Lisa Tamati, 44, had severe asthma as a child, broke her back in two places at the age of 21-years and compressed two discs. However, she hasn’t let these conditions stand between her and her love of running. Having travelled more than 60,000 kilometres — almost one and a half times around the circumference of the world — on foot, in some of the world’s toughest desert terrains, Tamati can say she has run through hell and survived.
Desert Racing is Tamati’s Passion
Tamati, the owner of a jewellery manufacturing and retail company, a production corporation, and an event organisation, has been competing in ultramarathon events for 16 years, mostly over desert terrains.
“I have always loved adventure, pushing the limits and the outdoors,” said Tamati. “But after I did an expedition across the Libyan desert in 1997, where it was really on the limits, I wanted to do things in a more controlled environment and discovered desert racing,” she said.
“I have done over 130 ultramarathons,” said Tamati. “Some races are more than 2000 kilometres long,” she said. “I ran the length of New Zealand, 2250 kilometres, in 42-days, and I have run across the Sahara twice and through Death Valley, USA, the hottest desert on earth.”
“Death Valley was iconic,” said Tamati. “It has a huge history and is the unofficial world champion of our sport,” she said. “It was such an honour to get a slot to run. The heat is absolutely mind-blowing.”
The Furnace Creek weather station situated in Death Valley, which is located in the Mojave Desert in Eastern California, USA, typically records average highs of 47 degrees Celsius during summer. The hottest day ever recorded in Death Valley was 57 degrees Celsius, with five consecutive days of 54 degrees Celsius and above being recorded.
Tamati Must Overcome Physical and Medical Issues to Compete
Tamati’s challenges however are not just environmental. She also has to battle with her physical and medical issues in order to compete and finish events.
“I had severe asthma as a child and was in and out of the hospital,” said Tamati. “I still have asthma, which has limited my abilities and lung capacity,” she said. “I overcome this by being stubborn, never giving up and learning to deal with it as best I can.”
“I prefer hot dry climates for running as I do better than in mountainous or cold regions,” said Tamati. “However, I recently have been going outside my comfort zone and pushing myself to deal with altitude and cold,” she said. “Last year’s 222 kilometres non-stop race over the two highest passes in the world was an extreme challenge for me. But I made it. I am the second woman to have ever done this.”
“In my last race, I had a few asthmas attacks over the period of two days running but I just had to slow down and keep moving,” said Tamati. “My next run is in Nepal, the Manaslu Trail Race, going up to an altitude of 5000 metres. It will be a problem.”
Maintaining Fitness for Running is a Constant Battle for Tamati
Tamati, who broke her back in a Flying Fox accident when she was skylarking, says that she will never fully recover from her fall.
“I broke L2 and L3,” said Tamati. “I won’t ever fully recover,” she said. “I now have four discs that are totally compressed and I have a lot of pain. But, I try to keep my core strong and do a lot of rehabilitation and physiotherapy to keep at it.”
“I have a willingness to fight on no matter what,” said Tamati. “It is a constant battle,” she said. “With my back, I now have to pick and choose my battles. I am staying away from races where I have to carry too much on my back.”
For some, Tamati’s body can be considered as the human equivalent of a well-prepared rally vehicle. In fact, Tamati herself admits that her training does not just include roads, but also includes trails, hill work and tramping.
“I train all-year-round, ” said Tamati. “I do a lot of cross-training especially trying to keep my back strong,” she said. “I back off a little at times, when I have no immediate competition, and increase and build into the next event. But I never let myself go too far backwards.”
“I have changed my regime a little to less junk miles and more quality training. Hill and speed work,” said Tamati. “I also have to adapt to the race I am facing,” she said. “There is no use training on just roads when you are heading for a trail event. If I am heading for a hot race like Death Valley, then I train with more clothes on and I train in the sauna. If it’s a mountain event, then I do a lot of hill work and tramping.”
‘I typically train between 13 and 25 hours a week,” said Tamati. “I do long, slow distance runs, interval training and speed work, such as hill training and resistance training,” she said. “Then rehabilitation stuff like physio, stretching, chiropractor massage and some aqua-jogging.”
Clearly, Tamati has managed to strike the perfect balance between dedicated training on the one hand, and rehabilitation on the other, via the chiropractor, her stretching routine, and all the rest. For many athletes, achieving this delicate balance is one of the hardest things of all to get right.
Tamati’s Will to Succeed is Driven by her Accomplishments
Tamati says that for her the ultramarathon events that she competes in are uplifting and drive her to achieve in life.
“These events are life-changing and confidence building,” said Tamati. “They are intense experiences filled with every emotion,” she said. “These are days in my life that I will never forget. I find the intensity of having a singular goal also very cathartic and the training keeps my body and mind fit and agile and ready for most of life’s challenges.”
For those who are looking to take up long-distance running, Tamati says the human body is made to run, so why not push yourself and improve your own health and fitness.
“The human body is made to run long distances on a daily basis,” said Tamati. “Our joints can take it,” she said. “In fact, they need it.”
“But training needs to be incremental,” said Tamati. “As it takes approximately a year for the ligaments and tendons to get used to the long-distance load,” she said. “The muscles and cardio system adapt relatively quickly, but the tendons and ligaments take time. Be patient and don’t give up at the first sign of niggles or pains, it’s just the body adjusting.”
As a marathon runner, Tamati believes that exercise, of any kind, is good for the body and soul.
“A regular exercise programme is as important as brushing your teeth,” said Tamati. “You wouldn’t go a week without brushing, would you? No, and you shouldn’t go a week without exercising, unless sick or injured,” she said. “Our bodies need to move, it’s what keeps us healthy.”
“Our mind and souls also benefit from being out in nature,” said Tamati. “It gets rid of stress hormones,” she said. “The benefits list is so long, I could go on and on.”
If you would like to read about Lisa Tamati’s adventures and challenges as an ultra marathon runner, then you can buy her books Running Hot (2009) and Running To Extremes (2012). RRP $29.99. Published by Allen & Unwin. Books can be purchased from all good bookstores and signed copies are also available from Lisa Tamati.