NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Endurance runner Lisa Smith Batchen likes going to extremes. She has run through Death Valley nine times and raced 150 miles across the Sahara Desert.
Now on the verge of her 50th birthday, she's adding altruism to athletics, along with a dash of spiritual uplift from her longtime friend, Sister Mary Beth Lloyd.
Accompanying Smith Batchen as she seeks to become the first athlete to run 50 miles in each of the 50 states, will be Lloyd, a 61-year-old nun with the Religious Teachers Filippini Order in New Jersey who will run-walk in full habit and sneakers.
The event, dubbed Running Hope through America, is due to start today in New Jersey and end in Wyoming on June 19.
The goal is to raise $1,000,000 for orphaned children in Haiti, Africa, Indonesia, South America and the United States.
"It's absolutely in my career the last big thing I plan to do," said Smith Batchen, who in 2008 established the Idaho-based Dreamchaser Foundation to encourage amateur and professional athletes to use their passion for sports to charitable ends.
"Deprivation will kick in. And it's all on cement! I can't do it on trails," she said.
Even if there's no salvation from that cement, she's got Lloyd for inspiration. And the sight of a fully uniformed race-walking nun should draw donations and support from the curious.
"Sister Mary Beth will be there for the entire run," said Smith Batchen, who has known Lloyd for 25 years. "She's not fit to run this time. But she walks really well."
Lloyd admits that she doesn't run fast but she runs far.
"I'll be there to support Lisa. I'll be on the crew for her and to speak about the orphans," she said.
To prepare for the race Smith Batchin did what she's always done.
"I cross trained, cycled, worked with medicine balls and kettlebells," said the athlete, not to mention the 12 cardio-core classes she teaches each week. "I really concentrate on running with my core."
Dr. Carl Foster, an expert with the American College of Sports Medicine, is less concerned with the elite, well-trained athletes who lead charity runs than he is with those sedentary folk who, roused by a good cause, suddenly decide to tag along.
"These are public events and you get some splash and visibility," said Foster, a professor at the University of Wisconsin LaCrosse. "A lot of charity runners are comparatively less fit than normal runners. I'd bet that 50-75 per cent of injuries that occur are in the back of the field."
But in general he applauds these events.
"It's a sort of noble undertaking," he said. "God made people to walk around. This gives people a platform. So you get a few blisters. If people prepare, I'm all for it"
Smith Batchen, of course, knows what she's doing.
"If I'm tired, I take a day off. If it hurts, I ice it. I take a nice cold bath after every power walk/run, and I do recover."
And she's confident her less-fit friend can take care of herself, black wool tunic, belt and headpiece notwithstanding.
"She's got a Ph.D. She changes tires on the car," Smith Batchen said of Lloyd.
She has to have that habit on," she said. "When you're hot, you're hot."