Meet the Elites: Lizzy Hawker on Trails, Mountains and Roads

It’s fair to say that Lizzy Hawker had a stonker of a year in 2011. One of the highlights was that huge distance in the Commonwealths 24 hour road race where she smashed the female world record with a mammoth distance of 247.07kms. Not only that but Lizzy is a four-time winner of UTMB, as well as three-time winner and course record holder of the 78km Swiss Alpine race. She’s also a pretty accomplished road runner, winning the 100km World Championships in 2006 and a bronze medal in 2010. Check out all her other results here too if you want to satisfy the stato in you!

We caught up with Lizzy to get some more insight into what she’s got planned for this year, who she admires on the scene, as well as the most important thing we want to bring to you guys – more advice on how to tackle ultras. Lizzy has also spoken to of her desire to come and race in Australia, so we really hope that she can make it soon – we’ve highlighted the GNW 100 miler to her, so fingers crossed 🙂

Can you tell us how you came to get into the ultra scene?

It probably started with my first visit to the mountains as a young child of 6 years old – the beginning of a long love affair with the mountains. But running ultra distance happened more by chance than by design! It’s hard now to remember a time when I wasn’t running.  I’ve always run – but it was only ever for myself.  In the beginning it was just a way to be outside – an antidote to not living in the hills or mountains – a means of retaining some modicum of fitness.  I only entered my first race (the London Marathon) when I was 24.  But it wasn’t really until 2005 (when I was 29) that I started running longer distances.  That year I competed in my first 100km race (the UK 100km Championship) and my first mountain trail race (The North Face Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc – then 155km).  It has all happened more by chance than by design – and at a relatively late age.  I just found it felt natural to run the long distances.  I think the ‘endurance’ was always in me, I just didn’t realise it could have an ‘expression’ through competitive running.

Lizzy smashed all before her in Wales at the Commonwealth 24 hour race

What was your biggest highlight in 2011?

One special moment was having 3 generations of Hawkers participating in the Swiss Alpine Davos (different races) – my mother, my niece and myself! In each and every race you learn something – from yourself, and from your fellow competitors. But the race in the end isn’t what it is all about. For me the competition is very much within myself – to try to do the best I can in that moment.  It is about the journey – physical, mental and spiritual – the preparation – the in between – the looking for the ‘edge’. I may not always compete. But for now, if through my running I can reach out to people, to inspire them in some small way, then it gives it a deeper meaning.  This is my dream – and I think that would be a greater achievement than any race ‘win’.

What plans do you have for 2012?

  • Transgrancanaria, 123km mountain trail race, Gran Canaria
  • 100km World Championships, 100km road race, Italy
  • Comrades, 89km road race, South Africa
  • Western States 100, 100miles trail race, USA
  • Swiss Alpine Davos, 78km mountain trail race, Switzerland
  • The North Face Ultra Trial du Mont Blanc, 166km mountain trail race, France/Italy/Switzerland
  • Spartathlon, 250km road race, Greece

Who do you admire most in the ultra scene?

Everyone who has the courage to put themselves at the start line ….. and Kilian Jornet for redefining what so many thought possible through his sheer love for the mountains.

What gear do you use in your races?

It obviously depends very much on the race (distance, road, trail, mountain etc) but I’m clothed and equipped by The North Face.  They have some great lightweight product and we have some exciting new ideas in development.

Describe a typical training week for you. How many miles would you do?

There is no real ‘typical’ week – my training tends to vary during the year depending on the race or challenge I am focusing towards next – i.e. whether marathon distance or shorter, city (ie flat roads) or mountain, or ultra distance (roads, trails or mountains).  Each type of running requires quite different training.  Over the years I have built up a high level of ‘base endurance’ – so for my next focus race I just adjust training to meet those specific needs.

Lizzy has a big love of mountains, but is pretty speedy on the road too!

What kind of nutrition do you use for your races? Are you mainly a liquids or proper food person?

I definitely prefer ‘real’ food ….

What advice would you offer to people starting out in the ultra scene?

My main piece of advice would be to have the confidence to take that first step 🙂 and then always to try to run with heart and soul as well as the head and the legs because then more becomes possible than you imagine.

