Meet the cou­ple who jogged 6,500 miles

Daily Express - - NEWS - By Jane War­ren

AS THEIR urine turned a dis­con­cert­ing dark orange colour due to lack of water Katharine Lowrie found she was dream­ing of bak­ing scones. For far from set­tling for a sim­ple mar­ried life the Bri­tish ecol­o­gist and her man­age­ment con­sul­tant hus­band David had de­cided to be­come the first peo­ple to run the length of South Amer­ica – the equiv­a­lent of seven trips from Land’s End to John O’Groats.

For an as­ton­ish­ing 6,504 miles, whether pound­ing through pris­tine cloud for­est or rac­ing along­side toxic ur­ban fumes, the threats they faced were more var­ied than mere de­hy­dra­tion.

For 14 months on end, as they ran marathon after marathon, there was the daily hazard of ve­hi­cles pass­ing at break­neck speed to con­tend with, lethal viruses, hur­ri­cane winds, the threat of ban­dits, swarms of bit­ing in­sects, nox­ious vol­canic ash and a ra­pa­cious army of leaf-cut­ter ants that at­tempted to des­ic­cate their tent.

Through­out the un­sup­ported ex­pe­di­tion, which saw the cou­ple take turns to pull a bam­boo trailer car­ry­ing all their pos­ses­sions and food, was the knowl­edge that the last leg would take them 550 miles across Venezuela, the world’s most dan­ger­ous and crim­i­nal country with 22,000 mur­ders per year.

“We were warned off re­peat­edly by lo­cals,” says Katharine. “In Venezuela buses are be­ing shot at ev­ery day, peo­ple are be­ing robbed and killed. It was se­ri­ously ter­ri­fy­ing. We lit no fires so we could stay hid­den at night and we kept a ma­chete on the trailer and all our money stuffed into the rims of its wheels. Also we had de­cided that if some­one re­ally went for us we would give them ev­ery­thing and run.”

FOR­TU­NATELY, their de­ter­mi­na­tion and cun­ning – which saw them run­ning in the twi­light while the country slept – helped them sur­vive. But read­ing Katharine’s pow­er­ful and ex­cit­ing book about her re­mark­able ad­ven­ture is cer­tainly a white-knuckle ex­pe­ri­ence.

It takes you deep into the heart of a mys­te­ri­ous con­ti­nent where you are in­vited to watch the land­scape un­fold on a hu­man scale, one step at a time. It is a thrilling ac­count punc­tu­ated by bizarre en­coun­ters with in­cred­i­ble na­tive wildlife, in­clud­ing a rare gi­ant anteater, par­rots who set­tle on the shoul­ders of the run­ning cou­ple and Ama­zo­nian jaguar sight­ings.

“We wanted to do a hu­man­pow­ered ad­ven­ture to raise aware­ness of the nat­u­ral world, rais­ing money for na­ture conservation and in­spir­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal action,” says Katharine of her epic trip, which had the sup­port of Prince Charles and ex­plorer Sir Ran­ulph Fi­ennes. “We wanted to make a Ecol­o­gist Katharine Lowrie’s new book about how she ran the length of South Amer­ica with her hus­band David re­veals what a hair-rais­ing ex­pe­ri­ence it was difference.” To this end, while com­plet­ing their gru­elling runs – many of which were barefoot and the long­est of which was 36 miles in a sin­gle day – they gave lec­tures in re­mote schools after ar­riv­ing hot and dusty, kept de­tailed wildlife data and set up an on­line class­room to share their ex­pe­ri­ences with those they could not meet.

Their ac­com­plish­ment can­not be over­stated. In 14 months and 23 days the cou­ple ran the equiv­a­lent of 250 marathons through some of the world’s most awe-in­spir­ing and bi­o­log­i­cally rich ecosys­tems.

They ran for a total of 332 days and went through 10 pairs of shoes each. Non-run­ning days amounted to 113 and were spent ar­rang­ing lo­gis­tics, plan­ning, ac­quir­ing food and kit and pre­sent­ing to schools.

