Lizzy Hawker – Interview

Lizzy Hawker, 2012 UTMB copyright Ian Corless

Lizzy Hawker, 2012 UTMB copyright Ian Corless

Lizzy Hawker is arguably one of the greatest female runners of all time. She has transcended what we all think is possible in running. Her versatility over multiple distances and terrain has without doubt made her one of the most respected ultra athletes of all time. She has dominated the UTMB, she is a 24-hour champion and she has set numerous course records. I was fortunate to catch up with Lizzy in early 2013. She had just had a very successful latter half to 2012 but was recovering from an injury before embarking on another full year of racing and personal challenges.

IC: Lizzy, it’s a real pleasure to finally chat, we have been trying to coordinate this for sometime.  Firstly, can we go back to how you got into running, you say you always remember running but at what point did you realize you had ability?

LH: Well going back, I can’t remember NOT running. I guess we all run as children, you know, just running around. I always remember at school that I preferred running in contrast to netball or similar sports. I don’t know how really but it just became normal to run everyday. It was only for fun though. It never crossed my mind to race or join or club. It was just my way to be outside and in nature. It was a balance to school, university and all other distractions. It’s just something that has always been there for me and I don’t think it was really until 2005 when I entered a couple of long races that I realized that I had something that I should really pursue.

IC: Pre 2005 is that when you where travelling doing expeditions. You were in Antarctica. An Oceanographer, yes?

LZ: I was actually finishing off my PHD and then I had a job with the British Antarctic survey.

IC: Running was very recreational then, a way to keep fit?

LZ: Absolutely, it was my way to be outside and an escape.

IC: Did you do any competitions, half marathons, marathons etc.?

LZ: I did London Marathon just because I felt I should… you know, it just seemed logical. I remember it was several years before I actually got a place due to the ballot. This was prior to my PHD but I was working at the Antarctic Survey when I got a place. I was actually at sea for six weeks. It was only a month before London that I got back on land. Not ideal preparation! It was my first race…

IC: How was that, how did it go?

LZ: I enjoyed it but my time wasn’t special.

IC: Time?

LZ: 3:40 ish

IC: Wow, considering how fast you now run that was a humble beginning. Nice for us all to hear… 3:40 for many is a good time but it was a very modest start for you. How did you progress?

LZ: From London a friend suggested that if I love hills then I should do a marathon in a hilly place, you know, somewhere nice. So, I did Snowdonia marathon in Wales for a few years and then the same friend suggested going ‘off-road’. You know, going across hills instead of around them. So, I entered the Welsh 1000’s. Because I didn’t have fell-running experience at all, I couldn’t enter the fell class, so, I was in the mountain class. It meant a heavy pack, long trousers and walking boots. I enjoyed it and did it a couple if times… that was the only experience I had prior to 2005.

IC: In 2005 what changed, what was it that you then did that paved the way to were you are now?

LZ: Two things really. I was visiting friends in South Wales to escape my PHD for a weekend. They were running a 40-mile track race in Barry. So I just entered it. Primarily because they had. I think that was March and then I was selected for the England team for the UK 100k champs. That was based on my time at the 40-mile race. The 100k was a month later and in-between that I went to Turkey to SkiMo (Ski Mountaineer). Not conventional prep! Also, I had read an article about the Ultra Tour de Mont Blanc (UTMB). UTMB did not have the prestige it has now and it had no wait list, so I entered. I was due to finish my PHD and it was a great excuse to go to the Alps. I would goo climbing and then race at the end. That was my first mountain race.

IC: So in 2005 with little or no experience, you go to UTMB. That is quite a step up eh?

LH: I had no idea what I was letting myself in for. I had nothing to gauge it against. I had no idea even if I would get back to Chamonix after starting. I certainly expected not to make one of the cut offs… I was on the start and I thought about a quote from Alice in Wonderland, you know, the one about starting in the beginning and stopping when you get to the end. That was my goal. To start and keep going until I stopped or was stopped.

IC: What was that first experience like?

