Meet the couple who jogged 6,500 miles
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.expressbookshop.com UK delivery is free.
ON TRACK: Katharine and David faced peril and delights running the equivalent of 250 marathons