
Roberts’ heat training has consisted largely of quality chunks of time in the sauna while wearing piles of clothes.
“I make friends in every sauna I go to,” Roberts wrote on her blog, Run Sea Legs Run. “Because it’s probably really hard to not ask questions when you see someone in layers running in place or doing jumping jacks in a sauna. It is quite the ice breaker.”
Her goal leading up to Badwater is to do “14 consecutive days of 90 minutes of vigorous exercise,” she wrote. “This will include jogging and calisthenics in the sauna with way too much clothing and harder efforts outside in Hawaii.”
While at sea it won’t be so easy.
“It’s a forced rest. But … it will compromise my heat training efforts because I’ll spend 12 hours a day … in a 60 degree hole in my ship,” she wrote on her blog, referring to the time she’ll spend in the ship’s combat information center.
Roberts said the desire to run Badwater has always been in the back of her mind. She wrote about her motivations on her race application:
“I want to compete in the Badwater Ultramarathon because I am curious of my physical limitations, enchanted by the places of peace and perspective that distance running delivers — I imagine even more so at Badwater — and I want to follow in the footsteps of some of the world’s most humbly-inspiring and incredible people. I admire anyone who has shown up to the starting line and I can think of few greater honors than earning a starting position. The 48 hours and 135 miles offer an unsurpassable opportunity to break myself into complete humility, surrender completely to the many moments of pain, beauty, discomfort, and love, and answer questions I don’t even know to ask yet.”
“I’ve been in the academy and doing this since I was 17,” she said. “There’s a level of discipline that I can credit to the Navy.”
“I’ve seen things on deployment — and even at home port you pull hard watches — and kind of like, ‘OK now, there’s no point in feeling sorry for yourself, just do what you’re supposed to do,’ ” she adds. “We pay to do these things, right? There’s no point in feeling sorry for yourself. Keep running.”
No Impact Project: Hannah is raising money for the No Impact Fund to advance awareness, education and action for the environment. Her donation page is here.