Run The Planet: in the footsteps of legends

Can an ultra runner who has already run two times around the planet and a beginner who has run a few times around the block answer the question: were humans really born to run?

To find out, two runners – master and apprentice – will look to push mind and body to the limit and beyond in a proposed television series, dubbed Run The Planet. The series will will take viewer on a journey following a number of grueling ultra-distance challenges that trace the footsteps of history’s greatest feats of endurance through the wildest environments on the planet.

The pair will investigate what drives endurance runners to push the boundaries of what is possible; is there an evolutionary need to run? Is it part of our DNA? Is there something in our psychology that makes some people push the limits of endurance, to forge past frontiers, to be pioneers, explorers and adventurers? Is there an innate instinct to run? Was the ability to run in an ancient world the difference between life and death – the ultimate survival of the fittest?

Here’s a ‘screener’ – a small abridged taste of Run The Planet.

From chasing down food as hunter gathers to running hundreds of miles for a message of war, Run The Planet will take viewers to the edge of what is possible to run. And what is not.

During the series Lisa will mentor her student in the art of endurance running, the pair battling through some of the scariest ultra-challenges on earth. Will they make it? Is Chris tough enough to endure Lisa’s world? Can she find an answer to the question she has been asked a million times before: why do you do it?

Viewers will join the pair on an rollercoaster journey as they face medical crises, hallucinations, sleep deprivation, exhaustion, breakdowns, meltdowns, triumph and failures: all part of the experience of extreme running.

The program concept for Run The Planet was developed when Trail Run Mag editor, Chris Ord, journeyed to Kashmir, India, on assignment for Australian Geographic Outdoor Magazine to cover Lisa’s attempt to run La Ultra The High, a 222km ultra through the Himalayas.

While embedded in Lisa’s crew, as he watched her throw up, faint, and push her body and mind to oblivion, Chris got to thinking about why people would consider undertaking such extreme runs in the first place.

Lisa’s answer echoed that of Christopher McDougall and his famous book, Born To Run: humans were born to run. She went further, saying that anyone could be an ultra runner. We all had it in us.

Trying to run with Lisa over two of La Ultra’s 5400m  passes, Chris had doubts.

Conversations ensued about big runs undertaken throughout history. Suddenly the pair had the bet (‘I can turn you into an ultra runner’) and they had plenty of legends to unearth and feats to recreate. And Run The Planet was born.

 More info at

Cash to go trail running? Youbethcha…

…if your idea is good enough.

What is the coolest, most radical, exploratory trail run you reckon your dirty imagination can muster? What’s the challenge you’re gonna lay down that takes trail running to the next level?

Cause if you can come up with something that blows minds, you may get your mits on a cool $8000 cash and $2000 worth of gear, courtesy of the adventurous folk at The North Face, AG Society and AG Outdoor magazine.

Yup The North Face Adventure Grant 2012 is up for grabs but you’re going to have to stop thinking about Father Christmas and start thinking about getting your application in: due 31 December.

Sure, you trail runners are up against climbers, kayakers, explorers, trekkers…but hey, that’s just more motivation to smack out a surreal trail running project that pushes the limits deep into some kind of wilderness.   For inspiration check out Bernadett Benson’s audacious record run along WA’s Bubbulmun Track – as featured in Ed#3 of Trail Run Mag coming out on Monday  19th.

Get on it, dare ya: See all the dirty details here

And if you need more inspiration for ideas buy a TRM hardcopy and read about Beau Miles’ AAWT trail run…
Or download the ezine for a plethora of sweet singletrail inspiration.

How do you apply for the grant?
Please send us a proposal detailing your adventure and expedition plans for 2012. Include concise and relevant info on location, climate, geography, a team profile, objectives, dates, etc. Once the submission period closes, the grant will be awarded by a panel of The North Face and AG Outdoor experts.

Please send your grant submissions to:

Or by mail to:

The North Face Adventure Grant 2012
The North Face
19 O’Riordan St
Alexandria 2015 NSW

For more info, please visit:


“I have about a three and a half-litre lung capacity,” Lisa rasps at me as we plod up the rutted road toward Tanglangla, the ‘World’s Second Highest Motorable Pass’ at 5380m. “My Dad, who’s a lifelong smoker, and most other normal people have a lung capacity of five or more. I shouldn’t be here.”

