Terrified - but she's doing it anyway

By Peter Thornton

Lisa Tamati is moving out of desert comfort zone to tackle Everest marathon.

Lisa Tamati says she has learned determination and persistence 'will get you way further in life than talent'. Photo / Supplied
Lisa Tamati says she has learned determination and persistence 'will get you way further in life than talent'. Photo / Supplied

Ultramarathon runner Lisa Tamati has always been attracted to crazy adventures but her latest plan is a big leap into the unknown that completely scares her.

The Taranaki 44-year-old has agreed to take part in a world record attempt to run the highest marathon in October. The run will begin 1500m above the base camp of Mt Everest at an altitude of between 5300m and 5600m. Tamati will attempt the feat alongside her new running mate Mike Allsop, who has recently run seven marathons in seven days on seven continents. She doesn't really know what she is in for but that is half the attraction.

Q. What has inspired you to take on this run?

Being an asthmatic I have struggled with my small lung capacity and asthma since I was a toddler. The cold sets me off, hard exercise in the anaerobic zone sets me off as does psychological stress and climbing at altitude. That's why I have mostly done desert races in hot dry climates. But the past two years I have been to the Himalayas twice doing the La Ultra 222km nonstop over the two highest passes in the world up at 5400m, and was the second woman ever to do it, and last November I did the Manaslu trail race, 212km plus 50km trek going up to 5100m.

I think it's important to always push yourself outside your comfort zone on a regular basis to keep opening your horizons and scaring yourself because each time you learn more about yourself and whether you succeed or fail you come away with an experience that will help you in future. The older I am getting the faster and further I am trying to go ... running from ageing [laughs]. Although I am not sure if that is a good philosophy.

Q. It is 60 years since Sir Ed Hillary famously "knocked the bastard off". How great would it be to gain another first in his honour?

Sir Ed is one of my heroes and we aren't worthy to be in the same sentence as that great man. I am in awe of all those mountaineers who conquer the likes of Everest, it's something out of my reach, but I have read tonnes of mountaineering books and this is as close as I will ever get. To stand in front of any 8000m mountain strikes awe into everyone.

Q. You have taken on some crazy adventures in the past, are you scared or nervous about this one?

Hell yes. I am always nervous and scared silly but I also get so excited about each mission and am a hopeless optimist that it will be awesome. I don't seem to have a pain memory really so you forget about just how hard and how painful and dire the situations can become. Bit like childbirth, I presume, you forget the bad bits and just take the good stuff with you. I am very scared of my asthma at altitude and the freezing temperatures, but sometimes a teaspoon of concrete helps and the rest, well once you are in ... there is no way out but through so you try to put all the fears and stuff aside and take it a step at a time.

Q. How hard is it to prepare for something like this in NZ?

Very. The best acclimatisation for us is going up slowly and as we are taking a group up to base camp that will be the case. I am very proud that two of the people I coach will be coming with us and taking on the challenge to get to base camp. For both of these ladies it's a huge challenge and I love seeing them grow in confidence and fitness as we train together toward the goal.

Q. How will you train for this?

I am running six days a week. I have in the past year dropped doing the long slow junk miles that I did for years, clocking up 100 to 170km a week. Now I have been concentrating on running trails, less roads, lots of mountains and hill climbing and quality shorter-interval sessions with a whole lot of core and lower-body strengthening exercises which have really helped me with my back injury - I have four discs that are pretty much buggered. I was having constant back spasms a dozen times a day in the past two years but have managed to get on top of them at the moment with lots of hard-core training, and rehab work.

Q. You are running with Mike. How well do you know him and how important will that partnership be in completing this run?

Mike approached me to help coach him when he was planning his 777 project and we have been great mates since. I trust him with my life, and will have to possibly quite literally, he is so experienced in mountains, which I am not. I am experienced in long-distance running, which he is still getting used to although after his 777 he knows a whole lot more. So we complement each other really well. I was more in the coaching/mentoring roll with 777 but the shoe is definitely on the other foot in this expedition. Mike is a "can-do" positive person and is made up of the same stuff as me so we get on famously.

Q. You have overcome a lot of adversity, what has been the key to that?

Yeah it's been a rocky road at times but then strength is born out of struggle, as long you can turn negative situations into positive and keep going. I have a determination to keep getting back up and putting one foot in front of the other, bloody minded stubbornness and a fierce passion to achieve what I set out to do. I have no talent whatsoever and get very frustrated with my lack of speed and lung power but I have learned determination and persistence will get you way further in life than talent.

Q. What do you say to the people who call you mad for doing stuff like this?

That's a cliched response from people who don't really quite know what to think of you. Every endurance athlete or adventurer has myriad reasons for pushing the limits. I am a real believer that, for many, endurance training can help with depression and keeping your focus on something like a race or training goals can give you a reason to keep going, teach discipline and improve your overall moods. We all know you feel better after a run with the endorphins it brings but it goes further than that. It's certainly a better alternative to dealing with depression than illicit drugs, alcohol or other methods of dulling the pain. I call it my positive addiction.

If you want to support Lisa and Mike, visit their websites: www.lisatamati.co.nz and www.mikeallsop.co.nz

Lisa Tamati has written two books about ultra-running: Running to Extremes and Running Hot.



• Expedition, 140km desert: Run the Planet television pilot near Alice Springs, Central Australia. Manaslu trail race, 212km, Nepal.


• Ultra race, 222km altitude: La Ultra-The High, "toughest footrace on the planet", running over the two highest motorable passes in the Himalayas going up to 5400m. Second woman ever and one of seven athletes to have finished in two editions. India.
• Ultra race, 100km mountain: The North Face, the Blue Mountains, Australia.


Multi-day adventure/desert: Sahara Desert stage race, 5th place, Egypt.
• Multi-day adventure/desert: Gobi Desert stage race, 2nd place, China.


• Expedition run 2250km: Running the length of New Zealand, 52 marathons in 42 days for charity.
• Commonwealth 24-hour champs, Keswick, England.
• Ultra-race, 217km badwater: Ultramarathon through Death Valley, US, 9th place.
• 100km nationals, 2nd place.
• 24-hour national title and qualification for World Champs, 1st.


• 100km nationals, 2nd place.
• Ultra-race, 217km badwater: Death Valley, US, 10th place.
• Ultra-race 160km mountain: Round the Mountain, Taranaki, NZ.
• Ultra-race, 90 Mile Beach: Houtaewa Run, NZ, 3rd place.
• Ultra-run, 100km: Oxfam100.200724-hour, Ultra Auckland, NZ.
• Ultra-race, 222km desert: Trans Niger, Africa.
• Ultra-race, 338km: Isar Run, Germany, 4th place.
• 24-hour World Champs, Czech Republic.
• 24-hour Ultra Worschach Race, Austria.
• 6-hour Ultra Mank Race, Austria.


• Multi-day, 240km desert: Marathon des Sables, Morocco, 33rd.
• Ultra-race, 168km desert: 8th place Desert Cup, Jordan.
• Multi-day, 240km desert: Marathon des Sables, Morocco, 10th place.
• Ultra-race, 50km, Krems, Austria.
• Ultra-race, 50km, Hungary.
• 10-hour Ultra, Burgenland, Austria.
• Ultra-race, 78km, K78 Switzerland.
• 24-hour Ultra, Worschach x 2, Austria.
• 12-hour Ultra Mank, Austria.
• 6-hour Ultra Schwechat, Austria.
And over 50 marathons and ultras.

- NZ Herald

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