November 8th, 5 am. The Performax Bangalore Ultra 2014, India’s most popular ultra, gets off to its usual high-energy start. The 24-hour challenge, the highest in the event, is attempted by the who’s who of the Indian ultra-running scene. Among them is British athlete Dan Lawson, aged 41. Small, lean and muscled, running bare-chested, Dan certainly looks like he can complete the challenge comfortably…
November 9th, 5 am. Dan has run 226 kilometers! The air in the holding area is thick with the awe and respect fellow runners extend to a man who has just clocked a new record on Indian soil.
An elite athlete from England, and world record holder for treadmill running (834 kilometers in under 7 days), Dan spends half his year in Goa, India, with his family, training in the natural environs of the beautiful state and volunteering with two non-profits that engage youth to spread social messages through sports. In April, he will represent Great Britain in the World 24-hour Championships.
Although a star in the small world of ultra-running, Dan keeps a relatively low profile, sacrificing material pursuits for a lifestyle that allows him to pursue his passions. Dan doesn’t own a home. He lives in rented space in Goa and in a trailer in England.
Runners For Life was privileged to host Dan as he set a new record on Indian soil. We catch up with him post the Bangalore Ultra to talk about running ultras, his life in India and his up-coming races.
Dan, congratulations on your win and the new record! This is the highest mileage clocked in India in 24 hours so far. How did your love affair with running begin?
I started running around age 10 originally to fund-raise for an animal charity in England. I soon found I could beat most of the adults competing and kind of enjoyed that so began to run more and more. I think I was 12 when I ran my first half marathon in around 1.28 if I remember correctly. Running soon took a back seat to football, my main love as a youngster and in my adult years. I played football from (ages) 12 to 35, only recently returning to running.
In a span of barely 5-6 years, you established yourself as one of the world’s leading ultra-runners. How did this come about?
I kinda went straight to ultras. My first race after I took up running again was a 100-kilometer in England, from London to Brighton, where I finished second. I have not raced any marathons or 10-kilometers etc.
How do you train and stay motivated? Do you have a structured program incorporating your workouts, rest and nutrition?
I run around 200 kilometers a week a mix of easy runs, repeats and tempo sessions and one longish run of around 60 kilometers. In England, I cycle a lot and daily take a yoga class. Here in India, I swim and walk a lot.
Rest??? That’s on my easy runs. Nutrition-wise I am practically a vegan, give or take the odd lassi and butter on toast. I love fresh fruit and vegetables and devour heaps each day.
I am lucky that I am quite hard on myself. I stick to my training regime well and don’t shirk on sessions. I am very intrinsically motivated and I just love to run.
What are some of your most memorable running moments?
Always my best running moments are those daily sessions that take you away from the normal routine of life and out into the countryside where the air is quiet and nature is the only sound you can hear. I consider myself very lucky to have these experiences almost daily.
What motivated you to join the Bangalore Ultra? How was your experience?
I was inquisitive to run an ultra in India to sample the scene here and meet other ultra runners. My experience was wonderful. The camaraderie was immense amongst runners, supporters and organizers. It felt like one big love-in. It was also exciting to be part of the ultra scene that seems to be bubbling up here in India. It’s gonna blast off very soon like it has in the rest of the world.
Do you plan to run other races in India?
I run the Nilgiri Ultra this weekend, yep, I would love to run even more. Just fitting them in amongst training and other races I have already committed to.
Tell us more about your India connection – you spend 6 months here every year. What do you do?
I volunteer for two non-profits teaching youths to spread social messages through sport mostly football. Things like HIV Education, child rights, importance of staying in school etcetera.
You have given up a conventional life style to pursue your passions. How has that decision turned out for you? What are the sacrifices and have they been worth it?
I live my bliss. I run everyday yes of course it has worked out. I have sacrificed material goods and money to be truly happy. It’s great!
You already have several running accomplishments under your belt. What are your goals for the future?
My main aim now, having been picked to represent the Great Britain ultra team, has to be the World 24-hours championships in Italy in April 2015. All my training and racing is a build-up to that and, hopefully, a podium-finish, which would be awesome.
Finally, what has ultra running taught you?
Ultra-running has taught me that we can achieve anything. We are only limited by our minds. Truly open them and the possibilities are infinite.