Run247 columnist Kirsty Reade talks to the inspirational ultra runner Mimi Anderson
There are few people in the world of ultra (or possibly the world) who are as inspirational as Mimi Anderson. I recently bumped into her at a race and she very kindly agreed to do an interview for Run247. Mimi is a woman who embraces a good challenge, as illustrated by some of her key achievements, listed below.
We hope you enjoy reading this interview as much as we did but we feel that we have to issue a warning: this interview will make you want to enter a ridiculously long race! Proceed with caution.
Some of Mimi’s achievements:
- Female World Record for running from John O'Groats to Lands End - 840 miles 12 days 15 hours 46 minutes 35 seconds.
- Overall World Record for M2M - 345 miles running from Malin Head (the most Northerly point in Ireland) to Mizen Head (the most Southerly point) in a total of 3 days 15 hours 36 minutes 23 seconds.
- Course Record Holder and overall winner for the 6633 Extreme Ultra Marathon 2007 - 352 mile non-stop self sufficiency race in the Arctic 143 hrs 23 minutes.
- Winner of the 2010 Namibian Desert Challenge
- 1st Brit, 3rd Female in the Spartathlon 2011 - 153 miles non-stop
- 3rd overall 1st Lady The Viking Way Ultra - 147.9 miles non-stop 33hrs 52 mins
- 1st female to complete Back to Back Comrades in South Africa 2009
- Fastest female to do Double Badwater 108hrs 10 minutes 24 seconds (3rd fastest time)
Photo: Mimi is the fastest female to do Double Badwater
Can you tell us a little bit about how you got into running ultras?
I got into Ultra running by accident really. In only took up running to change the shape of my legs and knew nothing about the sport except that people in the gym ran on a treadmill, so it was very exciting for me to discover that people actually ran outside and there were running races as well, what had I been missing!
Having trained for and completed my first half marathon in 1999, I just loved it, running with other people, being part of an event and the feeling of elation and pride as I crossed the finish line made me want to do more.
A few half marathons and 10ks later a friend walked into the gym clutching a magazine with an article about the Marathon des Sables and said this was to be our next race. I remember looking at the pictures of blistered feet and people running with packs across the desert and I couldn’t think of a single reason why I couldn’t do this.
It was very difficult training for the MdS as I had three young children, the youngest was only 6, but my husband was fantastic and quickly learnt how to cook and multi task. In 2001 I was standing with my two team-mates on the start line of the 16th Marathon des Sables. Before the start of the race I picked up a bug which meant I wasn’t able to keep any food or fluids down resulting in me having 5 bags of IV drip at the end of day 3 (the day before the longest day) and a further 5 bags once I finished the race, but I did finish. The rest as they say is history!
How do you decide on your next challenge? Do people suggest them to you or do you have a wish list of events/challenges?
It’s a bit of a mixture! Location, distance and the challenge attract me to an event. I love challenges like my World Records, Double Badwater and Back to Back Comrades, its not just about the run it’s the whole package, training, planning and running, just fantastic! It’s also about taking myself out of my comfort zone and doing something that I will find difficult. I feel that if I don’t challenge myself I can never improve, I’m always learning and have plenty of room for improvement. Next year I have signed up for The Spine Race, totally out of my comfort zone but a very exciting challenge, which I hope, I’m up to.
This year James Adams put the idea into my head for the Grand Union Canal Race and Spartathlon doubles. They are going to be mega events that James and I will run together.
What are your main targets at the moment and what does a typical training week look like?
I have quite a busy year this year. At the end of May I am attempting to run the Double Grand Union Canal Race, 290 miles in total. I will start on the Thursday afternoon before the race at Little Venice in London and run to Gas Street in Birmingham along the Grand Union Canal, have a few hours sleep then join the other runners for the 145-mile race and run back on the Saturday. Then in August I head out to Colorado to do the Mountain Ultra, which is a 5 day staged race, followed in November by their Desert Ultra in Namibia.
My most challenging event for the year will be Double Spartathlon. The Spartathlon is the most iconic Ultra in the world. It starts in Athens and finishes 153 miles later in Sparta. Every single CP has its own cut-off times with the marathon distance having to be covered in 4.30 hours, 81km in 9.30 hours and if you don’t make these cut-offs you find yourself on the “death bus” back to Sparta. This time I will run the race first then if all has gone according to plan will turn round and run back to Athens, 306 miles in total.
My training schedule varies from week to week but usually will consist of two long back to back runs 30 – 50k one will be on road and the other trail. Hill session, an easy run, a double session and perhaps a 10k where each kilometre increases in speed, plus I try and have a cross training session twice a week. I always have one day off a week.
What runners or people inspire you in what you’re doing?
The people who inspire me are the extraordinary people I have met on my running adventures. I love listening to people’s stories, why they run, what motivates them and keeps them going through the tough times.
