Lizzy Hawker is a one of Britain’s most successful ultra marathon runners and former Spartathlete having completed the event in 2012 finishing 3rd overall in 27.02. Lizzy’s book “A Short story about a long run” has recently been reissued and David Bone has kindly offered a brief review of the book.
Having read “Runner – A short story about a long run” by Lizzy Hawker (re-issued from original 2015 release) I had this dream sequence in my head of how the original exchange took place between the eventual publisher and Lizzy:
‘Publisher’– “Lizzy you have been one of the most successful ultra-runners in the sports history, you’ve taken part in most of its global stand-out races and you’ve held world records at some of the most challenging distances. It’s amazing and you are an inspiration – you have sensational stories to share and there will probably not be another runner like you in the history of ultra-running…Will you share your story?”
‘Lizzy’– “No thanks”
Thankfully Lizzy is persuaded to write her running story but she still (with true British reserve and our own unique brand of dark humour) produces a book that keeps a decent chunk of the ultra-running story to herself.
You, probably like me, are in awe of the facts:
- World record 24 hours – 247.04 km
- Gold Medallist in 2011 Commonwealth Games
- Gold Medallist 2006 IAU 100km World Champs
- 5-time winner of UTMB (Ultra Trail Mont Blanc)
As such you probably harbour a desire to complete the same iconic races (that Lizzy mastered) such as UTMB and BGR (Bob Graham Round) and things you’d love to know is some of the intricacies that allowed Lizzy not just to take part in these but to truly trail-blaze. How did she prepare for them? How did she truly train to be that strong and dominant? How did she cope with the highs and lows during these races? If I told you that Lizzy sometimes shares these in a few sentences or even a few words you would think that was kind of strange – like reading a book on Lionel Messi and him never mentioning he played for Barcelona, that he cared little for winning any World Player of the Year award and describing his God-given talents as ‘I’m ok I suppose’.
After a while I got into this unique story-shielding style. Classics such as Page 66 “I made a visit to friends in South Wales. They happened to be running a race, there seemed to be no reason to join them”. I wept at this point – Lizzy you are my hero.
The Wales race was of course the beloved Barry 40 ultra. Lizzy reluctantly won. She hated the experience – Got scouted that day to represent her country in the Anglo Celtic Plate. Here she beautifully captures what it’s like to Run 100km on a concrete circuit: “The race began, and it ended. It was a long day in between (over 8 hours).
There are many epic and inspiring paragraphs penned for her UTMB victories and within them you really do find yourself in awe of what she achieved at a time when the sport was in its infancy. No-one had done this before Lizzy and there were no manuals and internet to be as prepared as runners are today. However, the best moment for me is another dead-pan piece of English understatement. After winning one UTMB and after crossing the line Lizzy asks, ‘Does anyone know where my campsite is?’ – more weeping from me.
Deep down there is something eerily familiar about the flow of this book and then I get it. It’s written in the same way you reflect upon long distance runs yourself to those who don’t quite understand why you would want to do it. You unapologetically remove all the drama and you make it sound like having a cup of tea. You protect yourself and those around, so they don’t over-inflate the ‘why?’ and try and convince you not to do them because of the dangers.
As a Spartathlete I remember buying and devouring every book/magazine or article I could on this ultra-event. There have been so many words written about runners failing to complete it and in the case of one of the worlds most well-known ultra-runner (Dean Karnazes) he’s written an entire book that has created a Hollywood style mythology around it. Lizzy herself completed one of the greatest Spartathlon runs of all-time when she became the first lady to finish on the podium. To whet your appetite Lizzy sells one of her Sparta memories: “The route is just a long, monotonous road run”. I’m sure Dean only mentioned olive fields and ancient ruins.
One of the key parts of the book focuses on Lizzy’s recent life and times living and running in and around the mountainous nirvana of Nepal. It’s clear in the style of writing that this is where Lizzy is most comfortable and where she has found her connection. As someone who has been tortured by multiple injuries and suffered a series of setbacks during recovery phases, Lizzy writes with a raw beauty about the infidelity of not running and yet knowing, that as a friend, running will wait for us until such a time that we are ready. When I read the following prose, I could just see Lizzy on stage at some event like the Lovetrails festival with everyone just sat in a blissful state that Lizzy would love:
“We may procrastinate, we may give ourselves a thousand reasons why we cannot run, we may try to ignore its pull. But there will come the morning when we finally decide that this is the morning; the injury is healed, the commitments have eased, the heat has passed, the snow has melted, or our motivation has simply returned, and we will bend down to lace up our trainers and take some gentle steps”.
Lizzy remains a true ultra-run community legend. I guess you may need to track her down on a trail near Kathmandu to find a little bit more of what it was like to compete and win so many of those legendary ultra-events.