LH: I loved it. I started in the masses. I was way back at the start. I was on the Church steps way back from the front. It was a long long time before I even started to run. Just the sheer number and volume of people slowed everything down. I can remember, after about 15 to 20k I was somewhere between about 500/600th place. I actually finished 25th or 26th overall by the time the end came. I just worked my way past everyone… I just loved it. It was my first experience of running at night and I can remember after one of the feed stations, I was running up  a climb and I could feel the beauty of the mountains. I knew then that I would have to go back. Yes, it was magic.

IC: You have won that race (UTMB) five times…

LH: Well, kind of five times…

IC: Ok, yes, five variations of the race! We spoke after the 2012 finish and you said you still had unfinished business. You want that ‘time’* on the course. Will that mean you will be back?

*Lizzy is very keen to set the fastest ladies time in the UTMB course.

LH: Yes, I am mulling over my plans. I can’t confirm for 2013 but I almost certainly will be back to UTMB, if not this year then maybe next. I do have unfinished business.

IC: Do you think the plans that the UTMB organization have made for 2013 and moving forward to correct issues* in the past will work?  *by issues, we refer to the race being shortened due to unpredictable weather.

LH: I don’t know. What I would like to see is a sliding start time. So that they have the possibility to bring the race forward or delay by 24 hours, this will allow for good weather windows. I am not sure how that would work with the other races (CCC and TDS) going on but it seems to me that the weather systems work through quite quickly and this window may very well be ideal to allow the full race to go ahead. We want the race to be as it should be, a full tour of Mont Blanc. That is 160km. If I were taking time of work, paying money to get there, I would much prefer to add one extra day either side and have that possibility to race for what may very well be moderate additional expense. I don’t think they (UTMB organization) have taken this as an option but it is what I would like to see.

IC: I think many would agree with you. The race is a ‘tour ‘of Mont Blanc. Not a 60k, 100k or 140k. You want to go back and do the race and get the time* but your variety of races are extreme, you know, you run on the track, you run on the road, you run mountains, you run trail, you do multi stage, how do you apply yourself in your training, do you literally just go out and run and enjoy it?

LH: Pretty much I guess. I think over the years I have kind of built up a high level of base endurance so depending on the race I am targeting next I kind of focus training to that specific event. But because of the way I came into running, running was part of my daily routine. I wanted to be outside, I wanted to be moving and I just love running, So, that is really the backbone of my training even now I guess. I just like to run.

IC: For someone who loves the mountains so much, You are passionate about Nepal for example, what is it in your mind that allows you to run on a 400m track, time and time again for 24 hours?

LH: I haven’t done that yet!

IC: Yes I know that, but I am curious what it is within you that will allow you to do this?

LH: I can remember back to my first track race in 2005. I hadn’t been on a track since school. It was funny, I couldn’t get lost, I couldn’t fall down a crevice, I had no avalanches to think about and it basically just simplified the process. I could think about the running movement. I could just focus. Almost like meditation.

IC: Do you use meditation when running?

LH: I use mediation for it’s own sake. But that is just during the last 12 months or so. But I have realized that most of my running is kind of a meditation. Or at least  it is my quiet time. Time alone with myself. Not every case obviously but when I am alone it is a relaxing and spiritual time.

IC: I followed you at UTMB in 2012. I had the benefit of being in the feed stations with Keith (Lizzies crew from The North Face). You would arrive; Keith would have everything laid out. It looked planned with a definite strategy. Get you in and out ASAP. But I remember you said to me that it isn’t that planned.

LH: No not at all. I never know what I want but if I have the options I can choose what I want. I need to move through as quickly as possible.

IC: Do you find that you turn yourself off? Do you almost become metronomic?

LH: Not really. It’s a body and mind connection. It has to be very strong. You need to know what is going on; particularly with your body but at the same time you need to be able to cut pain off. You need to hang on in and sort it out. It’s two sides of the coin if that makes sense.

Lizzy Hawker at Sierre-Zinal 2012 copyright Ian Corless

Lizzy Hawker at Sierre-Zinal 2012 copyright Ian Corless

IC: If we look at your achievements, UTMB, 100k champs, 24-hour world record and in 2012 you had a golden period… UTMB, Run Rabbit Run and then Spartathlon. If we look at all these things, what are your highlights?

