On September 23rd and 24th, at the Commonwealth Mountain and Ultra Distance Championships, the United Kingdom’s Lizzy Hawker set a new women’s world 24-hour record on the roads. When all was said and done, she put down 247.076 kilometers. For those of us who are metrically-challenged, that’s 153.525 miles! What’s more incredible is that this was not only Hawker’s first time running on the roads for longer than 100 kilometers, but it was also on the heels of her victory at The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) just four weeks prior!
Last week, we “sat down” with Lizzy Hawker (Well, as best as one can across continents!) to chat about what she’s been up to since we last saw her at UTMB (post-race video interview), what went down during her world record run, and what’s next on her adventure docket. Suffice it to say, if this woman doesn’t make you want to get up and go for a run, I suspect nothing will!
iRunFar: We last saw you at the finish line of UTMB, where you won without challenge. In that race, though, you had significant hip pain. In the month since, you must have recovered. Can you tell us what you’ve been up to, what was wrong with your hip, and how you healed it?
Lizzy Hawker: The problem during UTMB was actually with my piriformis/glute rather than my hip. I’m not quite sure what set it off, but maybe something tweaked when I slipped in the night. Then, when the muscles were working hard, they just clamped up. After the race, the physio worked to relax them and then the pain dispersed. Luckily, it wasn’t a serious problem, although I was in such pain! I probably had four days of no running, then a few gentle runs until the pain had gone.
Two weeks after UTMB, I was ‘pacemaker’ for the 4:30-hours finishers at the Jungfrau Marathon [in Switzerland]. I’d love to race Jungfrau again, but thought my legs wouldn’t have had enough speed, hence volunteering as pacemaker. It was a nice change to experience the ‘mid’ pack and chat to so many people! It was hard to hold my speed (My best time at Jungfrau is around 3:30 hours.) and it felt easy, so I was happy to see that I’d recovered well from UTMB. It gave me confidence that I should be okay for the Commonwealth Championships.
iRF: America probably knows you best as a mountain runner, with your victories at UTMB and your win here at the 2007 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50-Mile Championship in San Francisco. You run European road races with moderate frequency, though. Do you have a preferred type of race, or running surface, or distance? Clearly, you excel and whatever you do, but is there something you prefer?
Hawker: My heart will always be in the mountains! There are definitely challenges on the road that I would like to attempt. My motivations are to give the best of myself, to push my limits to the ‘edge,’ to feel my rawness and vulnerability, and to feel strength in body, mind, and spirit. Maybe running different types of races on different types of terrain gives a chance to express that in different ways?
iRF: Tell us about the set-up for the 24-hour race at the Commonwealth Mountain and Ultra Distance Running Championships. We understand that the race was held up and down a boulevard. Can you describe the course layout? And how about your competition? Were you challenged by any female competition in the race’s early stages?
Hawker: The race was a completely flat one-kilometer road loop (500 meters straight in one direction then a sharp turn, 500 meters straight in the other direction followed by another sharp turn.). It was on a two-lane (each direction) residential road with a grass verge down the middle. The race started at noon last Friday and finished at noon on Saturday. It must have been quite strange for the residents to watch us running loop after loop, draw their curtains, go to sleep, and then wake up to find us still running!
About the competition, I’ve probably said before in an interview that, for me, the important thing is to focus on the race rather than the competition. I hope just to run the best that I can at each moment of the race, to give ‘all’ I can, to feel joy, and to share the experience.
That being said, there were some very talented runners, including Sharon Gayter (the previous Commonwealth Championships gold medalist) and Emily Gelder (who had previously ran over 220 kilometers in a 24-hour race). This being my ‘debut’ at a 24-hour road race, I had no idea where I would stand if you were to think about pre-race ‘rankings.’
iRF: Did you go into this race with a particular goal in mind? Were you gunning for a certain distance, a national record, a world record, something different?
Hawker: I had no expectations. One hundred kilometers was the longest I had previously run in one stint on the road! I had many apprehensions of running so many hours on the road after a summer on the trails. I think that was part of the attraction of doing the race, trying something new, having no expectations, just letting myself ‘be’ in the moment.
iRF: We understand you ran 246-odd kilometers, more than 152 miles in American speak. Did we get that right? How did the race play out for you? Did you feel strong most of the time? Any rough patches? And, now that it’s over, how does your body feel?
Hawker: My final distance was 247.076 km! I remember thinking at one point that it would hurt to run slowly, so I may as well hurt while running a slightly quicker pace.
The toughest time was the hour or two before dawn. Then the light coming back in the sky gave me a huge boost. In the late stages of the race, I was thinking about trying to keep ‘light’ on my feet as I knew that would help.
I had a little more soreness in my legs for the first day than I would after a 100-kilometer race, but this is the fourth day now and the legs are fine! I am lucky in that I usually do recover quite quickly.
iRF: We also want to mention that you won this race overall. You beat all the men, too, by several kilometers. Was this a goal or a fortuitous byproduct of your day?
Hawker: Having no prior expectations it wasn’t initially a goal. However, by the last few hours, I would have been reluctant to relinquish my position! I’m proud to show that the gap between the performance of men and women closes in ultra-distance events.
iRF: Okay, it’s autumn. Do you plan to race again this year or will you take some time off? We know you’ve got a grand adventure in the Himalaya on your horizon. When do you begin that and how is the planning for it going?
Hawker: I leave for the Himalaya next week! I will attempt to ‘run’ the Nepalese section, about 1,600-1,700 kilometers, of the Great Himalaya Trail (GHT). It will be an incredible journey, whether or not I manage to follow the route I hope.
I am entered in The North Face Endurance Challenge 50-Mile Championship in San Francisco in December. But we’ll see. I return from Nepal eight days before the race so I may make a last-minute switch to the 10-kilometer or half marathon race if I need some recovery time after the GHT!
iRF: Congrats, Lizzy, on your tremendous race! Take good care out there in the Himalaya, and thanks for your time.