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Lawyers going to the extreme

Whether it's their Type A personality or simply a desire to escape the confines of the office, a number of lawyers are taking competition to an extreme level. Briana Everett reportsIf running…

Whether it's their Type A personality or simply a desire to escape the confines of the office, a number of lawyers are taking competition to an extreme level. Briana Everett reports

If running 222 kilometres over 58 hours sounds like your idea of crazy, then you'd be normal. But for some overachieving lawyers, this is a regular part of their extreme hobby.

Baker & McKenzie graduate lawyer Samantha Gash is the youngest person and first female to complete the 4 Deserts footrace series, which is a gruelling sequence of seven-day, 250 kilometre footraces across the Atacama Desert in Chile, the Gobi Desert in China, the Sahara Desert in Egypt and the Last Desert in Antarctica. Racing self-supported, competitors like Gash must carry all their own equipment and food and are only provided with drinking water and a place in a tent each night to rest.

Having recently completed the invitation-only La Ultra: The High - a 220 kilometre, 60-hour ultra marathon through the Himalayas - Gash says it was an Oxfam trail walker event that originally got her started back in 2006.

"A few years ago, I did a 100 kilometre Oxfam ... It was a bit of a disaster. I didn't train for it," recalls Gash.

But despite her "disastrous" performance, the Oxfam event ignited Gash's passion for endurance racing. And two years later, she entered her first of many endurance events, taking up "ultra running" in 2010.

Having just graduated from Monash University and due to start at Baker & McKenzie in 2012, Gash plans to squeeze in an almost inconceivable training regime around her commitments as a graduate lawyer.

Conceding that training for ultra events can become "an obsession", the five-foot, 20-something athlete explains that before she had a coach, her training was very ad hoc.

Now, with the help of Bodyology coach Ben Griffin, altitude expert Michael Chiovitti and physiology expert Andrew Garlick, Gash's training schedule is much more structured, helping her to better prepare for events such as La Ultra, this month's Racing The Planet Nepal, and the recent ultra marathon in the Kimberleys, which turned tragic when two female and two male competitors were badly burnt after becoming trapped in a bushfire.

While Gash certainly has a lot on her plate, there are a growing number of other Australian lawyers who also manage to find time for extreme sports outside their billable hours, including Baker & McKenzie partner David Jones, another ultra-marathon runner; and London-based Minter Ellison partner Nigel Clark, who competed in the North Pole Marathon earlier this year.

"It was a marathon run on water - the frozen Arctic Ocean," says Clark who, with his team, helped raise almost £100,000 ($156,000) for charity in five hours and 41 minutes.

"The temperature started off at about -25°C and fell to -32°C after the first couple of hours, with 45km head winds. Goggles don't steam up at the North Pole, they just freeze up, and if you take them off your eyelashes freeze."

Unlike his colleague Gash, Jones was not always a fan of running. Just four years ago, it was actually Jones' secretary who got him into running - an activity the ultra marathon runner had previously avoided.

"I used to hate running ... I felt unfit ... [My secretary] made me run every lunch time and I couldn't keep up," says Jones, explaining how his lunch time runs led to daily boot camps and then the Oxfam trail walker event.

Following his first Oxfam event, Jones then entered a North Face 100 race in the Blue Mountains.

"It escalated from there," he says.

These days, Jones is up at 5:30am every day for boot camp and on top of that, he runs an extra 10 to 20 kilometres. And while this may seem like a lot, Jones quickly points out it is nowhere near what most ultra marathon runners clock each day.

"I should be doing 80 to 100 kilometres a week," says Jones, adding that "things get sacrificed" for his tough training regime.

Conceding that his commitment to ultra marathons, alongside his commitment as a partner at a global law firm, requires a lot of planning, Jones says he wants to keep pushing himself, and has his sights set on the 166km North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc event in 2012, which passes through France, Switzerland and Italy, and is considered the race for the unbeatable.

"Next year I have four or five [races] planned. One in Tasmania, one in New Zealand ... The plan is to work up to Mont Blanc."

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