LH: Ultimately it is the running. It is an essential part of my life. The races are stepping stones within that. I think it is funny though, I look at what you call the ‘golden period’ and I don’t feel I raced at my best! I could have done so much more… It is kind of funny; I am always trying to improve. Go faster, go longer. I want to be so much better. I was happy with those three races but I felt I could have given more.

IC: Lets take Spartathlon. It is an iconic race in the ultra calendar. It is a race that has a different variety of people who take part, we often look at that race as giving some significant performances, and for example we talk about Yiannis Kouros and Scott Jurek. You raced for the first time in 2012. Did the race live up to its billing?

LH: It is an iconic race. The atmosphere is amazing. The route is not that wonderful, not so much the route but the fact that you are on busy roads and they don’t close them. I had times during the night with lorries passing me that were less than comfortable. It is an incredible race to be a part of though.

IC: Of course you had a pretty darn good race. You set a women’s course record, you were on the podium overall but yet you say it wasn’t good enough! Did you want to win outright?

LH: yes!

(Joint laughter)

IC: Funny. I love the standards that you set yourself. Will you go back?

LH: Yes, I am not sure in 2013 but I will go back and try again one year.

IC: After Spartathlon I guess you had a cleansing period in Nepal. You did Manasulu Trail. Is that type of race more for you, a personal race?

LH: Half and half. Of course, I love to be in Nepal. Nepal gives me so much back, to be in that place is rewarding but those Nepalese guys can really run, it is not easy.

IC: I love you say that you mention the men and the fact that you are not racing the women.

LH: It’s a small race!

IC: Yes, but women usually race women. You always race for the overall instead of racing for first lady. Are you very competitive?

LH: I guess I am competitive but the competition is within. I want to be the best I can be. I can win a race and not be happy or I could come way down the field but be happy because I did my best on that day. That is the way I feel about racing. It is a personal thing.

IC: You love Nepal. You attempted a full crossing, which unfortunately didn’t go to plan… you lost your sat phone amongst other things!

LH: Or the permits! Just a few things… (laughs)

IC: Will you try again; I know the rules have changed on how you can now do these crossings?

LH I definitely want to go back. It is my dream journey. To cross the Himalayas keeping as high as possible and moving fast is what really motivates me. I would love to go back.

IC: How long is that journey?

LH: About 1,000 miles.

IC: A long way!

LH: Yes, a pretty long way.

IC: A race has been announced that will take this whole route for 2014.

LH: Yes, Spring 2014 and 2016 I think.

IC:  Is that of interest to you or would you prefer solo?

LH: I can do both! (Laughs) I still want to do my solo journey because it will be so different. The race will miss the high passes. You can’t really compare the two. They both have validity and I would like to do both.

IC: 2013 is here, what does it have in store for you?

LH: Good question. I am mulling that over. Nothing is definite, not that it ever is. I am formulating race plans at the moment.

IC: Western States, Skyrunning, and UTMB?

** Please see UPDATE below

LH: Ronda del Cims 100m Skyrunning race is looking very likely in June. I hope to do Hardrock 100. I am on the wait list so I hope to race.

IC: You are high up on the wait list for Hardrock 100 if I remember correctly?

LH: Not sure it is high enough though? I will try to do those two and then we shall see what the rest of the year holds for me.

Lizzy Hawker copyright Ian Corless

Lizzy Hawker copyright Ian Corless

IC: Ronda del Cims is a tough course. It has plenty of climbing and altitude.

LH:  Yes. I am looking forward to it. It will be a real challenge and a great race.

IC: Well Lizzy as per usual, it has been an absolute pleasure to talk to you. Without doubt you are an inspiration to all. I really appreciate your time and I look forward to seeing you and following you around the Ronda del Cims course in late June.

LH: Thanks so much Ian.

