Couple’s long-running relationship

Running love: David and Katharine Lowrie training on the Peak District moors.
Running love: David and Katharine Lowrie training on the Peak District moors.
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Planning a summer getaway, just the pair of you, and wondering how you’ll get on for the fortnight? Read on...

As the Olympic gun resonates through the streets of London today, one man and his wife will begin their own sporting feat of Olympic proportions.

Katharine and David Lowrie will commence an epic, year-long journey to run the length of South America - mostly barefoot.

They will traverse 5,000 miles, the equivalent of over 200 marathons, through some of the most awe-inspiring and biologically rich ecosystems on earth.

The couple, who met as Sheffield University students, have given up every shred of everyday life – jobs, home, family and friends.

The biggest question on everyone’s lips is: why?

They hope to become world record-breakers, the first couple ever to run the length of the Continent. But more importantly, as they run unsupported, towing all their camping and scientific equipment, food and water, the couple hope to raise awareness of the damage being caused to the South American environment and its wildlife.

Says Katharine, who could become the first woman ever to run the length of the Continent: We thought, perhaps if we do something really crazy, that no one has done before, that we don’t even know that we can do, that people might be interested and care about the precious, threatened last wilds of South America and its wildlife.

“It is an incredible place. The Amazon tropical rainforest is the largest on earth, the Amazon is the world’s biggest river, the Andes is the longest mountain chain and Lake Titicaca is the highest lake. It supports Brazil, Columbia and Ecuador, countries with the highest biodiversity in the world.

“The sheer diversity of life South America supports is amazing; from giant anteaters to tiny bat families that knit a leaf together each night under the roof of the rainforest, from iridescent butterflies the size of dinner plates to rainbow-coloured macaws and the tiny Darwin’s frog that lives in Chile and broods its young in its mouth.

“We cannot watch these species and habitats become extinct,” says the woman who has seen such wonders of nature in her three years in South America living aboard a small wooden sailing boat with her husband.

Their epic journey starts today – probably on skis, in the freezing Patagonian winter, where there has been the worst snow fall for 25 years.

Then they will leave the bulk of their kit to pick up on their return two days later and run mountain marathon style, with tent, sleeping bags, stove and food on their backs to the southern-most tip of land. They will need to forge four rivers using ropes. “We’ll have to swim naked, as we cannot afford to get our clothes wet and we can dry quicker naked. Hypothermia is a real concern,” says Katharine, communicating with the Star by email.

They must also face the elements as they cross gale-torn Argentine Pampas, then the steaming heat of the Amazon rain forest.

The couple, accomplished UK fell and cross-country racers, hope their rigorous training for the past three months in Uruguay and the art of barefoot running will help them to avoid injury.

“Barefoot foot running mimics how our ancestors used to run: it’s about wakening up all those little muscles in your feet that have been dormant for many years and working your Achilles tendon to its full stretch,” she explains.

While some of the journey will be done totally barefoot, they will also wear ultra-light, heel-less ‘barefoot running’ shoes to protect their feet from spines and rocks.

“We hope that through sweat, tears and determination, we’ll open a portal into the last wilds of South America.

“Will our bodies with-stand months on end of pounding roads and trails whilst pulling our own kit?” asks Katharine: “We are about to find out.”

Love of outdoors makes pair perfect match

FEW marriages could take the mental strain of being together 24 hours a day, sharing such a gruelling challenge.

But an abiding love of outdoor life, ecology and adventure sport made Katharine and David the perfect match.

They had each found it hard to meet partners who were as outdoor-orientated.

“I worked in Derbyshire for two years as an ecology consultant while obtaining my MSC and I used to cycle 11 miles into work and back every day and then run over the hills at lunchtime,” says Katharine. “I was very fit and a past boyfriend said he felt emasculated because he couldn’t keep up on the hills.

“Likewise, David had past girlfriends whose dream was to shop in malls at the weekends.”

They first met as Sheffield University student in the first couple of weeks of term in 1997 and went running together, with friends. A few months later they kissed at the Sports Ball, but never became a couple, graduated in 2000 and went their own ways in life with happy memories of their time in Sheffield living in student rooms in Broomhill, Crookesmoor Road and Crookes. Sports-mad Katharine would cycle for miles through Ecclesall and the Rivelin Valley and Dave rowed and kayaked in the local reservoirs and rivers.

They met again when a mutual university friend organised a reunion on the Scottish Isle of Eigg.

“Dave was a management consultant working with GP practices in Yorkshire and I was working for the RSPB, surveying birds in the Forest of Bowland, Lancashire. Apparently he had been trying to find me for a while,” she grins.

Romance blossomed, they went to live together in a caravan on a cider farm in Devon, continued their careers and married in May 2008.

Three months later, they quit their jobs and went on their first eco adventure. They journeyed to the Caribbean in an old wooden sailing boat, the Lista Light, a 50-foot, 76-year-old wooden gaff ketch. Made in Norway for North Sea cod fishing, it’s a traditional rig with wooden spars holding up its heavy sails which David and Katharine pull up by hand.

They researched seabirds, co-wrote the Seabird Breeding Atlas of the Lesser Antilles and after 18 months, sailed to Chile to survey wildlife. From there they sailed around the tip of the South American continent to the Falklands and up to Uruguay.

Some 20,000 miles and four years later, they had circumnavigated South America together and come up with the idea for their 5,000 mile challenge.

Both had grown up in the countryside - Dave in the Cheviot Hills and Katharine in Devon - and loved the natural world.

“There never seemed another option but to be deeply committed to the environment for either of us,” she says.

Arguments do happen - especially during high-stress, hazardous situations, admits Katharine. And like all couples they fall out when they are tired.

“But we just get on with it. We have a solid foundation, we totally trust one another and respect one another.

“We share many of the tasks, but Dave is the chief logistics man, planner, computer specialist, accountant and engineer. I lead on the education, wildlife surveys, media, writing and design side of things.

“Motivation wise, we both take it in turns to push one another. We both have huge aspirations and intend to achieve them, even if we’re crawling by the end of it.

“We both know we can’t have a serious fall-out on this trip. It isn’t an option.

“And as for being together all the time, we are used to it after four years on our tiny boat. I think the weird thing will be spending time apart when we return home to the UK. I’m not sure how we will adjust!”

Katharine and David will be blogging about their daily challenges, hazards and highlights via their website, www. 5000mileproject.org

They are encouraging others to follow the adventure, and also help the project for free by clicking ‘like’ on Facebook at www.facebook.com/5000mileproject