Long distance runner Heather Hawkins completing her Sydney marathon leg. Image – Glenn Duffus Photography.
The second annual World Marathon Challenge wrapped up in the early hours of Saturday morning (January 30) at Manly Beach, near Sydney after a gruelling series of seven marathons in seven days across seven continents.
It is considered by organisers one of the toughest footraces in the world.
Coogee (NSW) long distance runner and cancer survivor Heather Hawkins finished second female in the seventh marathon event in 4:39:21, behind first place getter American Becca Pizzi (4:08:51).
Only four women and 11 men entered the event this year.
The Challenge began on January 23 when participants were flown to Union Glacier, Antarctica to begin the race, and were given just 168-hours to complete the remaining six marathons.
Over seven days marathon distances of 42.2kms were completed in Union Glacier (Antarctica), Punta Arenas (Chile), Miami (USA), Madrid (Spain), Marrakech (Morocco), Dubai (United Arab Emirates) and Sydney (Australia).
Competitors faced not only marathon fatigue, but jet lag and sleep deprivation as they tried their hardest to ensure each distance was completed while organisers dealt with flight delays.
For 50-year-old Hawkins, it seems outdoor adventures run in the family, with daughter Rebekah a qualified archeaeologist and son Callum an adventure guide-in-training, who just returned from climbing a 6,500m peak in the Himalayas.
Hawkins was diagnosed with stage one ovarian cancer in 2007 and had surgery 10 days later, but rather than go through radio and chemotherapy afterward, she decided to take on board some new treatment for post ovarian cancer surgery (that was based on major cancer research out of England).
Eight later, she is in remission and turned to running in 2012.
Her first official race was the 4kms category of the Mother’s Day Classic in Centennial Park and since then, has competed in six half marathons, six full marathons and three ultras – including the 2015 North Pole Marathon.
Hawkins said after running a total of 295kms in the Challenge, she was filled with absolute joy and sheer relief.
“I’d finally made it and achieved the dream that I’d held for all those months leading up to the race, to finally cross that finish line was such an incredible moment,” she said.
“All the continents had standout features – the incredible white, icy expanse of the Union Glacier in Antarctica and the fabulous retro buildings all along the beach front at Miami, but I’d have to honestly say that Sydney was my favourite because my family and friends were there and it was a culmination of a wonderful journey.”
Hawkins revealed she didn’t do the Challenge to compete with other runners, and that it was more for personal reasons.
“I think like most other runners, my usual approach to races is to improve on my time and see how I go against others in my age group,” she explained.
“This race was different though; I wanted to enjoy the experience, put no additional pressure on myself, I wanted to take time to take in the scenery and be there for other competitors along the way.
“Because of this it became a more personal journey and one that I shared with the others.
“I’ve completely surprised myself by how far I can run.
“Prior to cancer, I’d never been a long distance runner, let alone very fit or physical; it has been a life changing experience and I really hope that I can encourage others to get out there, to get fit, be brave and try new things.
“Life is to be lived.”
Americans Dan Cartica and (Becca) Pizzi won the overall rankings in the Challenge.
Information and registration applications for the 2017 World Marathon Challenge can be found here.