No Place to Rest - Page 4
These days, Hawker seems to have a clearer idea of what she’s after and seems less prone to being buffeted from the course she’s set herself. During the 24-hour race, the husband of another runner crewing for his partner offered food to Hawker as well. “He was really into the link between mind and body, and was bowled over by the focus I had,” says Hawker. “He said he’d only seen that level of focus before in a Buddhist monk.” Bull says he saw the single-mindedness trekking into Kangchenjunga.
So much of her success comes down to heeding her strong inner voice. But there are times, she says, when she stops listening. As any Tibetan Buddhist will tell you, mindfulness is not for wimps. “You have to be aware of what your body’s saying,” says Hawker. “The main thing is learning to listen. And to cut off listening when you’re in pain and keep going.” During her world-record run in Wales, she says she recalls thinking that if she hurt going slowly she might as well run faster.
When she’s not running, Hawker usually has her head in a book, and cites Ralph Waldo Emerson as one of her favorite authors. I can see why. “Standing on the bare ground,” Emerson wrote, “my head bathed by the blithe air and uplifted into infinite space, all mean egotism vanishes.” That’s Hawker. Her personality also predisposes her to an extreme form of Emersonian self reliance. Not everyone would be comfortable running the length of Nepal all alone. In fact the State Department has specifically warned U.S. citizens not to, after American Aubrey Sacco disappeared in the Langtang National Park.
That won’t put off Hawker. “I’m happy running alone along the trails,” she says. “Towns at night are scary because of the dogs. But I’m keen to push trail running in Nepal.” Trail running is a new and fast-growing feature in Nepal’s tourist industry, and boosting its international profile is one of the ways she hopes to make a difference. That’s partly why she ran in the Annapurna 100 and Everest Sky Race this year. But it’s more than that. These trail-running journeys are a natural way for Hawker to express herself. They are the realization of her philosophy. They are physical interpretations of who she is.
Eight hours after she took shelter in Bupsa, Lizzy Hawker emerged from her shelter and started running again. She wondered if she should bother, having lost so much time, but felt strong and was running faster than she had the day before. Then the tiredness hit. Luckily, a small team had driven out from Kathmandu to support her on the final section of road. “I was weaving into a ditch or into the middle of the road. At one point I just lay down,” she says. Her friends kept jumping out of the van to run alongside her.
Through it all, though, she kept her form. “Even when I was really tired, I was still landing on the front part of my foot, which I couldn’t believe.” There’s something extraordinary about a human on the edge of exhaustion having the mental strength to maintain her technique in this way. Of course, she broke the old record, despite her delay in Bupsa, and by over three hours. “I should have been four hours quicker,” she says with a frown. “I slowed up on that last bit of road.”
Her longstanding passion for the Alps, flirtations with road racing and demanding trips to Nepal have combined to keep her away from the United States. There’s a hint too she might not feel at home in competitive American trail running. “I can’t think of any European race where you are allowed a pacer, whereas it’s pretty standard in U.S. races, even only 50-milers,” she says. “And most long European ultras are semi self-sufficient. You rely on refreshment points but carry a rucksack with what you need to get you between those points—and to carry obligatory equipment. It seems in the U.S. it’s customary to have a crew who will meet you at refreshment points.”
Maybe one year she’ll line up for the Western States. She has the freedom and ability to surprise her friends let alone the rest of us. My hunch is she’ll never stray too far from the mountains and that she’s not done with her dream of running across the Himalaya.
“It seems to me that you’re on a bit of a journey,” I say, just before we part. “But do you know where you’re going?”
She gives her characteristic slow smile and her face brightens. “No,” she says.
Ed Douglas is a writer based in Sheffield, England, who loves fell running in the Peak District. His books include Tenzing: Hero of Everest.