Rasp, rasp, rasp.

None of us should be here. Not the seven runners who have signed on to tackle the 222km La Ultra The High, nor the 2-5 crew per runner.

But Lisa especially.

If you look past her asthma, her lead-in to this run isn’t exactly mountain goat material. She’s a desert runner specialist. Low and hot is how she likes it.

Here in the Ladakhi township of Leh, we sit out our ten-day acclimatization period at 3500m. Every day or so we trip up to the race route passes which top out at 5600m.

Expected altitudes were at the core of Lisa’s problem’s months earlier, too. Using an altitude acclimatization device back home, she suffered hypoxic concussion, tooth abyss, kidney problems and, bluntly, a fair swing at a trip to the Big Trail in the Sky when she dialed the thing up to 6500m “because she wasn’t feeling any different.”

She soon did and not to good effect.

Lisa Tamati takes in the view over Leh, where she has been acclimatising for two weeks readying for La Ultra

Then, after a good trot in The North Face 100 in the Blue Mountains, she twisted an ankle badly, pulling ligaments on a post event photo shoot.

But blown ankles wouldn’t keep Lisa from La Ultra.

Yesterday, with a 12km training walk/run to the top of Tanglangla, the second pass of the race, we had to stop for Lisa to say goodbye to some local pizza she had tried to refuel with.

Today she’s in bed with stomach cramps and zapped energy levels.

Not an ideal lead in, but she’s not alone.

Everyone here complains of the dry, oppressive heat during the day, the air clogged with fumes that make each breath an exercise in choking on a pair of dirty socks soaked in diesel. It’s enough for Dubai-based Australian racer Catherine Todd to call it a day and go home, exiting the race before starting it.

“I just can’t breath. I wake up nauseous, then an arm goes numb, it’s one thing after another. I’m  flying back to Dubai and then may head to Europe to do a 100 miler there, where at least I’ll feel healthy going in to it. Here I just don’t feel healthy.”

That’s what the atmosphere does to you here: it clogs your immune system. Enough for a tough nut like Cath – as well regarded adventure racer and ultra runner used to extreme conditions, decide it’s just not worth the pain.

Then there’s the waiting. Lisa has been here over two weeks now. There’s still another seven days until race start. That’s a long time for runners to be thinking about the dangers, to be bored, to be filling the mind with what ifs, to be analyzing the topography profiles, to be revising crew strategies, to be worrying about how the hell they’ll pull off a finish. No-one is really thinking about winning. It’s all about just surviving.

The waiting. The waiting. Things roll over in minds. Everything starts to annoy the runners who are fuelling up on tension. The slow service. The overbearing hotel manager. The spicy food. The routine imposed by race organisers. Everyone’s losing weight. Everyone’s wanting to do their own thing. Everyone’s second guessing what everyone else is doing.

You went up KardungLa? How’d you go? Feel sick? Headache?

Everyone wants to hear a yes, to know that others are weak, too.

But few admit to it.

“Fine, feeling fine, you?”

Lisa, who tends to externalise her negativity, lets it out. She’s scared. She feels like shit. She doesn’t know if she can do this. She can’t believe others aren’t as on edge. Why is Sharon Gayter (UK entrant) bouncing off walls after doing a marathon training run the other day? Nuts.

And back to the waiting. This, remember, is a place where two minute noodles take 45 minutes. The only thing that is fast is your taxi driver who just missed a donkey, an old lady carrying grass on her back, a monk, a stoned hippie tourist and a truck, all by an inch while tooting madly as though it was their fault your driver was on the wrong side of the road.

You’d tell everyone to take a deep breath and relax…if only there was enough air.

Postscript: race day is Aug 11. Competitors have 60 hours to complete the 222km course. After heading up to the second pass today with a few runners, the legendary Ray Sanchez, Aussie rocket Sam Gash, Sharon Gayter and Jason Rita, I tried to do the maths on them finishing it on the loooong, rough ride back to Leh. Our journey took 6 hours in a 4WD. We covered less than half the course. I have no idea how the six remaining runners will complete this course in 60 hours, if they can complete it at all. But it’s going to be an adventure for all finding out.