Ecologist Katharine Lowrie from Devon and her management consultant husband David from Northumberland ran 6504 miles, starting from Cabo Froward in Chile in 2012. Their trip took them through Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil and finally Venezuela to the Carupano and the Caribbean sea and they became the first couple to run the continent. They did it without any back-up team, taking turns to pull their supplies and gear in a two-wheeled trailer, and ran between 20 and 35 miles six days per week.
So was it a joint decision to do the run or did one have to persuade the other? “No, there was no persuading,” Katharine tells Lonely Planet News. “We’re both as bonkers as one another, or so our friends say. We yearned to do something for the natural world and for adventure, so within three months we got married, quit our jobs and set sail to South America. We worked in the Caribbean for two years surveying seabirds and then sailed down to Chile, and that’s where we finally got the idea of what exactly our adventure would entail.”
Katharine and David ran to raise funds for charity and regularly stopped at remote schools to give presentations. They ran barefoot a lot of the way, and say the experience was the toughest thing they have ever done together. “We argued a lot at the beginning, because we were starving, exhausted and sore, while being plagued by the enormity of what lay ahead and whether our bodies were up to it,” says Katharine. “But after a few weeks we got into a pattern, established routines and roles, things became easier and soon we were having an amazing time. We would invent all kinds of scenarios as we ran and were often in fits of giggles. It was a magical time and we saw so much wildlife, which always lifted our spirits and sent us running off on a cloud of happiness.”
Katharine says the challenges were travelling through crime-ridden areas and extreme climatic zones. “We started in a freezer with snow up to our waists and tent pegs sticking to our fingers, and next came the howling wind of Patagonia. It was vicious, like running against a demon. Then there was the oven of central Argentina, where our bare feet left footprints in the melting asphalt, and the rot and rubs of hot, humid rainforest zones.”
When it comes to the areas that most impressed them, Katharine chooses a line of little-known hills north of Catamarca, Argentina, and the Carretera Austral of southern Chile, which she says is hauntingly beautiful. “We are the first people to have run its entire length from Villa O’Higgins to Puerto Montt,” she says. “It winds around rugged mountains, past turquoise, glacial melt-water rivers and through luscious, temperate rainforest. We didn’t see another person or vehicle for days on end.”
Despite the challenges, Katharine says that neither she nor David wanted to finish the run, and would have loved to keep going. “It was the most beautiful, natural and simple existence,” she says. “Our job was running, putting one foot in front of another every day, making a hole in the forest to sleep and cooking our meal each night. Life was tangible and catching a glimpse of a beautiful bird or mammal or being given drinks and food by complete strangers made it all worthwhile.”
Now based in Devon, Katharine and David have had two children, Theo, 3, and Beth, 1. Their epic journey is described in Katharine’s new book, Running South America – with my husband and other animals, which is available here.