MIMI ANDERSON – Endurance Athlete & multiple Guinness World Record Holder
The only way of finding the limits of
the possible is by going beyond the
into the impossible
I spent over 15 years of my life suffering with anorexia, a secretive illness that got hold of me so tightly I struggled for years to try and let it go. I wanted so much to lead a normal life, I didn’t like the person I was becoming, everything revolved around avoiding food but as far as I was concerned it was the only thing in my life over which I felt I had any control.
The doctors had told me that the likely hood of being able to have children were pretty erm, thankfully I proved them wrong and am now the proud mother of three grown-up children. However after each pregnancy my eating disorder would re-appear, I knew that I needed to sort myself out, not only for me but also for my children. When my second child was about 18 months old I took the massive step to tell my secret; it was the one of the hardest and emotional moments of my life. Sitting in front of my doctor I didn’t know what to do, the words were stuck in my throat not wanting to come out, I didn’t know how to ask for help. Tears rolled down my cheeks as I tried to find a way to say ‘PLEASE HELP ME’… I honestly thought I might die.
Four months later my treatment began as an outpatient, unfortunately this wasn’t enough and it was suggested that I should be hospitalised as my weight was dangerously low. With two small children this really wasn’t an option so I chose an alternative therapy that together with my husband and family’s support allowed me to slowly get better and begin to live again.
Over time, running has given me back my life. It has put a spring back in my step, given me back my confidence that somewhere along the way I lost. My self-esteem and pride in my achievements continues to grow. It has allowed me to become a better mother, wife, friend and person. I now see food in a completely different way, I’m not frightened of it any more but see it as my fuel to enable me to continue with the sport I love.
I was 36 when my running career began; I taught myself how to run on a treadmill at my local gym. Initially I couldn’t run for more than five minutes without gasping for breath. Now 15 years later I’m a multiple Guinness World Record holder, have set course records and even won races outright.
I’m constantly looking for ways to challenge myself, to push my boundaries and limits beyond what most others wouldn’t even consider possible and also constantly searching for more extreme environments race in. Running has taken me to every corner of the world including the World’s hottest deserts, the highest mountains and the freezing temperatures of the Arctic. In 2012 I took part in a terrifying race in the Peruvian Jungle. One of my fears is being out of my depth in fast flowing water and the race included many river crossings. I had to step out of my comfort zone and tackle my fears head on. When you overcome your fears – whatever they might be – you build your confidence and self esteem and know that you can overcome anything that life throws at you.
My story really starts back in 2001 with the Marathon des Sables – an iconic 150 mile multi-day self-sufficiency staged race in the Sahara where I raced as part of a team of 3. One of my running partners suggested we enter and it was a terrifying prospect. At that stage, the furthest I had run was 13 miles; but I couldn’t think of a single reason not to do it, so we entered and it turned out to be an incredible adventure.
Despite being desperately ill during the race, I refused to give in, I had to show everyone I could do it. As a team we finished in style changing into purple sequinned mini dresses we had carried with us the entire time! Completing the MdS made me realise what I was capable of and it gave me a taste for what was possible. And so it began.
In 2007 I took part in a 352 mile non-stop self sufficiency race in the Arctic (www.6633ultra.com) it’s the only event of it’s kind where the race goes through the Arctic Circle and takes competitors along the 120 miles of the Frozen Mackenzie River. The temperature at one point plummeted to a staggering minus 75 and the winds were blowing both me and my sled all over the place. 90% of the race was spent on my own, but I never felt scared, I remember feeling totally at peace with myself and my surroundings. I won the race outright, finishing 24 hours before the next person setting a course record that is yet to be broken.
I didn’t think anything could get tougher than the Arctic race but in 2008 embarked on challenge that I consider to be the toughest run I have done to date. I ran from John O’Groats to Lands End (JOGLE), a distance of 840 miles which I completed in a time of 12 days, 15 hours & 46 minutes
Towards the end my body was swollen up to above my waist, my feet were 2.5 sizes larger than they had been at the start and the tops of my hands looked as though they had tennis balls under the skin. Every step I took was agony and I would find any excuse to stop in order to give myself 30 seconds with no pain. With only 2 miles to go and the finish in sight I stopped and told my husband who was with me that I couldn’t take another step – I had reached my limits but from the depths of my body I found strength I didn’t even know I had and crossed the line to become the new Female Guinness World Record Holder.
