The Flagler Beach ultramarathoner was diagnosed with COVID after she returned home.
The morning after arriving in California's Death Valley, Dawn Lisenby woke up with a severe headache. It was not a good omen.
She began experiencing muscle spasms and other symptoms. She assumed it was dehydration. In two days, Lisenby, 54, was scheduled to run the Badwater 135, known as the world's toughest footrace.
The Flagler Beach resident began the 135-mile ultramarathon at 8 p.m. on July 11 at the Badwater Basin. The temperature was 123 degrees.
"It was extraordinarily hot, but I was feeling good. I felt like I was running well."
— DAWN LISENBY
"It was extraordinarily hot, but I was feeling good," she said. "I felt like I was running well."
She hit the 17-mile checkpoint right on schedule, at 4 hours, 14 minutes. At the 42-mile checkpoint, at 7:30 a.m., the temperature had returned to 123 degrees and her symptoms had returned. Her body was cramping. She was feeling nauseous. She assumed it was heat exhaustion.
After a rest in her crew's air-conditioned vehicle, Lisenby had trouble standing up. She was not going to make the next checkpoint on time. Her race was over.
In 2018, Lisenby had run the course untimed a few days before the actual race. Her application was accepted in 2020, but the race was canceled that year. For two years, the ultra-marathoner had waited out the pandemic and trained for this opportunity, only to see her run end prematurely for a medical reason she didn't understand.
She was invited to the finish party and was touched when the runners who finished applauded the 16 runners who did not.
"It made us feel worthy. It shows how the ultra community supports you during good days and bad," Lisenby said.
"I probably wouldn't have known I had COVID if I hadn't run 42 miles with it. It was horrible timing. For two years I had avoided COVID."
— DAWN LISENBY
But her symptoms did not improve. After returning home, she finally went to the emergency room and was diagnosed with COVID.
The doctor told her, "I can't believe you ran 42 miles in Death Valley with COVID."
"The thought is I left here with it," Lisenby said. "I probably wouldn't have known I had COVID if I hadn't run 42 miles with it. It was horrible timing. For two years I had avoided COVID."
After two weeks, she was back on her feet. Now, she is going back to being a running coach and trail race director. On Aug. 6, Lisenby's East Coast Trail Racing is putting on the River to Sea 6/12 Hour Race at River to Sea Preserve.
In September, she plans to finish her "Big Blue" quest of running the entire east coast of Florida with a final 62-mile segment.
"I'm going to take it easy for the rest of the year," she said. "I was supposed to retire from pavement after this race. I do want to go back (to Badwater), but we'll see."