Many Ultra runners have addictive personalities and many people I have met (including me) have swopped one potentially deadly addiction for a healthy one and in so doing have got their lives back. One friend of mine was diagnosed with Parkinson’s at the age of 36 but he continues to run, bike, swim and if necessary crawl to find a cure for this as yet incurable and awful disease. These are real life people with stories that if you are willing to listen to really are very inspirational.
When I’m feeling sorry for myself I remember these people, their stories and what keeps them going - THEY are amazing.
You routinely finish very high up in overall results in events. Ultras seem to be more of an even playing field for men and women at the elite end, unlike most other sports. Pam Reed, Lizzy Hawker, Anna Frost, and Chrissie Wellington (in ironman) illustrate this. Do you have any thoughts as to why this is?
If I could run and get results like any of the women you have mentioned above I would be absolutely thrilled.
I have always believed that the longer the event (i.e. above 150 miles) the more equal men and women become. Perhaps over the longer distances women are better at planning their races and pacing themselves, whereas the men, although faster runners, go out way too fast and struggle to keep the pace going. A classic example of this was when I won the 6633 Extreme Ultra Marathon a 352-mile non-stop self-sufficiency race in the Arctic. I had a plan, had worked everything out and stuck to my strategy. I was chased right from the off by one particular competitor which was fine, I kept moving at my pace but he unfortunately was out of his comfort zone and ended up coming in 2.5 days after me. I certainly don’t classify myself as elite but no one as yet has beaten my record on that race.
They say that women get better with the big Ultras as they get older, perhaps this is because we have learnt to deal with stress and pain in a different way once we have had children, let’s face it once you have given birth nothing else is ever as painful!
I was reading an article in Ultra Legends this paragraph comes right at the end.
‘Often the woman runner is the class athlete in the race, she is not opposed by a male athlete of equivalent ability. Eleanor Adams, Ann Trason, Hilary Walker, Sandra Barwick and Marianne Savage have all won ultra races outright. All of them at one time have set world bests.
Men depressed by finishing second to the fair sex should be philosophical. In the greatest ultra of them all -Life- women consistently achieve greater performances, outliving their male peers. Basically they are just tougher.’
You’ve done a lot of events which go on for several days! Do you have any tips for recovery in between days and after these events?
After a big event lasting several days I will always have a sports massage afterwards, this works wonders for my body getting any niggles sorted out and getting the fluid out of my legs. I make sure I rehydrate properly and for the first few days continue to use electrolytes in my water.
I always take at least a week to 10 days off afterwards, where I do nothing for the first few days then perhaps some gentle cross training and swimming but I very much listen to what my body wants – sometimes it doesn’t want to do anything so that’s exactly what I do!
During a staged race once I have finished for the day I try and stretch although usually forget because I’m too busy talking, but once I have sorted myself out I will lie on my back with my feet up in the air against the pole of the tent or a tree, anything to help reduce any swelling (even if there is none). The trick is to relax and not walk around too much.
What’s the closest you’ve ever come to finding your limit in a race?
The closest I have come to finding the limits was during my JOGLE World Record.
There were two occasions during JOGLE both on the last day. My crew had worked out a pace that I wasn’t allowed to go below for the day and there was to be no stopping. Everything was going according to plan in fact I was ahead of schedule and feeling good, but unfortunately a policeman stopped us on the A30. He didn’t seem to care that I was going for a World Record attempt and kept me in his car for 45 minutes, I remember thinking that yes I would finish and get to Lands End but the record was out of my grasp, I don’t think I have ever felt so low and sad that I had got this far only have the chance of the record taken away from me.
Once I got going again I just couldn’t motivate myself although I had no intention of stopping I couldn’t muster up the motivation to go faster, that was until I saw a sign that said Penzance 13 miles, I knew then I could still get this World Record. (Although in total I still had a marathon to go!)
The second time was about a mile from the finish, I was in so much pain, I had never experience that sort of excruciating pain before, any chance to stop for 30 seconds I took to alleviate the agony I was in, fiddling with my laces, itching my leg you name it I did it (can you imagine how frustrated my poor husband was who was on the bike!). Eventually I couldn’t take it any longer and apparently just stopped and told Tim to call the crew and vans because I wasn’t taking another step, I really thought I couldn’t go any further. I won’t tell you what my husband said to me but I got the WR!
Given unlimited funds, support and time, what would your ultimate running challenge be?
I would love to run round the world, how amazing would that be? It would be an adventure of a lifetime! But I think I would have to take my husband with me, as he wouldn’t be very happy being left alone for that long!
When are you going to write your autobiography? Soon, I hope!
Ha! I never thought people would be interested in a book about my running, however I am chatting to someone at the moment so fingers crossed!