Al­though they slept in the wild for 271 nights just five days were lost to in­jury and ill­ness.

“We didn’t know if our bod­ies could do it but we are de­ter­mined peo­ple,” says Katharine, who main­tained her fit­ness regime even when they were sail­ing down the South Amer­i­can coast: “We would run around the deck and also trained by drop­ping an­chor and run­ning on the beaches.”

Their ex­pe­di­tion started at Cabo Froward, the southerly tip of the con­ti­nent and the roar­ing South­ern Ocean be­fore they pushed them­selves into the icy depths of the Patag­o­nian win­ter fol­lowed by the clouds of Chile’s an­cient tropical rain­for­est. They as­cended the mighty snow-capped An­des, pounded into the windswept Ar­gen­tine pam­pas and spent three weeks cross­ing 400 miles of the fabled Ama­zon rain­for­est.

“It took three weeks to cross the Ama­zon on a re­dun­dant road of col­lapsed bridges that was be­ing re­claimed by wildlife,” she re­calls.

Fi­nally they reached the north­ern tip of the con­ti­nent and plunged into the warm­ing re­lief of the azure Caribbean. Katharine had be­come the first wo­man in the world to run the length of South Amer­ica and David the first man to run the con­ti­nent “un­sup­ported”.

“At the start we had fu­ri­ous ar­gu­ments,” she ad­mits. “We were used to work­ing and liv­ing to­gether on a boat but long-dis­tance run­ning was such a new thing for our bod­ies and we needed to de­velop rou­tines. We were wor­ried we would not suc­ceed and we were scared about the hu­man threats.

“If we ar­gued we would bash out the is­sue and then run sep­a­rately for a bit. But of­ten it was when we saw some­thing amaz­ing that we would for­get about the dis­putes.”

In the book she adds: “Run­ning pro­vided us with the medium to see wildlife as we trot­ted along for hours at a pace that re­vealed the de­tail and com­plex­ity of the world around us, while at night we slept within a mil­lime­tre of na­ture. That pared-down, raw ex­is­tence on the wild tracks and roads was the essence of life.”

Just prior to their am­bi­tious run the cou­ple had spent five years sail­ing the world, in­clud­ing two years sur­vey­ing sea birds in the Caribbean for an­other book.

HAV­ING met at a run­ning club at Sh­effield Univer­sity, Katharine and David, who are both 39, were united by a love of ex­treme run­ning.

“It’s what we do to re­lax, recharge, go wild and ig­nite ideas,” ex­plains Katharine, who gave up her job as an ecol­o­gist for the RSPB in or­der to travel. “The lure is the free­dom.”

The cou­ple left the UK in 2008 and started their South Amer­i­can run on July 28, 2012, com­plet­ing it on Oc­to­ber 20 the fol­low­ing year.

Near the end of their ex­pe­di­tion they even started trying for a baby and just two months after their re­turn to Uruguay, where they had left their boat, Katharine gave birth to son Theo, who sailed home with them on a two-month, non-stop At­lantic voy­age. Baby Beth ar­rived a year ago.

So what next for this in­trepid cou­ple and their young fam­ily?

They are liv­ing in Devon and have plans to set up an eco­log­i­cal centre and a barefoot run­ning acad­emy. Katharine is cur­rently work­ing part-time for the RSPB but has plans.

“I can see us tak­ing the chil­dren and trav­el­ling again be­fore too long,” she says en­thu­si­as­ti­cally.

To or­der Run­ning South Amer­ica With My Hus­band And Other An­i­mals by Katharine Lowrie (Whit­tles Pub­lish­ing, £19.99) call the Ex­press Book­shop with your card de­tails on 01872 562310, or send a cheque or postal or­der made payable to The Ex­press Book­shop to: Whit­tles Offer, PO Box 200, Fal­mouth, Corn­wall TR11 4WJ or visit www.ex­press­book­ UK de­liv­ery is free.

ON TRACK: Katharine and David faced peril and de­lights run­ning the equiv­a­lent of 250 marathons

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