*To get 2013 rolling, Lizzy raced at Annapurna 100k and won the ladies race. She then decided to break her own personal record running from Everest base camp to Kathmandu (319km/ 198m) in 63 hours and 08 minutes (here) smashing her previous record. Not content with running for 63 hours, Lizzy then raced the 277km Mustang Trail Race and was 2nd overall. However, just recently she entered the 24-hour championships and pulled out. Apparently all is well with Lizzy and her focus is now on Ronda dels Cims. I have to say, that Lizzy has not only the potential to win the ladies race but the race outright. Race preview HERE

UPDATE June 6th, An email from Lizzy “As it turns out I’ve just had an MRI confirming a stress fracture in my foot. So, Hardrock would have been off the cards, and now I also have to pull out of Ronda del Cims.”

Links:

Ronda dels Cims, Andorra 170km Preview

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It’s only 170km’s long. Don’t worry; it only has 13,000m of vertical gain and loss. It’s 94% single track, 5% path/trail and 1% on road so you can make up some time! It has 13 aid stations, starts on Friday 21st June at 0700 and you have 62 hours to complete the event. Easy! I don’t think so…

Logo_Skyrunning_World_SeriesTwelve months ago on the island of La Palma, Skyrunning held a conference post Transvulcania La Palma and pre Zegama-Aizkorri. The conference was called, ‘Less Cloud, More Sky’. It assembled some of the best ultra runners from around the world, team managers, ancillary staff and journalists. The purpose was to help forge a direction for the sport. To cut a long story short, what was apparent was the need for technical courses that would attract and test the best runners in the world. Also, the 100-mile distance, for many, was perceived as the one distance that Skyrunning did not cover. Twelve months down the road, or should I say the trail and we have Ronda del Cims, now in its fifth year. Possibly one of the toughest, gnarly 100 mile races on the planet.

With less than a month to the start of one of the most important mountain competitions, the ‘Andorra Ultra Trail Vallnord’, a series of races starting at 10km and culminating in the main event, the 170km Ronda dels Cims.

Over 2,000 athletes will arrive in Ordino, Andorra from June 20th to 23rd to participate in an event that for them will be a tough and life changing personal challenge. In simple terms, the races on offer are hard, technical and pure. They offer a total immersion in nature and as such, must be completely respected.

The 2013 edition of the race will be particularly challenging. Due to a harsh and prolonged winter, several peaks and mountain passes will almost certainly have snow. Believe me, the fifth edition of the Ronda dels Cims has all the makings of a classic. So. Lets look who are the likely contenders in the female and male race over the 170km distance.

LADIES

The ladies race has all the makings of being a classic. We have some very tough mountain ladies taking part, all in with a chance of winning this race!

Lizzy Hawker, 2012 UTMB copyright Ian Corless

Lizzy Hawker, 2012 UTMB copyright Ian Corless

Lizzy Hawker (The North Face) needs no introduction. Unlike Emilie, Lizzy has no specialization. She is an out and out ultra runner and performs to the highest level on road, trail or mountains. A multiple champion at the TNFUTMB she will bring all that experience to Ronda dels Cims. In the latter half of 2012 she had a real purple patch with wins at a shortened TNFUTMB, Spartathlon and Run Rabbit Run. However, she did have injury issues over the Christmas period. They have now cleared up and to get 2013 rolling she raced at Annapurna 100k and won the ladies race. She then decided to break her own personal record running from Everest base camp to Kathmandu (319km/ 198m) in 63 hours and 08 minutes (here) smashing her previous record. Not content with running for 63 hours, Lizzy then raced the 277km Mustang Trail Race and was 2nd overall. However, just recently she entered the 24-hour championships and pulled out. Apparently all is well with Lizzy and her focus is now on Ronda dels Cims. I have to say, that Lizzy has not only the potential to win the ladies race but the race outright.

UPDATE June 6th, An email from Lizzy “As it turns out I’ve just had an MRI confirming a stress fracture in my foot. So, Hardrock would have been off the cards, and now I also have to pull out of Ronda del Cims.”

Francesca Canepa copyright iancorless.com

Francesca Canepa copyright iancorless.com

Francesca Canepa (Team Vibram) placed 2nd to Lizzy Hawker at the reduced TNFUTMB in 2012 but then just seven days later lined up at the Tor des Geants and won it. An incredible double. Like many other ladies in this race, she loves tough and technical. The distance will not be a problem for her and when in form, she can push Lizzy, Emilie, Nerea and the rest right to the line. A very exciting addition to the race.

