Athletics: The ultra inspiring champion

Lizzy Hawker may not be mentioned at tonight's BBC Sports Personality show - but she should be

Lizzy Hawker has just spent the past two months at sea and most of the day unloading cargo from the RRS James Clark Ross. Still, she has a long-cherished treat ahead of her: running on land that is dry, on a surface that is not subject to the swelling of the Southern Ocean.

"Yes, you do have to avoid the minefields," Hawker says, her voice crackling some 7,000 miles down the line from the telephone on board the royal research ship, which has docked in Port Stanley. "There are a lot of big areas marked off, especially around the beach, but I'm really looking forward to being able to go for a run in the hills around Stanley."

With good reason, too. Since mid-October, when she embarked on a research cruise of the Southern Ocean with her colleagues from the British Antarctic Survey, Dr Hawker, an oceanographer, has been obliged to do her running on a treadmill on board ship. "On previous trips I've done a lot of skipping," she says. "For this voyage, a colleague and I went halves on the cheapest treadmill from Argos. I didn't get on very well. I felt like I was running in slow motion."

The rocking motion of the sea can hardly have helped. Then there has been the shifts to contend with - on watch from 2am to 2pm every day, collecting data about the temperature, salinity and currents of the icy waters through which the RRS James Clark Ross was passing, as part of the British Antarctic Survey's Discovery-2010 programme investigating the response of the ocean ecosystem to climate change.

It is not quite the regime followed by Britain's other reigning world champion runner. Then again, the self-effacing Hawker - winner of the world ultra-marathon championship race in Misari, South Korea, in October, just 10 days before she departed for Antarctica - cringes at the mere mention of being bracketed with Paula Radcliffe, winner of the world champion-ship marathon race in Helsinki in August 2005. "I wouldn't presume to compare my achievement with Paula's in any way," she insists. "I don't feel I've done anything remarkable at all. It is important to keep perspective."

It is important too, however, that 2006 should not pass without due recognition being made of Britain's thus-far unheralded world champion. Nobody from the BBC has been on the line to the RRS James Clark Ross requesting Dr Hawker's presence at the Sports Personality of the Year show in Birmingham tonight. That is a shame, because the story of how the 30-year-old scientist has become a world champion at running, which she confesses to having thus far only done "on the side" of her true passions, mountaineering and ski mountaineering, is a remarkable one.

The physical feat that earned Hawker her world title was a remarkable one too. Her winning time for the 100km race was 7hr 29min 12 sec. She maintained a staggering pace of 7min 14sec per mile for 62 consecutive miles - the equivalent of running two conventional 26.2-mile marathons each in 3hr 9min, plus an additional 10 miles in 72min. Oh, and she also had to summon a sprint finish to prevail, beating Monica Carlin of Italy by a margin of four seconds after just short of seven-and-a-half hours of toil.

Hawker's achievement is all the more exceptional when you consider that she has never been a member of a running club, has never followed a structured training schedule, and has yet to break three hours for the conventional marathon distance, the standard club runner's distance-running benchmark. She only turned to ultra-marathon running by chance. Steve Ovett was once described as "the ultimate fun runner", but that was before Lizzy Hawker came along.

"When you put it like that, it does strike me just how strange it is to find myself in this position," the accidental world champion reflects. "Until now, I have just entered races that attracted my interest, turned up and managed to surprise myself. So far, running has only ever been on the side. My real love is the mountains; I have so many mountaineering and ski mountaineering dreams and aspirations. It intrigues me now to see how well I could do with my running if I started to specifically train and target a few races."

Having become friends with Sarah Rowell, the former British marathon record holder who became a fell running and mountain running champion, Hawker has the ideal guide to help her explore her potential at the conventional marathon distance. "I'm so grateful for the help and support Sarah is giving me."

The 2007 London Marathon is a provisional target. As she prepares to return home to Cambridge, though, the intrepid Dr Hawker has other peaks on her horizon. In August last year she won the gruelling 96-mile Ultra-trail Tour du Mont Blanc race. One of her major mountain running goals is to beat the record time for the 188 miles between base camp on Everest and Kathmandu, which stands at three days, seven hours, 10 minutes.

"It's something I'd love to try one day," she says. "I'd like to pursue the mountain running and the ultra road running, and I'd like to achieve a good marathon time. In some ways, it is inevitable that I will have to change some aspects of my approach to running, but the most important thing is to run how I feel, and simply for the love of it - running with heart and soul, as well as the head and legs."

Voices
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas