Interview with Tamara Lunger, Alpine Climber

From the archive: Tamara Lunger is one of the stars of the European Outdoor Film Tour 2016. The two hour special edit of the year’s best outdoor and adventure films includes the 28 year old Italian’s ascent without supplemental oxygen of K2.  The rising star of the alpine climbing world also held the World Champion long distance ski-mountaineering title, is an accomplished sky-runner and even represented Italy in the discus.  She talks to Totally Active about the physical and mental challenges of a multi-sport career. This article was first published on 28th September 2016 and is a feature piece from Totally Active.

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Tamara: My father was a professional cross-country biker.  We were his biggest fan club, so I discovered early on that sport was going to be my life.

I’m not sure why I didn’t learn to ski as a child.  When I was 12 I decided I wanted to snowboard instead.  I quit when I started to have problems with my knees and learned to ski-tour with Dad. It was hard work and I loved the challenge – going up was great but I was terrible coming down.

I started racing and by 2008 won the World Championship title, but the knee pain was worse than ever.  I was piling pressure on myself, training everyday but not getting results.  I had such a bad season in 2009 people started to comment. It hurt me so much in my heart because I wanted to win.  That was a really difficult time.

It took me a whole year to realise that I had to do the sport just for me, not for anyone else.  I did a pair’s race where we finished last just for fun. I showed everyone what they thought about me wasn’t important.  I did it because I wanted to.

Totally Active: As well as skiing, you’re also a sky-runner, like Kilian Jornet?

Tamara: I started off running but I had the same problems with my knees.  I switched to discus but I didn’t get the same satisfaction.  I need the suffering!  I loved collapsing into bed at night totally destroyed.

With the help of physio, in 2013 I was able to run the 8 day, 270km Gore-tex Transalpine Run [with over 16,000m of ascent] but after my latest expedition on Manaslu I realised I had to stop.  I’ve had 16 years of problems.  I’ll have 10 good days but then two months of pain. It starts eating away at you and I fall into depression. During that time it’s like no one can help me. I don’t want to do anything. I feel like a piece of shit and the world is shit.

I was really lucky when my climbing partner Simone told me he’d teach me to fly a helicopter when we got back from our expedition to Manaslu earlier this year. That was a dream. Flying gives me something else to think about. And a week ago, I got my ultra light licence!

Mountaineering still means everything to me.  No human being can give me what I get out of being in the mountains. I’m not happy in a gym. I need nature to be happy.

Totally Active: What’s your training regime?

Tamara: I studied Sports Science so I know how to train. Before I tried to train every day and sometimes twice a day. I liked to mix up ski-mountaineering, running, ice climbing. A plan doesn’t work for me. Mountaineering is a passion, not a job.

Now I do some strength training in my home gym. I’m doing a lot of meditation and Qigong to relax and get rid of the negative thoughts.  I’ve discovered that most of the pain is in my brain.

When I’m home here in South Tyrol, if it’s a perfect day, maybe I’ll head out hike/running in the mountains for 40km and get the bus back.  But I think I’m going to have to start cycling more and running less.


Totally Active: Is there one bit of kit you wouldn’t to be without?

Tamara: Perhaps not equipment. For me it’s crucial that my family agrees with my dreams. If my parents were sitting at home scared that would be the worst thing because it limits you in some way.

Totally Active: You describe yourself as a bit of a ‘Heidi’ character – what do you mean?

Tamara: She’s a free spirit and child-like with no preconceptions. When I go on an expedition I don’t want to know about the route in advance. A report might be by someone who had had a terrible time and that influenced their view.

Standing on the summit of K2 was a very special moment.  I felt I’d found myself again. The more I go on expeditions, the more open I’m to this feeling – perhaps it’s why I have to keep going back. You have time to be alone with yourself. At home you’re always distracted by the phone and TV.  There you have nothing and you are so happy and you learn a lot about yourself.

Totally Active: What do you eat when you’re training and on expeditions?

Tamara: I don’t follow a special diet. We have a garden at home and it’s all fresh. I love sweet things but I try to avoid them. If I’m on expedition, I don’t like freeze-dried or canned food.  I bring food from home – bacon, speak and sausages, cheese and hard bread. It gives you a lot of energy.  I supplement it with bars, nuts and dried fruit and so on.

Totally Active: What advice would you give to anyone wanting to go long-distance and maybe try an ultra race?

Tamara: Everything is in the mind. The first race I entered was a 120k running event here in South Tyrol.  There was a 60-60 relay category so I thought I’d give it a go.  I’d never gone that far before but I knew I loved long-distance hiking.

Maybe start with 20 or 30k, but if you’re convinced in your mind you can do it, then you can do anything you want. If you’ve got a good basic level of fitness, you’ll cope.

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This article is a feature piece from Totally Active, a completely interactive online magazine written by active people for active people. Totally Active are on a mission to push endurance to its limits, to help readers achieve their potential, whatever the sport or activity. Totally Active have brought some of the world’s foremost endurance, performance, nutrition and fitness experts together in a publication which informs and inspires readers to go to the edge, to break boundaries, and to succeed. Read more articles like this at Totally Active today.