Review of Lizzy Hawker’s new book, Runner

Among women in the world of ultra-endurance running, Britain’s Elizabeth or “Lizzy” Hawker’s accomplishments dazzle.  Named National Geographic’s 2013 Adventurer of the Year, her victories includes five wins at the UTMB, the 246 km Spartathon, Comrades, Run Rabbit Run, Transgrancanaria, Zermatt, the San Francisco North Face Endurance Challenge, Manaslu, the Everest Sky Race, and countless others.  She was also the 2006 100km world champion and held the world record for 24 hours of road racing until May 2013.

In her first and newly published book Runner, Hawker tells the story of how she stumbled into and then came to dominate the world of ultrarunning.  Readers not already familiar with Hawker’s bio might be surprised to learn that the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc was her first ultra-distance mountain race, and that she won it with what seems to have been almost no intentional training, strategy, or understanding of what she was biting off in setting out to race 100 miles through the Alps.

Runner is organized into three main sections.  In Part I: A Journey of Discovery, Hawker recounts her ultrarunning beginnings and her first UTMB win in 2005.  In Part II: A Journey of Exploration, she tells of her time in Nepal including her run from Everest Base Camp to Kathmandu.  Part III: A Journey of Realization turns to her attempts to recover from several serious running injuries.

Readers looking for details about Lizzy’s training regime, racing strategies, or dietary secrets will find few specifics in Runner.  Understated and deeply introspective throughout, the book positions Hawker as a beginner in the spirit of Shunryu Suzuki’s Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.  Heavily influenced by a broad swath of Eastern religion and philosophy including Tibetan Buddhism, Hawker’s book is really a meditation on how endurance running became, for her, a vehicle for self discovery and self actualization.  And if Runner relies a bit heavily on quotations by Lao Tzu, Carl Jung, Douglas Adams, Robert Pirsig, the Buddha, Carl Sagan etc. – it is nevertheless a very personal and at times, emotional story.  For readers with a philosophical orientation and an interest in running as vehicle for self actualization, Runner is a recommended read.

So many reasons to love Bend

For trail runners who love craft beer, there’s really no place like Bend.  Buff, gently rolling, red dirt trails wind through Ponderosa Pine forest, alongside the volcanic rock-lined Deschutes River.  For a sun fiend like myself, the open skies & dry, sunny high desert climate of Central Oregon are such a welcome respite from the rainy coast, and although the trails we ran were a breeze compared to what we’re used to in the Issaquah “alps” (i.e. not at all technical, and much flatter), they were fun in the best kind of easy, simple way.  Next time we’ll branch out and find some tougher terrain, really!

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IMG_0998IMG_1055IMG_1048IMG_1058 We also skied.  Most of the resorts around Seattle are closed for obvious reasons (not enough snow), so the option to lift ski at Mt. Bachelor made Bend a doubly attractive destination.

Volcanoes!  View of South and Middle Sister, and Broken Top, from Mt. BachelorIMG_1029 IMG_1022

Me at the summit.  Photo by A. Winstanley.11156232_10152740335070872_3454264197754187061_nIMG_1017

Luxury camping at a nearby snow park (i.e. parking lot on forest service land).

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Checked out Crux – one of Bend’s hottest breweries.  We were not disappointed.IMG_1003

The letting go

It’s been quite the year for running-related setbacks.  I lost most of the summer mountain running season due to a pulled calf, and now, just before my first Boston Marathon, I’m three weeks into what’s turned into bronchitis & pneumonia.  Also, despite being about as fit as I’ve ever been and set-up to run around a 5 hour time, I pulled out of the Chuckanut 50k last month when this “little chest cold” thing got going.

When is it ok to run with a cold?  After a week on the lam, Andy and some friends were going out for a little trail run on Tiger Mountain.  I didn’t want to miss out on the fun, and so, despite knowing that it might be too soon, I joined them for 2 hours in the pouring rain.  The pace was much slower than Andy and I normally run, so I hoped for the best and even went out for beers afterward.  But by the next day I was clearly paying the price with a barking cough and a lingering low-grade fever.

By the following Saturday, I was starting to get antsy about Boston.  Two weeks of almost no running had put my training way behind schedule – to the point where I’d decided it would be perfectly fine to treat the marathon as a “fun run” and jog it in around 4 hours instead of my original plan – shooting for 3:10 and a new personal best.  So, since I was feeling a little bit better,  I went out for an easy 10k road run.  This time the consequences were much much worse.  Within an hour of running, I was coughing nonstop, and the cough had deepened to the point where I sounded tuberculoid.  A couple of days later I finally saw a doctor, and am now well into a round of antibiotics.  Having spent most of the past week sleeping all day and coughing all night, it could, realistically, be another two weeks before I’m strong enough to contemplate running around the block, let alone 42 km’s.

There’s an annoying voice in my head that wants to point out the pattern here; I’ve made these mistakes before.  More than a decade of such good health that I almost never even caught colds ended last winter when a chest cold turned into a nasty two weeks in bed with bronchitis.  That time, too, I chose to run through the cold.  Until it turned into something much worse.  And this summer as well, when I pulled a muscle in my calf, I couldn’t accept the prospect of no running for as long as it would take to heal.  So I ran anyway and re-injured it – three times – before facing up to the reality that I’d have to hang up my trail shoes for a couple of months.

There’s a lesson in here, somewhere.