Emilie Lecomte far right, Transvulcania 2013 copyright Ian Corless

Emilie Lecomte far right, Transvulcania 2013 copyright Ian Corless

Long distance specialist Emilie Lecomte (Quechua) from France comes to Andorra after a very successful 2012. She set a new course record on the GR20 long trail in Corsica and she won the tough and technical, 100m Diagonale des Fous (Raid de la Reunion) on Reunion Island. She recently raced at Transvulcania La Palma and although placed 5th overall she was 2 hours behind race winner, Emelie Forsberg. Without a doubt, Ronda dels Cims is a completely different race to Transvulcania and for sure, Emilie will revel in the tough and technical aspects that this race brings.

Nerea Martinez copyright cmdsport.com

Nerea Martinez copyright cmdsport.com

Nerea Martinez (Salomon Santiveri) has already had a successful 2013. She won the 119km Transgrancanaria, won the Apuko 83km, won the Royal Raida 79km and just last month, won the 115km Ultra Trail Madeira. Wow! That is some start to 2013 and looking at her schedule, she has lots more planned! Without doubt she is in form but two of those races in the last two months, Transgrancanaria and Ultra Trail Madeira have been tough and long days out, 17h: 16m and 19h: 15m respectively. One has to question if these will leave Nerea a little jaded for Ronda dels Cims, if not, watch this space.

Julia Boettger copyright iancorless.com

Julia Boettger copyright iancorless.com

Julia Boettger (Salomon) is equally at home on the long tough trails. In 2012 she was on the podium behind Emilie Lecomte at Diagonal des Fous so she has all the required credentials, strength and mental fortitude to battle over a very tough and technical 170km. She was due to race Transgrancanaria earlier in 2013 but picked up a virus in the days before. She was due to race the 115km Penyagolosa Trails but she either did not start or pulled out. Ronda dels Cims will be her first big race in 2013 and without doubt she will arrive prepared for the battle. 

Update, 18th June. Julia has had to withdraw from the race for personal reasons.

Hiroko Suzuki (Salomon) gets a notable mention as another name to watch.  Hiroko placed 2nd in UTMF in 2012 and was 4th at Tor des Geants. Without doubt she has experience of long tough races and will be one to watch.

Karine Sanson will also perform to the best of her ability and push all the way.

MEN

Julien Chorier copyright mudsweatandtears.co.uk

Julien Chorier copyright mudsweatandtears.co.uk

The men’s field on paper has less depth than the ladies field. The out-and-out favorite is Julien Chorier. He excels on tough and technical terrain and as a previous winner of Hardrock 100, he will come to Ronda dels Cims understanding 100% what is required to win the race. In early 2012 he won the 100m UTMF in Japan. When TNFUTMB was shortened he left Chamonix and like Emilie Lecomte he made an attempt on the GR20 in Corsica. His plan was to break Kilian Jornet’s record time. However, the weather was against him. Just a few months ago he returned to Japan and this time he placed 2nd at UTMF. Renowned for meticulous preparation, he will be racing in Andorra with only objective, to win!

Jared Campbell copyright La Sportiva

Jared Campbell copyright La Sportiva

*Breaking news… no sooner had I done this preview and I was made aware that Jared Campbell (La Sportiva) would be toeing the line at Ronda dels Cims. Why has this now been confirmed? Well, he ‘tweeted’ this just a few hours ago… “The Andorra course (Ronda dels Cims) looks to be in primo condition! Is it bad that this gets me excited?”

Jared without doubt brings a whole new mix to the men’s race. He is notorious for tough and technical races. Without doubt he will embrace the course in Andorra and embrace the challenge it will bring. One of the very few to finish Barkley, Jared will tough this course out to the bitter end. He recently ran at Pocatello 50 and said he had tired legs but that will have been a training run for the end of June and then Hardrock 100.