My adventures continued and in 2011 I became the fastest female to complete the epic Double Badwater in the USA (292 miles) www.badwater.com in one of the hottest places in the World, the temperatures are so hot that the surface of the road can melt trainers and we could fry and egg on the bonnet of our car – it was like running in an oven but with the support of an amazing crew I took over 21 hours off the previous record. A few months later I placed 3rd Lady in the Spartathlon http://www.spartathlon.gr the infamous 153-mile non-stop race from Athens to Sparta in Greece in under 36 hrs.
Having completed Double Badwater my thoughts turned to finding a challenge for 2012. Having already broken the JOGLE World Record I decided to attempt to break the GuinnessWorld Record running the length of Ireland – (M2M – Malin Head to Mizen Head) a distance of 345miles.
Going into the M2M I felt stronger than I had ever felt before not just physically but mentally as well but knew it was going to be a tough record to break. Running an average of 100 miles a day took over 10hrs off the previous World Record in a time of 3 days 15 hours and 36 minutes and the Overall World Record Holder. I became the first person to hold both End to End records simultaneously (JOGLE & M2M)
Running is a real privilege and something I never take for granted, enjoying the gift I have been given. I strive to inspire others to overcome their fears and enjoy the sense of achievement and accomplishment that running and adventure provides. I was therefore delighted and honoured to win “Female Performance of the year” in 2012 and the “Physical Endeavour Award” in 2013.
After two years of planning in September 2014, myself and a fellow Ultra runner set off on a challenge that would see us run across South Africa along the Freedom Trail over 32 days. We averaged 61km per day starting in Pietermaritzburg, traversing the high mountains of Lesotho, to the wide open spaces of the Karoo, crossing six mountain ranges, criss-crossing countless valleys, venturing through unspoilt wilderness areas, national parks, private farms and some nature reserves finishing just outside Paarl near Cape Town – a distance of 1,968km.
Freedom Runners (the name of the project) certainly wasn’t my toughest challenge but it was for me the most rewarding. Not only did I get to run across a country I love, we also raised over £26,000 on behalf of Save the Children to set up a initiative in South Africa. The project was launched in March 2015 to support young women in a rural area of KwaZulu-Natal; providing the girls with better access to feminine hygiene products, enabling them to remain in education. The programme is holistic and also includes educational awareness on the importance of schooling, health and hygiene. http://www.savethechildren.org.za/UMMP
I’m often asked why I run. The answer is simple, because I love it. Running makes me feel happy, gives me space to have my own thoughts, the freedom to explore otherwise forgotten places and remote landscapes – it gives me a reason for adventure. I love the places I have travelled to, the inspirational people I have met along the way. Running gives me more energy to face the day, makes me feel alive and it’s helped me put anorexia firmly in it’s place. Why do I run? I run because I can.
‘Mimi Anderson is considered to be one of the World’s most inspirational female distance runners. Women all over the World can relate to her on every level. She is a mother, a grandmother, a wife and daughter. She is witty, beautiful, smart, kind and very normal. Yet she is one of the toughest competitors you are ever likely to meet. Her determination and grit know no bounds and she will push her body to the limit to achieve her goals and ambitions. Through running, she has proven to herself that she can do so much more than she ever thought possible. The broken anorexic body is long gone. In it’s place now stands a strong, healthy, formidable woman, oozing with happiness, confidence and self belief. And that is the power of running’. p>
Sarah Russell, Consultant Editor Running Fitness Magazine, Friend and Training Partner.
'Mimi continues to be inspirational. For anyone who doesn’t know Mimi let me try to briefly describe this barking mad woman. She is as slight as any person I can imagine, she loves pink, she is absolutely driven and she has been the topic of conversation amongst everyone involved in the race. She is living proof that in extreme ultra distance racing women can be mens’ equal and in this case can quite possibly kick ass too.' p>
Quote from Race Director of the 6633 Extreme Ultra Marathon