  • Keep in the moment – literally take it ‘one step at a time’, focus down to right where you are whether it is getting to the top of the next col, making a safe descent, reaching the next checkpoint ….
  • Believe in yourself – have confidence in your training and preparation, your body and mind CAN go the distance …
  • Be light – focus on running lightly (body and mind); with less strain and tension you will not tire yourself so much physically, and with happy, positive thoughts you will keep your motivation …
  • Give yourself a second chance – if you feel you’ve come to the end of your limits, stop for a few moments, eat and drink something and coax yourself onwards to the next checkpoint to give yourself a chance to find that second wind …

 You’ve beaten quite a lot to the male top runners in 2011, what’s the reaction been from them?

With ultra running the ‘competition’ is very much within; just trying to do the very best you can in that moment.  I think everyone realises this, so mostly in the situations where women beat some of the male top runners they respect the effort and the achievement.

Do you plan on doing any more 24 hour races, or will you focus on trail and mountain running from now on?

The Commonwealth championships where I set the world record was a road race. I would like to make another 24hr race – perhaps both road and track – just out of curiosity to see whether I have the potential to improve my distance. When I set the world record in September 2011 I was a novice at the event, had no specific training after running on the trails all summer, and had raced in The North Face Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc 4 weeks previously.  So I’m curious to know if I could improve!

UTMB is what Lizzy is probably most famous for, but she's keen to know if that 247kms can be improved upon - watch out everyone else!

How do you keep a balance in your life between running, family and ‘work’?

Life is always a balancing act – for all of us.  The important thing is to try to work out what means the most to you and what you can do without.  In my case I’ve sacrificed the security of a full-time job and financial security (I was a scientist with the British Antarctic Survey) in order to have the flexibility to race and train, and to try to forge a life in the mountains.  As an athlete, life also demands sacrifice on a daily basis – I just don’t have time to browse in the shops, to watch television etc. and nights out are few and far between.  I guess you make a lifestyle choice.  To really follow our dreams we have to make sacrifices, but the ‘riches’ you find in just making that journey are reward in themselves (whether or not you manage to reach your dream). 

What are your thoughts on how trail running is developing globally? 

It is fantastic that trail running is developing globally and becoming ever more popular as a sport.  I think it is perhaps a sign of the times that endurance is increasingly capturing people’s imaginations and passions.

And lastly any chance you’d like to come to Australia and race? 🙂

I’d love the chance to come to Australia and race!  I’d really just like the chance to thank folks for their support and to try to encourage people to push their boundary and reach for their dream.

Have the courage and confidence just to try – to take those opportunities and see where they lead.   The most important thing is always to run for the love of it, with heart and soul as well as the head and legs – because then more is possible than you might imagine. As Fred Rohe says in the ‘Zen of Running’: Race or no race, there is no victory, no reward except the joy you are living while you are ‘dancing your run’. If you’re after some more info and insights into Lizzy, check out the video below.

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Dan on Twitter
I'm a mediocre runner who can bat above his average when I train hard. A man of extremes, I do enjoy everything life offers and consider it an absolute pleasure just to be able to put one foot in front of the other and let my mind wander somewhere different.

9 thoughts on “Meet the Elites: Lizzy Hawker on Trails, Mountains and Roads

  1. Great interview, Marcus. I had the privelege to witness Lizzie set the World Record at Llandudno, one thing that she was far too humble to mention was that she won the race outright, beating the best men in the Commonwealth…amazing.

    It’s now great to see that she will be running in my next big race, the 100k road World Champs in Italy. I have set myself some goals for this, but now have to add two more, to say hello to Lizzie and also avoid being chicked by her!

    Can’t help feeling a little envious of her 2012 races…simply amazing!!

    Thanks for the interview Lizzie and Marcus

      1. I agree – great to hear more about Lizzie. She’s an inspirational runner and her success at the UTMB is phenomenal. On a similar theme of great Brits possibly running in Australia, I see Jez Bragg has just last night announced on his blog site that he plans to come to Austraila for the TNF 100. Great to see he’s planning to make the trip down under and it will be fascinating to see how he races against the likes of Ryan Sandes and our local guys.


  2. Thanks for your interview, Dan. As a relative newcomer to distance running and this site, the interview has given me hope that you can still be competitive despite coming to the sport at a later stage. Coming up to 27, I thought I was well past it! Wonderful to read about Lizzie’s journey and I hope to one day meet her on the trails.

    Thanks for the inspiration,


  3. another great interview, well done Dan. Lizzie is a real inspiration. For me the main take out from this interview is her comment “be to have the confidence to take that first step” – something I need to do and step up the distance. Think I might start with Canberra 🙂
    also good luck Andrew this weekend at Alpine

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