Tag Archives: ultra marathon

Ray Zahab & Expedition Gobi

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I got a phone call from Ray Zahab yesterday. He was at the airport, getting ready to board a plane for Asia and a 2,300km run across the most Gobi Desert. “Expedition Gobi” is just the latest, ambitious expedition from Ray, who has already run the Sahara at its widest point (some 7,500 km) back in 2007. And the arctic. And served as expedition leader for youth expeditions to Africa and the Andes.

Why does a man do such things? For an idea. And the inspiration this idea brings to the world. Ray’s idea is quite simple: most the things we tell ourselves are impossible, are in fact, quite possible. A simple, revolutionary idea. And I don’t use that word often. But how else do you describe someone’s dauntless commitment to proving that we are wrong about our limitations. And wrong to limit ourselves.

Ray’s organization is called “Impossible2Possible” (i2P) And he’s the first one to point out, “this is not about running. This is about human spirit. This is about that desire in all of us to achieve something in our lives, but also… to want to make a difference in the lives of others.”

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The way Ray Zahab makes a difference is by taking teenage explorers with him. Not talking about it. Doing it with them. Taking them past their limitations and showing them they are more powerful than they think. Having been a volunteer teacher for at risk teens in Los Angeles for a couple of years, I can tell you, this is no small gift. This is a gift that gives for a lifetime. Every teen if full of self doubt. Hell most adults still are. So if you can take them through that, to what may be the first big success in their lives… that is a thing worth doing.

So let’s all send some good wishes to @RayZahab and Kevin Lin this week. Seriously. They start this weekend. Let them hear from you as they #RunGobi. It’s important. Someone out there is doing something amazing. And we are all lifted by it.

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Adventurer of the Year: Lizzy Hawker

Lizzy Hawker, ultra long distance runner.
Lizzy Hawker runs the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, 103 miles. photo: The North Face.

Just in time to beat the voting deadline… ultra long distance runner Lizzy Hawker makes up our 10th and final look at National Geographic’s Adventurers of the Year, 2013. Don’t forget to vote by January 16!

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You know that scene in the movie Forrest Gump where, after the girl leaves him, Forrest heads off for a run that takes him across the country about six times? Seemingly no limit to his endurance? That’s what I think of when I read about Lizzy Hawker. A petite British woman who didn’t run a professional race until she was 29 and entered NorthFace’s Ultra Marathon du Mont Blanc on a whim – and won it!

Some fish are born to swim, right?

In his excellent post for Nat Geo, Fitz Cahall paints the picture in all its grueling colors. 103 miles (168 km) with a cumulative 31,168 feet of uphill climb. As anyone who has run a regular marathon can tell you – this is quite an achievement. Lizzy has won the women’s title 5 out of the 6 times she’s run it.

lizzy hawker wins UTMB
Lizzy Hawker wins first place for her 5th time, at Northface’s Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc. photo: Franck Oddoux.

Since finishing her PhD in oceanography, and her work with the British Antarctic Survey, Lizzy has concentrated on endurance running. She credits her success to a natural level of endurance and a deep love of the mountains. In fact, it seems like just being in the mountains is her primary motivation.

Perhaps even more impressive than the large, well organized UTMB, was Lizzy’s try at the Great Himalayan Trail, across Nepal, solo.

You have to realize that a trail like that – criss-crossed for thousands of years – doesn’t exactly come with trail markers. “There are lots of old hunting trails. The animals have worn parts [of it] as well. It’s very easy to get off the main trail. I was in really steep old-growth forest. I managed to lose a small bag that had the satellite phone and permits for the entire journey.”

Losing that bag meant the end to Lizzy’s trek. Without being able to make her daily sat-phone check in, she knew her friends would be calling out a rescue party.

Of course she’s planning on trying again. When you’re Lizzy Hawker, you don’t need a prize at the end of the road. You just need the trail, your shoes and the mountains. How pure is that?

“For me, moving fast in the mountains just comes natural.”

Lizzy Hawker
Lizzy Hawker loves to run in the mountains. Whether there’s a race or not!