Monique “Runner Moe” Jacques is cool.
The local ultrarunner is only a few weeks out from her July 10 debut appearance at the STYR Labs Badwater 135, but from the calm way she talks about it, she might as well be training for a weekend 5K.
Billed as “The World’s Toughest Footrace,” the 135-mile Badwater ultramarathon begins in Death Valley’s Badwater Basin and ends at the trailhead to Mount Whitney. Participants must complete the course within 48 hours to earn what many consider the holy grail of ultrarunning: the Badwater belt buckle.
It isn’t just the distance that makes the race challenging, though that would be enough for most. The course covers three mountain ranges and weather conditions are extreme, with temperatures reaching 130 degrees in years past.
This year, Jacques is the only female runner from the Central Valley participating in the event, which draws runners from all over the world.
It wasn’t too long ago — 2008 — that she was running laps around a track for fun. In 2009, she says, a fellow law enforcement officer asked her to join a team for the Baker to Vegas law enforcement relay. Later that year, she ran her first half marathon.
Soon, she’d worked her way up to marathons. But she wasn’t a fan of racing long distances on the road, so she took to trails.
At first, she ran in Northern California. But when race director Nate Moore’s San Joaquin Running began putting on local trail races, she found there was much to love about running in our own backyard. Eventually, she worked her way up to the 50 and 100K distances, completing trail races throughout the state.
Her first 135-mile run was 2015’s 135M to the House. Some chose to make the 135-mile trek from Bakersfield to Madera as part of a relay team. Jacques did it solo, becoming the first woman to complete the race, and repeated the feat in 2016.
“The first 75 miles wasn’t so bad,” she says of the first time, “but after that, it was horrible. I was ready to stop but my family came out, friends came out … It was the same thing the year after that. [After] about 100 miles my feet started hurting.”
She chalked the first time up to not training well enough, but when it happened the following year, even with better shoes and more intense training under her belt, she realized it might just be part of the experience. “By the end of the day, your feet are throbbing. That’s how it feels times ten.
“I cried a lot during those races.”
But she finished. The race is a fundraiser for the Bakersfield and Central Valley Ronald McDonald Houses, but Jacques also completed it knowing she eventually wanted to run Badwater.
Because demand far exceeds the 100 available spots, the race is invitation-only. Most participants apply and qualify on the strength of a race resume, years in the making. This was what Jacques was working toward, she says, when she decided to run the 81-mile Badwater Salton Sea race last April.
That race requires runners to compete as part of a team. Jacques joined forces with another female runner she met via Facebook, and the two competed with plans to raise funds for the Wingman Fund.
What they didn’t plan on, says Jacques, was winning the female division in 18 hours, 55 minutes. The prize? A guaranteed entry into this year’s Badwater 135.
“I was kind of forced to start training,” Jacques laughs.
There’s only so much training one can do for a 135-mile race in the desert. “There is no training plan for 135,” she says. “I’ve looked everywhere, there is not a single training plan after 100 miles.”
Her training runs have topped out a 35 miles, she says, and she’s run longer races up to the 100K distance as she’s prepared for Badwater. It’s normal for her to do back-to-back long runs of 20-35 miles on weekends. She’s also invested in “a really fancy treadmill” that can be set to anywhere from a 40 percent incline to a -6 percent decline for those times she can’t get outside. “Sometimes I have to train in the middle of the night,” she explains.
A lot of the preparation is mental. “I read everything,” Jacques says. “I’ve looked at every documentary, every book, every blog.
“I know I can go the distance,” she adds. “I’m just worried about the heat.”
Sunscreen and protective clothing — white arm sleeves, leg sleeves, cooling bandanas and shirts — should provide some relief from the elements. Hammer Nutrition has sponsored her for several years, so she plans on using the company’s fueling and hydration supplements, as well as body care products, during the race.
Less set in stone is her diet for the two-day race. During that first 135-miler, she says, she fueled with junk food: “A lot of Uncrustables, potato chips, Coca Cola, pretzels.” The following year she stuck to a paleo diet. Neither seemed to work better than the other, she notes, so she’s still figuring out nutrition for this race.
A four-person crew will travel with Jacques, and will be able to pace her once she’s completed 50 miles. Her crew captain, Brad Castillo, has crewed Badwater for Madera’s Oswaldo Lopez, and has been a wealth of information. (Lopez, who has completed the race several times, was the overall winner in 2011.)
The rest of the crew includes Begered Ghazi, Scott Harlan, and her sister, April Jacques. The five have already traveled to Death Valley to complete some training runs in the heat.
Running Badwater comes with a steep price tag. Registration alone is more than $1,000. Then there’s the van rental (for the crew), food, lodging, gear … it adds up. A sponsorship from the Sierra Challenge EXPRESS running club is helping to cover some of the costs, she says, and Castillo also held a fundraiser.
“When I started running, people thought I was crazy,” Jacques says. “When I’d bump up in distance, they’d tell me, ‘You can’t do that.’ [But] I’ve never hit the wall. I focus on my hydration and nutrition [and] I think people who hit the wall, it’s because they’re competing really hard.”
Jacques admits she trains to finish races, not to win. Her success, she adds, is proof that anybody can run. She recommends locals just getting into the sport begin with the San Joaquin River Trail Half Marathon, which is held in the spring. “It’s a tough course, but it’s only a half marathon.”
Because if you’re Monique Jacques, after 13.1 miles, 135 is within reach. It’s just a matter of going the distance.
“When I did the other 135s and I wanted to quit,” Jacques says, “I just kept telling myself, ‘Just finish. You don’t have to win anything, just finish.’ The goal is to finish, to get the belt buckle.”