Ultrarunner sets new Everest to Kathmandu speed record

Last week, British ultrarunner Lizzie Hawker set a new speed record for running from base camp on Mt. Everest to Kathmandu, Nepal, besting her own previous record in the process. The 35-year old endurance athlete covered the 200 mile distance in just 2 days, 23 hours, and 25 minutes.

Hawker, who is considered one of the top long distance runners in the world, first made this run back in 2007, when she completed the course in 3 days, 2 hours, and 39 minutes. She had high hopes of shattering that record by a significant margin this time out, but heavy rains and cool temperatures forced her to take shelter in the village of Bupsa. That delay cost her 8 hours of time, which put her chances at the record in serious jeopardy, but she was able to find her rhythm and still managed to beat the previous time.

Covering 200 miles nearly non-stop is an impressive feat in and of itself, but when you consider the conditions that Hawker was running through, you gain a whole new appreciation for her accomplishment. The trail from Everest to Kathmandu is not a paved road, but is instead a rough, uneven path that wanders up and down the Himalayas. In addition to the rigors of the trail, Hawker had to deal with altitude as well, as base camp sits at 17,600 feet. The record run also came after Hawker participated in the 125 mile, nine-day Everest Sky Race, during which she also contracted a respiratory infection.

I’m going to try to keep all of those challenges in mind when I whine about my 3 mile run later today. It’ll help keep things in perspective.

Endurance athlete to run across Chile’s Atacama Desert

Canadian endurance athlete and adventurer Ray Zahab is in Chile this week where he has just launched an epic long distance run across the Atacama Desert, a place that is renowned as the driest environment on the planet. Zahab is making the attempt as a challenge to his own abilities, but also as part of an educational outreach program with the hopes of delivering an ongoing message to students about the importance of biodiversity to the health of the planet.

All told, the run will cover approximately 750 miles, starting in the northern part of the desert and heading south. Ray hopes to complete the expedition in a little over two weeks and will average more than 43 miles per day on foot. (That’s a marathon + 17 miles each and every day for those keeping track at home!) All of his gear will be carried in a backpack, along with the 8 to 10 liters of water that will be necessary for each day. A support team will make strategic water drops along the route, so that Zahab can count on a fresh supply when needed.

Along the way, Zahab will use satellite communications technology to interact with school children in classrooms all over the world. As part of the impossible2Possible program, a non-profit organization that seeks to educate and inspire young people through adventure, he’ll reach more than 16,000 children to deliver a message about threats to the environment. The desert will make for a stark contrast to a similar expedition that he conducted last year in the Amazon Jungle.

Zahab is no stranger to these kinds of challenging adventures. He has already run across the Sahara Desert, traveled to the South Pole, and set a speed record for traveling the length of Russia’s Lake Baikal on foot, a distance of nearly 400 miles. On each of those journeys he was joined by his partner Kevin Vallely, who was to be included on this expedition as well. But just days before the start an illness in the family forced Vallely to pull out, leaving Zahab to run the desert solo.

Caught in the rain shadow of both the Andes Mountains and the Chilean Coastal Range, the Atacama Desert is considered the driest place on Earth. The region averages just 1mm (.04 inches) of rain per year, and many areas have not seen rain throughout recorded history. One study suggests that river beds in the Atacama have been dry for more than 120,000 year, which gives you an indication of what Ray will be up against over the next few weeks.

You can follow his progress at AtacamaExtreme.com where he’ll be posting daily progress reports and updates from the field.

Australian ultrarunner to attempt pole-to-pole run

Australian ultramarathon runner Pat Farmer has announced that he plans to run from the North Pole to the South Pole in an attempt to raise money for charity. The endurance athlete, who once served a decade as a member of Australia’s parliament, has already completed long distance runs around and across his home country, as well as across the United States twice.

The expedition will get underway in March of 2011, beginning at the top of the world, 90ºN. From there, it’s a 13,000 mile journey, heading south the entire way, crossing through Canada and on to the West Coast of the U.S. From there, he’ll run down into Mexico, before proceeding through Central and South America, and eventually ending up in Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city in the world. From there, he’ll hop a flight to Patriot Hills in Antarctica, where he’ll resume the run until he reaches the Pole at 90ºS. The entire journey is expected to take about 11 months to complete.