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bruno

Bruno Brunod (Team Forte di Bard) is a legend in Skyrunning. Born in 1962 he has a list of achievements that we can only bow down to and acknowledge:

Record ascent and descent of Matterhorn from Cervinia in 3 hours and 14 minutes. Record of ascent and descent of the Monte Rosa from Gressoney in 4 hours and 45 minutes. Record ascent and descent of Aconcagua in 5 hours and 57 minutes. Record ascent of Kilimanjaro on the Marangu route in 5 hours and 38 minutes. Record ascent of Mount Elbert in 1 hours and 54 minutes. Just like Kilian Jornet, he is a true Alpinist. I have very little knowledge of his recent attempts and endeavors but his palmares alone mean that he should be respected and certainly he will be one-to-watch.

Matt Cooper copyright mattcooper.com.au

Matt Cooper copyright mattcooper.com.au

Matt Cooper (Salomon Australia) is currently training in Chamonix preparation for the race. He was 5th at TNF 100 in 2012 and may add an element of the unknown to the front of the race. He was due to race Bogong to Hotham in January but that race was cancelled. At Cradle Mountain Ultra (82k) he placed 3rd, recently won the 100k Alpine Challenge in 12:31 so he looks to be coming in to form.

Terry Conway at Cavalls del Vent copyright Ian Corless

Terry Conway at Cavalls del Vent copyright Ian Corless

Terry Conway (X-Bionic) from the UK is new to Skyrunning. In the UK he has had great success with wins and course records on the Lakeland 100 course but his recent trips to Europe to run at Cavalls del Vent and then La Course des Templiers gave no real indication of his ability to perform against much more competitive fields. In early 2013 he raced at Ultra Trail Barcelona and placed 3rd. He has been out on the Lakeland fells and mountains in recent months gaining time on his legs and accumulating as much vertical as possible. However, the trails in Andorra are a long way removed from those in the UK.

Dave James, The Coastal Challenge copyright iancorless.com

Dave James, The Coastal Challenge copyright iancorless.com

Dave James from the US has been immersing himself in Skyrunning recently. He raced at Transvulcania La Palma, Zegama-Aizkorri and now he will line up at Ronda dels Cims. Dave has a pedigree. He is a 100m US champion and has a fastest 100m time of just over 13 hours. However, he is just not used to the technical terrain that Andorra will throw at him. He is spending time on the course in the coming weeks. It will be a big learning curve buy he is under no illusions of what lies ahead.

Ty Draney copyright door5.com

Ty Draney copyright door5.com

Ty Draney (Patagonia Ultra Running Team) from the US is 38 years old and has over a decade of ultra running experience to fall back on. Way back in 2003 he placed 4th at Bear 100, a race that he then went on to win in 2008. He has placed top 20 at Hardrock 100 and most recently won Grand Teton 100m in 2009, placed 3rd at Grindstone 100m in 2010 and was 5th at The Bear in 2012. His recent form is open to question and a 27th placing at Gorge Waterfalls 50k in March leaves us with little indication of he will perform over 100+m tough mountain miles.

Finally, Nico Valesia (Salomon Agisko) I know little about. His most recent results are as follows: 1st Trail Bianco di Cesana 24 km,  1st Mini Trail di Gargallo,  2nd Trail Lago di Como 106 km,  2nd Trail del LAgo d’Orta 63 km,  7th Trail Oulx 48 km.

18th June, Nico has had to withdraw with an injury

One thing is for sure, Ronda dels Cims will be an incredible few days of ultra mountain trail running. Although I have highlighted the ‘elite’ runners one cannot rule out local talent who will have knowledge and experience of the trails, conditions and mountain. It will be very exciting!

Ones to watch:

Oscar Perez Lopez (2012 winner of the race), Uli Calmbach, Kenichi Yamamoto , Hugues Vos, Pep Ballester Gomes, John Todd, Amando Jorge Teixeira, Jean-Hugues Vos, Pep Ballester Gomes, Jordi Comas Corral, Jordi Codina Ventura and Marc Llucià Fleitas.

You will be able to follow the action unfold via Twitter, Facebook and via iancorless.com 

  • The race website is HERE
  • Skyrunning HERE