Lizzy Hawker Soars To Victory At UTMB

Eventual winner Lizzy Hawker arrives into the Courmayeur aid station at mile 40 of The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc. Photo: Meghan M. Hicks/iRunFar.com

She finished 13th overall in the 100+ mile race.

Written by: Meghan M. Hicks

Eventual winner Lizzy Hawker arrives into the Courmayeur aid station at mile 48 of The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc. Photo: Meghan M. Hicks/iRunFar.com

It can be said that you can’t stop a woman on a mission, and this holds true for the United Kingdom’s Lizzy Hawker, the women’s The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) champion. Hawker charged hard from the get-go of the 100-plus mile race on the flanks of Mont Blanc in the French, Italian, and Swiss Alps, setting a blazing and unbeatable-among-women pace that placed her within the top 20 men all day long.

Men’s Race Report: Kilian Jornet Conquers Competition, Conditions At Mont Blanc

“I wanted to race with passion and courage, to give it all I had,” The North Face athlete said a day after the race, when asked about her goals. “You never know what the race is going to throw at you. For me, it was my hip.” From La Fouly at mile 67.5 to the finish, Hawker says her pace flagged due to hip pain, “I took pain killers, was encouraged by my crew, and felt the energy of all the people cheering for me. I just kept going.”

Spectators along the second half of the course and at the finish line noted how uncomfortable her compromised gait looked. When asked how she managed to finish with this visible amount of pain, she explained, “This race means so much to me. It was my first mountain race in 2005. Running with pain was not fun. But sometimes it’s about the challenge, about looking for your edges and seeing what you can get out of yourself.” She crossed the UTMB finish line first for the fourth time in 25:02 and in 13th place overall, fueled by the cheers of a few thousand spectators and close to three hours faster than any other woman.

Second place Nerea Martinez, who is from Spain and who is sponsored by Salomon, ran aggressively from the start, in either second or third place for the race’s early miles. By Courmayeur at mile 40, Martinez sat solidly in second and stayed there for the rest of the race. Sometime before Trient at mile 90, Martinez began to encounter unknown physical problems so serious that she took a long break in the aid station. Once she headed back on course, she did so at a slower pace.

As she ran through the UTMB finish line, she ran speedily but it looked like she was struggling to do so comfortably. When asked about whether she was looking forward toward Hawker or backward to the other competition during the race, she said, “I knew one of the world’s best mountain runners was in front of me. I wouldn’t be able to beat her. I was definitely looking back at the end. When you slow down, you worry about being caught right before the finish.” She crossed the line in 27:55.

Colorado’s Darcy Africa, a Pearl Izumi athlete, finished in 28:30 as UTMB’s third place woman. Africa spent much of the day running in 7th, 8th, or 9th position. “By mile 30, I felt like I had 100 miles in my legs already. I thought I was recovered from the Hardrock 100, but it turns out that I wasn’t.” Africa placed second in July at the Hardrock 100 in Colorado, a burly mountain race with a lot of elevation change and at altitude. “From miles 30 to 75, I was convinced that I would drop at some point.”

Then Africa began to move up through the race standings, “I don’t know, something happened. I was inspired by my crew, by other runners, by the race. I had a revival.” Africa sped from mile 75 to the finish at a pace much faster than the ladies in front of or behind her. In fact, she chewed through her deficit to Martinez so fast that she would have overtaken her if the race were four of five miles longer. In the end, Africa was elated with how her race played out, “I learned to respect the UTMB course. I learned that 100 miles is a long way, that anything can happen. I learned that the body can do so much if the mind wants it to.”

Switzerland’s Denise Zimmerman finished fourth and Germany’s Maud Gobert was fifth, filling out the top five women’s places. Coloradoan Helen Cospolich finished in sixth place. Washington’s Krissy Moehl, France’s Karine Herry, Spain’s Fernanda Maciel, and Germany’s Julia Bottger were the elite females who dropped from the race.

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Meghan M. Hicks is a Park City, Utah-based writer, contributing editor at iRunFar.com, and trail runner. Visit her website at meghanmhicks.com.

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