Truth told, I couldn’t care less about missing the Boston Marathon.  I only registered because I happen to have qualified.  For runners, Boston’s regarded as something of an accomplishment, but it’s not the end-all be-all.  For me, it’s evidence that you’re a somewhat decent runner, and that’s about it.  Plus, I’m almost 41 and the older I get, the more aware I feel of my own mortality.  I figured that I might never get around to doing it again if I didn’t take advantage of the opportunity at hand.

But if I don’t care about Boston itself, I certainly do about the reasons why.  I do believe that getting sick, like getting injured, can be symptomatic of something out of balance.  And both can force you to stop, reflect, and adjust.  As a practice, running puts me very much in touch with both my physical and emotional selves.  I’m one of those runners who knows right away when they’re fighting off a virus of some kind as the fatigue is impossible to ignore.  And just as I feel stress, anxiety and sadness as, quite literally, a heaviness in my chest, with happiness comes a kind of lightness when running.

I’ve been struggling with this move to Washington from the get-go, and I’m pretty sure that constant stress and worry is taking a toll on my health.  There are so many maxims about accepting change, and the truth is that this kind of “wisdom” tends to be about the sort of emotional manipulation used to try to motivate workers to be more accepting of lower pay or other demotions.  “We’re reorganizing.  Here’s your new job with half the salary you earned before.  It’s necessary to embrace change!”

But change is inevitable.  And changing course is one of the toughest things to do; letting go of a goal or a vision, small or large, and exposing yourself to all of the uncertainty of not knowing where you’re headed.  You have to let go of some parts of yourself in the process, and trust that the pieces will fall into place, even when you know they might not, or not the way you’d hoped.

I can honestly say that I have no idea where we’ll be, this time next year.  But for the near future, alpine trails in parts of the Cascades are starting to open up, and I’m genuinely excited about the prospect of exploring the I-90 corridor and beyond.  We’re also making plans for a bunch of fun backpacks, skitours and longer runs, mostly in the Cascades, including the Enchantments,  Glacier Peak, Stevens to Snoqualmie on the PCT, and the Wonderland Trail around Mt. Rainier.

Now if I could just kick this lung infection & get on with it …

There’s always the volcano …

It’s a sad year to be a skier in the Pacific Northwest.  The resorts are closed or closing; it’s been consistently warm and raining or warm and dry in the Cascades, and there’s been a lot of muttering about global warming, El Nino, and/or some other tropical weather pattern.  UW meteorologist and local weather expert Cliff Mass does a pretty good job of explaining all of this on his blog.  But whatever side of the weather debates you find yourself on, the same disappointing outcome seems here to stay.  For the snow sports enthusiasts, this winter has been a royal bust.  If you count the day we went to Snoqualmie Pass and skied one run through mostly mud, I’ve skied a total of 7 days this year.   Three of those were trips to Rainier.  There’s always snow on the volcano.

Twice this past month, we’ve skinned and hiked up the 3,000 feet or so from Paradise to ski the Nisqually Chutes on Mount Rainier.  The conditions have been what I’m told you should expect in June or July, with lovely corn snow in the chutes, and chunky, icy crap pretty much everywhere else.  But at least we got to ski a bit, and for me, a full day out on the mountain in the blazing sun is always a good thing.  Here’s a few shots from our last few trips to Rainier.

Me at the top of the Nisqually Chutes (photo by Andrew Winstanley)

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Andy & Brandon, part-way up IMG_0828

Looking back at the chutesIMG_0722 (1)

Icy transition for AndyIMG_0724 (1)

Looking down into the chutesIMG_0817 (1) Parking lot at Paradise IMG_0827

Brandon skiing the chutesIMG_0826

Ancient & Dusty Lakes: sunny central Washington

IMG_0331It’s hard to believe the stark climate shift that transforms the landscape just east of Issaquah from a dark, wet rainforest to dry, sunny desert.  Typically, so it seems, by the time you get to Cle-Elum, the clouds and mist will have magically parted, and the sun that seemed forever hidden behind the relentless drizzle of the Puget Sound pops out.  In search of a bit of light therapy this weekend, we drove out that way to Ancient and Dusty Lakes for some trail-running under the desert sun.

Part of the Quincy Wildlife Recreation Area, Ancient and Dusty Lakes are located east of Ellensburg, past Vantage, not far from the Gorge Amphitheatre on the Columbia River.  The dry clay & sand trails that wound around through desert sagebrush here reminded me of the trails around Kamloops in BC, as did the copper and gold coloured late-afternoon light that bounced off the huge vertical basalt cliffs & refracted in the two small, glassy lakes we ran out to.  I do most of my running under the dense forest cover of Issaquah’s trails these days.  I certainly feel lucky to have access to that caliber of trail running right out our front door, but there’s something about running under open skies that I adore.

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Crewing for the Fat Dog: Part II

Originally posted on RunSkiDrink:

As the sun dropped down behind the enormous firs & cedars surrounding the Bonnevier aid station in Manning Park, Neil set off to run through the night, and Andy & I packed up & headed off to our campsite. By the time we were driving East on the #3, it was completely dark, reminding me that summer would soon be coming to a close. I’m always sad to see summer fade, but I’ve been especially sentimental about it this year, probably because we’re leaving soon, but also because I’ve had to cancel some of the bucket-list backcountry runs I’ve been looking forward to doing all year. Andy and I had plans to run the Kootenay Rock Wall Route, as well as an approximately 75 mile point-to-point from Stevens to Snoqualmie Pass, and possibly also the Stein Valley Traverse. None of this was possible after I pulled a muscle in my…

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