Born - 1954 ; Location - London, UK ; Sport - Ultra Distance Runner, Triathlete, Duathlete
Hilary Walker is not as good as she was. But that’s hardly surprising, since only a few people ever are as good as she was.
In fact, at one point during her career as an Ultra Distance Runner there was not one person on the planet who was as good as she was, given that she held World’s Best Performances at 100 miles, 200 miles, 24 hours and 48 hours. Yes, that’s right, she held a World’s Best Performance for the distance that could be run in a 48 hour period. And her 200 mile record still stands.
It all started when she returned from a trekking holiday in the Himalayas, a part of the world she says that she loves deeply, and found that the 8 weeks of trekking had given her a level of fitness that she had not had previously. In order to keep the fitness up she started running, and very soon was running marathons. Her first was within three months, something she would not advise, saying that a person starting out running should not attempt a marathon without at least a year of training, and then only as a fun run. One should take seriously what she says given that she has run between 130-140 marathons including 25 London marathons.
Evidently, 26 miles was not enough of a challenge for her as her achievements really took off in the arena of Ultra Distance Running, that is to say any distance above marathon distance. She was the 1st European 100Km champion, and if you visit http://www.gbrathletics.com/uk/wc99.htm you will find that many of her performances rank amongst the best, and some still are the best even now. Having taken up running in 1982-3, she became an international level competitor in the mid-80’s, reached what she considers her peak around 1992-3 and finished her international career in 1998.
As well as road and track races she competed in Ultra races in much harsher and more demanding environments – in deserts, including the Marathon des Sables, for example, a 155 mile, 7 day stage race in the Moroccan Sahara, and in mountains, including the Roof of the World race, the 150 mile 6 day stage race from Lhasa to Katmandu. Her acievement of completing that race, at an average altitude of 14,000 feet, ranks as a Guinness Book of Records acievement. Evidently she has had good experiences with the inhabitants of the harsh environments where many of the Ultra races take part, and she speaks of their kindness and hospitality with great warmth. She says that “the inhabitants of those parts realise that visitors need help”.
And her inclusion in the Silver Grey Sports Club is due to the fact that in her 50’s she is continuing to challenge herself and push the boundaries of what she can achieve.
Having ended her career as an international level competitor, she has taken up Triathlon and Duathlon, and is enjoying the two new sports – cycling and swimming -she has added to her running. Shortly before recording the interview she had just competed in the age group categories of the World Championships for both Triathlon and Duathlon. As winning events is no longer her primary aim, she says that she is enjoying the activity more, doing it for the pleasure of the meets, only pushing herself when she feels like it, and enjoying her training. While her running performances do not match those of her peak, the continual improvement in her new sports is another source of pleasure. Encouragingly, she says that research shows that whatever the age at which one takes up a sport one will have an improvement over 10-15 or so years, both in one’s performance in the sport and in the associated physical conditioning. She has found this to be the case herself, and recently had another personal best performance on the bike.
In 2009 she took part in the Run Across the World (RAW) series of Ultra races – www.runacrosstheworld.com - running in the 5 day, 250 km African leg across the Namib desert. She is also very proud of having been part of a 4 woman team of cyclists who competed in the non-stop, cycling relay-race Race Across America - www.raceacrossamerica.org - in 2008. The four women team had an average age of 60 and finished only 42 minutes behind the leading women’s team after 3,014 miles over 8 days.
Having been a part of the international running scene for so long Hilary as keen to put back into the sport, and is the General Secretary of the International Association of Ultrarunners - www.iau-ultramarathon.org.
All of the people that we come across in making these short films for the Silver Grey Sports Club are inspiring to those people looking for encouragement to continue working at keeping ones form and fitness, but none exceeds Hilary Walker. Having competed in the Age Group category of the World Triathlon and World Duathlon Cahmpionships, her attitude is not “Well done, Hilary” but “Roll on 3 years’ time when I’ll be moving into the 60-65 year old category” and by then she expects to have improved her cycling and swimming to the level where she will again be competing for the honours. Continuous improvement is the name of the game. As she says “Don’t put limits on yourself, you’ll be surprised what you can achieve”.