Fear ‒ With Elizabeth (Lizzy) Hawker

KICK’N Hard Feature Story

Expert advice from Lizzy Hawker, Great Britain’s endurance athlete, 24hr world record holder,
5 Time UTMB winner and 100km world champion
who loves the mountains

Fear (in some guise) is something that is with us every day, much as we might wish otherwise. But facing our fears might be the only way to see the beauty that is staring us in the face?

I started thinking about fear after reading an article on zenhabits about how to face fear and do.

With the (sometimes wonderful, sometimes almost scary) interconnectedness of social media when I tweeted about this, a link to a beautiful poem came back to me. It is in the book Face Dancing by Neil Gresham.

The book is a memorial to a talented young woman, Rachel Farmer, who died far too young. She was one of Britain’s top women climbers when she died from a fall at Buoux in 1993 at age 22.

Fear with Elizabeth Hawker.
Heading up towards the Larkya La pass (5140m, the hight point of the Manaslu circuit) ‒ a rest day. We had just walked up to the Tibetan border, down to rejoin the main trail and were heading up to our camp. The pass was crossed the following day.

We are all afraid. What we are each afraid of will be as different as those edges that we are each searching for.

Some of us are afraid to run 100 miles. Some of us are afraid to stand still. Some of us are afraid to climb mountains. Some of us are afraid to dive into the sea. Some of us are afraid to try something new. Some of us are afraid of the 9 to 5. Some of us are afraid of things most people would totally understand. Some of us are afraid of things that most people would laugh at, if only they knew.

Soaking in the hot pools after the Manaslu Mountain race of 2012.

With the hospitality of the local Nepalese village children and soothing hot pools just across the river from the village at the first stage of the Manaslu race ‒ one of many rewards to seeking the edge.
Running down from Manaslu Base Camp.

Running down from Manaslu Base Camp

In our recent race (almost) circumnavigating Manaslu, that beautiful 8156m Mountain of Spirit, we each had some fears.

For some it was the prospect of running for day after day, day after day. For some it was the unfamiliar food. For some it was the altitude. For some it was trying to keep warm. For some it was non western toilets. For some it was the lack of electricity. For some it was being out of contact with home.

People faced their fears, lived through them, and found that in doing so, they were strengthened to go far beyond where they thought their limits were. They have my utmost respect.


I too have been challenged by each of those fears in turn.

But, now over the years, the day to day life of running on those sky high trails has become a sort of normal. It is where I feel at home.

But, as I said, we each had some fears and I found some of my own. Fears that I have either ignored, or turned and run from in the past. And, unlike my fellow runners, I didn’t quite manage to face those fears head on this time. They are still there waiting for me.

Fear is more often than not, either a fear of the unknown, or a fear of failing, or a combination of both. But, there are no certitudes.

As the poem tells us, we have to learn, feel, change, grow, love, so that we can live and be alive.


Running behind a Nepalese male and in front of the remaining Western racers, and the Nepalese women in the 2012 Manaslu Mountain Trail Race

If we can face those fears, let them pass through us and beyond, then they will be gone, and we will realise that we are not our fears. We no longer have to identify ourselves with them, be defined by them.

They simply come, and they go. We can just watch, and be aware of them. But we come to realise they are not what we are.

So, then there is no need to get stuck, is there?

No need to allow ourselves to be defined by what it is that we are afraid of? Well, no, but sometimes we still all need a friend to help us.

And then, maybe then, we can redefine what is normal for us, again and again, and again?

About Elizabeth (Lizzy) Hawker

Lizzy Hawker is a woman who GETS what it means to FEEL ALIVE.

Inspired by mountains and wilderness Lizzy fell into the world of ultra-distance and endurance running more by chance than by design.

Endurance has always been a way of life for Lizzy, rather than a sport. But having the courage to take some unexpected opportunities
opened doors, and her achievements snowballed both on the road and the trail.

She is the world record holder for 24hrs (road), and was the 2006 100km (road) World Champion.

She is also 5 time winner of The North Face Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, and in 2011 set a new world record running from Everest Base Camp to Kathmandu.

Beyond the world of competitive sport, Lizzy just loves being in the mountains, and exploring on ski and on foot. Balancing life, work, competitive athletics, endurance events and her love of the mountains can be challenging.

But as Lizzy says, that is the journey of life … and 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.

What inspires her to run is: to be immersed in nature – to strive to do the best I can ‒ to learn more about myself ‒ to be stripped of the trappings of modern life ‒ to feel the freedom of a journey, to be exposed to the elements ‒ to feel rawness, vunerability and yet strength in body, mind and spirit ‒ to learn be mindful.

For Lizzy, but the most important thing is always to run for the love of it, with heart and soul as well as her head and legs. And then to follow the path that opens up…

Lizzy’s enduring passion for the mountains and nature has shaped both her life as an endurance athlete, and her professional career as a writer and as a scientist.

A Natural Scientist by training, with a PhD in polar oceanography, she has been on many research cruises to the Antarctic and the Southern Ocean. These experiences and studies gave her an even deeper commitment to our responsibility of working towards both social and environmental sustainability in every part of our lives.

Her dream is to encourage people to realise the sanctuary and inspiration of the mountains, the richness of our environment and our responsibility to protect it, and the value of challenging yourself both physically and mentally.

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  1. Marvin Dittfurth - February 20, 2013

    Feel, change, grow-facing what our fears. Feeling, changing, growing, to me, are life in three words. I don’t do the mountains as you but I have had my mountains in 30 years of endurance sports. The other day I was on my bike on a hilly course, pushing myself past perceived limits and thought: Now this makes sense.

  2. mleighp - February 17, 2013

    Loved the post. If we choose to live by that wonderful mantra– “learn, feel, change, grow, love”–facing fear is inevitable.

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