Ultra-marathon runner Ferg Hawke is heading to Bolivia.

Ultra-marathon runner Ferg Hawke is heading to Bolivia.

Ultramarathoner Hawke takes on Expedition Bolivia

It’s been a little while since Ferg Hawke’s done something crazy – unless you count a full-blown home renovation that’s taken the better part of three years.

But next week, the 53-year-old South Surrey runner – who has twice run the 217-kilometre Badwater Ultramarathon – will end his sabbatical and take part in Expedition Bolivia, where which a team of runners, students, researchers and support staff will traverse more than 250 km of South American landscape.

“I haven’t done a race in awhile because I’ve been renovating the house for so long. I’ve continued to run, but just not nearly as much as I used to,” said Hawke, who twice finished second at Badwater, most recently in 2005.

“I just figured I’d get back at it.”

The trip is organized and run by Impossible 2 Possible, a non-profit organization led by famed ultra-marathon runner Ray Zahab. Hawke left earlier this week to meet up with the rest of his crew, and the team arrives in Bolivia on May 15.

And while many members of the team will cover the distance in support vehicles, Hawke, Zahab, British adventurer Hannah McKeand – who holds the world record for fastest solo trek to the South Pole – and five youth ambassadors will run, averaging about one marathon a day for six consecutive days.

Hawke’s no stranger to extreme distance races. In addition to his Badwater runs, he’s competed in Ultraman World Championships in Hawaii, completed the grueling Marathon des Sables stage race – a 254-km ultramarathon through the Sahara Desert – and a handful of 50- and 100-km runs through the Pacific Northwest.

He was also the subject of a documentary, The Distance to Truth, which chronicles the 2005 Badwater race.

But Expedition Bolivia is not a race, simply a test of endurance, and Hawke admitted he’s heading into the adventure with a different mindset.

“I won’t be going at a real hard pace – certainly not what I have in some of my other races – but it’s still going to be a challenge. There’s no easy way to do a marathon a day for six days in a row,” he said.

Bolivia will be the fourth trip for Zahab’s Impossible 2 Possible, after previous journeys to the Sahara Desert, the Amazon and the Arctic. The aim of the organization is to use adventure trips as a way to educate and inspire youth. The Bolivia trip will be no different, and the focus will be on chemistry and science.

During the trip, the team will be running through Bolivia’s salt flats – the biggest in the world – and will also run at elevations as high as 12,000 feet. Students and researchers – including Dr. Greg Wells and university professors – will conduct experiments on the terrain, and will also monitor runners’ blood levels, electrolytes and more to see how the human body reacts to the rigors of such physical exertion.

The research experiments and other findings will be beamed into classrooms throughout the world via satellite link to help students learn about science.

“There’s a strong education component to the trip,” Hawke said. “A lot of very interesting people are coming along, and I’m quite anxious to get to know them.”

Hawke said he was asked to join the trek because another world-renowned ultra-distance runner, Colorado’s Marshall Ulrich – who’s been on previous I2P adventures – could not make it.

“It’s pretty big shoes to fill, but it’s an honour to have been asked by Ray to come along,” Hawke said. “I’m really looking forward to it. Basically my job is to encourage the youth ambassadors and support them during the run, and give them some help and advice when I can.”

Trainining for the trip has also re-ignited Hawke’s passion for extreme distance running, and while he won’t confirm a return to the Badwater Ultramarathon he said he could see himself returning to it.

“I’m motivated to get back into it – although it would take me awhile to get into Badwater shape,” he said. “I’ll probably do another one, but I’m just not sure when.”

For more on the organization and the trip – including information on how to register a classroom for the free satellite broadcasts – visit www.impossible2possible.com