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Gönderen Konu: Can You Set Off Running 1000 mile Through the Himalayas? But She Did !  (Okunma sayısı 3265 defa)

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Ekim 16, 2011, 04:28:57 ös
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High in the Himalayas, where some walkers struggle for air, a British woman last week set off on a 1,000-mile run through the world’s biggest mountains.

Above her tower great peaks. Ahead lie steep ascents and perilous descents. Ahead, too, is more than a month of pounding out two marathons a day on uneven terrain. Lizzy Hawker could not be happier.

“It’s so incredibly beautiful,” she said, via a satellite phone. “The full moon is beautiful and it’s good to finally be on the trail.”

She began at the Kanchenjunga base camp at 15,000ft in eastern Nepal and her goal is Humla on the Tibetan border far to the west. After a day’s running she said: “A wonderful and long day! I feel so privileged to make this journey amongst these mountains. I’m hoping it will take me less than 40 days, but a lot depends on the weather and the route. It’s going to be a challenge.”

Though Sherpas will provide some support, she has the bare minimum of equipment: a sleeping bag, a “bivvy bag”, a stove and some food. She hopes to sleep in huts or local homes en route.

To her, the running is all. For Hawker is arguably the greatest ultra-long distance runner Britain has produced. In the world of extreme athletic endeavour even rivals describe her as “superwoman”.

Yet the public has barely heard of her. Of one of her early triumphs, she said: “Even I hadn’t heard of me.”

Instead, fame and considerable fortunes tend to go to marathon stars such as Paula Radcliffe. However, for Hawker, one of the fittest humans alive, an ordinary marathon is a stroll in the park. Three weeks ago she took part in a 24-hour race in Llandudno, north Wales. It was her first such event, run on a loop with a 500-metre straight, a sharp turn, and another 500-metre straight.

Competitors could stop for drinks, food or sleep whenever they wished, but the aim was to complete as many laps as possible in 24-hours. Local residents went to bed with runners on the circuit outside and woke up the next morning to see the same runners still going.

Hawker beat everyone, including all the men, setting a world record of 153.1 miles. Second place went to a man who was almost two miles behind her.

For ordinary mortals it begs simple questions. How does she do it? What keeps her going?

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Born in Upminster, east London, she does not come from a family of athletes. Her father had an engineering business, her mother looked after their four children. Hawker has always enjoyed the great outdoors. She recalls falling in love with mountains at the age of six on a family holiday. “I wept when we left to come home and I couldn’t see the Matterhorn any more,” she said.

After school she studied natural sciences at Cambridge and took a doctorate in polar oceanography before joining the British Antarctic Survey. During trips to the southern ocean, colleagues remember her running circuits of the ice-breaker ship and skipping in the freezing temperatures.

Former colleagues remember her as a “very, very private person”. One recalled: “Quite a few of us go running, but she never joined in. She always ran on her own. She was a very self-contained person.”

By 2005 her feet had got the better of her brain and Hawker decided to devote herself to ultra running. In her first big event, the 103-mile Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, she started at the back of the field with other newcomers to the sport.

Over a distance that is the equivalent of four marathons back to back and almost the height of Everest in terms of the ascents to climb, she powered through the field.

Some 25 hours later, she was the first woman to cross the finishing line. Since then she has won the event three more times, the first woman to do so.

Yet she has no coach and no dietician — in fact, none of the trappings of success that are common among other athletics phenomena. A vegetarian since the age of five, she has admitted in the past that some of her race nutrition planning is no more sophisticated than grabbing items from the hotel breakfast buffet.

She doesn’t even have a rigid training regimen. Her brother, Stuart, said: “If she’s preparing for a flat race then she’ll tend to run more on the flat, if she’s going into the mountains then she’ll run in the hills.”

What she does have is the small, lean physique, and remarkable cardiovascular system, necessary for long- stance running. Garry Palmer, an exercise physiologist who works with elite athletes, said: “Runners are carrying their own body weight and ultra- runners tend to have an incredibly economic style, including a low foot carriage over the ground. They usually also have low sweat rates.”

Hawker has remarked that she sweats less, and so gets less dehydrated, than other competitors. Her economical style includes not bringing her arms up high across her chest.

While everyone can train to a certain level, Palmer suggests the strength of a successful ultra-runner mainly comes from genetics. “Athletes tend to find the event that suits their genetic make-up; they will try something and then move on. Perhaps having tried a marathon, they will move on to longer distances.”

Beyond the physical side of covering extreme distances, mental resilience is perhaps even more important.

“It’s a lonely discipline,” said one sports coach who has worked with ultra-runners, “and frankly some of them are barking mad.”

Eleanor Jones, a sports physiologist at Birmingham University, was more nuanced: “They’re not mad but driven, I would say. All elite athletes are. You have to be. You have to enjoy the perseverance and once you are into your pace and rhythm it’s not so difficult to tick the hours going by.”

Out on the road or in the mountains, the runners tend to find themselves on their own. “I wouldn’t say Lizzy is a solitary person — she has a wide circle of friends,” said Stuart, “but she is someone who is not afraid to be on her own.”

Currently, she has no boyfriend. “Well, not one that any of us know about,” said a friend. Relationships can be difficult for ultra-runners. As the friend added: “Who wants to be in a partnership where one of you says, ‘I’m just popping out for a run,’ and then doesn’t return for 24 hours?”

The long-term effects of such extreme endurance sports are not yet known, because there have been no studies of the impact on the muscles or the skeleton. Experts say there may be some degradation in the surfaces of key joints, such as knees and hips; but generally the levels of fitness mean ultra-runners can have long, successful careers.

The financial rewards, however, are modest. Hawker, who now lives in Switzerland to be close to the mountains, survives by giving lectures and leading trail running courses. Sponsorship from the North Face clothing company helps and has made the run along the Himalayas possible.

She said: “It’s a deep shame that ultra-distance running doesn’t get the recognition it deserves, not only for us as individual athletes but because I believe our sport could inspire and encourage so many people and really make a difference on many levels.”

The difficulty is that the sport is hardly designed for spectators. The tour of Mont-Blanc takes the leading male runners about 21 hours to complete, but the slower runners take almost two days.

So why doesn’t Hawker try marathon running? “I’ve been asked if I’m tempted to run the marathon in London 2012. A home Olympics is a big incentive — but I’m not sure it’s enough.” she said.

“If I’m on the roads then I’m not in the mountains. I don’t like the idea of that. It’s a tough decision.” She would prefer it if ultra-running in the mountains were an Olympic sport.

As it is, she has created her own Olympian challenge. Today she is running somewhere along remote slopes in the east of Nepal, having descended slightly from the base camp at Kanchenjunga and crossed her first pass, the Nango La, at a mere 15,670ft. “There is something magic about the stillness when you cross a pass shrouded in clouds,” she said.

Stillness? At that point she had completed about 50 miles. Only another 950 to go.


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