Farmer’s charitable goals are just as lofty as his physical ones. He hopes to raise $100 million for the Red Cross to help fund their clean water and sanitation efforts around the globe. The inspiration for this endeavor comes after a recent trip to Southeast Asia, during which he witnessed children living in poverty and lacking common resources that most of the developed world takes for granted. Upon his return home, he decided that he wanted to do something to help.

All told, when the run is complete, Farmer will have traveled through 14 different countries on three continents. He also says he expects to shred about 40 pairs of shoes and 300 pairs of socks along the way as well. As an extreme endurance athlete, he is use to running for 50-60 miles per day on a regular basis, but he also admits that this will be the biggest challenge of his life, and that he has been in heavy training to get ready.

Come next March, we’ll see if all of that training can sustain him in the harsh Arctic conditions.

Adventurous trio running across the Kalahari Desert

The Kalahari Desert is a wild and untamed place stretching across 350,000 square miles of southern Africa. The arid expanse of land crosses through parts of Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa, and while it is an incredibly dry place, it is still home to a diverse amount of plant and animal life, including giraffes, elephants, hyenas, lions and more. It is a challenging place for any human being to survive in, but that isn’t stopping three adventurous endurance athletes from attempting to cross it on foot none the less.

Dubbed the Trans-Kalahari Run, this expedition will send three friends, Jukka Viljanen and Kirsi Montonen, both from Finland, along with Greg Maud, of South Africa, along a 1000km (620 mile) route that stretches west to east across some of the most wild parts of Botswana. The trio hopes to cover approximately 50km (31 miles) per day, for 20 straight days, in hopes of completing their quest. That’s the equivalent of running more than a marathon, plus five miles, every day for nearly three weeks, through some of the most demanding terrain on the planet.

While this will be an amazing adventure, and a great test of endurance for these long distance runners, they aren’t doing it just for the experience. This adventurous threesome is also hoping to raise awareness and funds for Cheetah Conservation Botswana, an organization that works tirelessly to preserve the population of those speedy felines in Africa, and obviously most specifically in Botswana. Cheetahs have a difficult time competing against other predators in the game preserves, so they are often forced to live in the more marginal border regions where they are hunted and killed by the indigenous people there who see them as a threat to their livestock. CCB is hoping to protect these big cats through community outreach and education with those rural communities, teaching them how to coexist with the Cheetahs.

Jukka, Kirsi, and Greg began their run yesterday, and they are promising daily updates to their blog, so we can all follow along with their progress. They got off to a good start, with a warm-up run of 26km (16 miles), but the real challenges, and adventure lie ahead.

[Photo credit: Elmar Thiel via WikiMedia]

Badwater Ultramarathon begins today in Death Valley

80 of the world’s top endurance athletes have descended on Badwater, California, located in Death Valley, to take part in the 33rd annual Badwater Ultramarathon, which gets underway at 6AM local time today. Known as “the world’s toughest footrace”, the Badwater is one of the most grueling and demanding competitions on the planet, punishing runners who come to challenge the unbelievable course, the intense natural elements and of course, themselves.

The race begins in the town of Badwater, which sits at the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere – 280 feet below sea level. From there, the course will run 135 miles through the heart of Death Valley, crossing three mountain ranges, before ending at the Mt. Whitney Portals, located at an altitude of 8300 feet. Along the way, the runners will face more than 13,000 feet of vertical gain, as well as 4700 feet of vertical descent. Along the way, temperatures will soar as high as 130ºF, adding yet another element to an already extreme race.

The runners will go day and night, mostly non-stop, throughout the entire race. Support vehicles will be on hand to ensure that they have food and water, not to mention medical attention, as need. The fastest runners will cover the 135 miles in approximately 24 hours or so, while most will take somewhere in the 30-40 hour range. Officially the race runs through Wednesday, with runners straggling across the finish line late into the day.

Ultramarathoners are incredibly fit and tough athletes who are capable of covering great distances, often at amazing speeds. But when it comes to challenging races, few are tougher than the Badwater. While it is too late to join the fun this year, you can start training now to get in on the action next July.

[Photo credit: The Los Angeles Times]