“I am proud of who I am, I never had that before”
Running represents a multitude of things to different people. For some it is a way to get fit and lead a healthy lifestyle. For Mimi Anderson, it started off as a way to get ‘thin legs’, but resulted in numerous course records, world records and a whole host of adventures.
Starting at the age of 36, Mimi admits she couldn’t run for longer than 30 seconds without losing her breath.
“I stood on a treadmill and I had no idea of what I was doing at all. I felt very self conscious, like everybody was watching me.”
After one mile, Mimi built up to three, but it wasn’t until she took her running outside that she fell in love.
“I remember the first time I went and did a run outside. I absolutely loved it. It gave me a sense of freedom, I felt as though my feet had been given a pair of wings.”
However, Mimi leapt from running rookie in 2000 when she signed up to the Marathon des Sables (MdS). Described by the Discovery Channel as the toughest footrace on earth, the MdS is a 251km race over 6 says in the Sahara Desert. At the point of accepting the challenge, Mimi had only ever run 13 miles.
“Up to that point, it’s ridiculous, I didn’t even know that half-marathons and marathons existed. The first thing that attracted me [to the MdS] was the adventure.
“I thought ‘Yes, I’m a mother and wife and I’m not a fantastic runner, but why can’t I do that?”
“I remember the first time I went and did a run outside.
I absolutely loved it. It gave me a sense of freedom,
I felt as though my feet had been given a pair of wings.”
Since that first race, Mimi has broken the World Record for running from John O’Groats to Lands End and the length of Ireland, as well as competing in numerous ultra-marathons that make your legs weak at the thought of them.
However, whilst facing the inevitable challenges that come with running in some of the most extreme environments in the world, Mimi has had to face up to many mental health battles of her own.
“My father’s jobs in the British Army meant that my sister and I had to have nannies. Unfortunately from the ages of 6 – 8 our nanny was incredibly abusive towards me, something that my parents had no idea about as I had to keep it a secret otherwise she threatened to “be nasty” to my sister if I said anything. As soon as the abuse was discovered I never saw her again.
“The brain is a very clever machine, and I erased these two years of my life from my memory, all the nasty things that happened to me, but it all came back in the form of an eating disorder when I was at boarding school at 14.”
Mimi suffered with anorexia for 15 years.
“Oh God, it’s horrible, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. You become an expert liar, telling people you’ve either eaten or you’re about to eat.
“If you have to eat anything, you are then constantly thinking of ways to get rid of the food you’ve just eaten.
“I never did it because I wanted to be thin. People think it’s all about the weight, it isn’t at all, it’s a mental illness and the only way I felt I had any control of my life was through food.”
It wasn’t until the birth of her second child that Mimi realised she needed to get help.
“I just thought ‘I can’t have this cycle going on continuously throughout my life, it’s not fair on my kids’. It was a long hard struggle.”
“People think it’s all about the weight, it isn’t at all,
it’s a mental illness and the only way
I felt I had any control of my life was through food.”
Running had a huge impact on Mimi, finding a way to develop a healthy relationship with food again as well as repairing her confidence. It gave her a new way to think about food.
“In order to run I needed to fuel myself, teaching me that food wasn’t something to be afraid of and giving me a newfound respect for my body.”
Having an eating disorder and then the abusive nanny beforehand, your confidence is dashed.
“Yes, I probably came across as quite a confident person but I used to be anxious and I had no sense of self worth.”
“The running has given me a sense of self worth and a few years after I started, even if I was doing things badly, it wouldn’t matter. I’m still proud of who am I and I never had that before.”
Mimi has overcome personal grief as whilst competing in the 6633 Arctic Ultra in 2007 (a 352 mile self-sufficiency race across the Arctic) Mimi’s father sadly died.
After checking her emails at one of the checkpoints, receiving no bad news from home, Mimi set off on the next leg of the race.
“About two minutes after leaving the checkpoint, I felt as though I had been punched in the heart and I couldn’t breathe. A huge sense of loss overwhelmed me and I knew that my father had passed away.”
“I knew my father was incredibly proud of me and everything I did. I knew without a shadow of a doubt that he would have wanted me to to finish.”
My love for my father gave me the strength to keep moving forward, I didn’t want to stop as I would have let him down. His love and belief in me gave me the strength. That’s how I knew I could continue.”
Not only did Mimi win the race, she finished 24 hours ahead of the runner-up.
Mimi’s obstacles didn’t stop there. During a recent run to break the Female World Record to run across the US, a distance of 2,850 miles in 53 days, Mimi was dealt a huge blow.
“The only person who could get me out of the
black hole I was in was myself, if I didn’t it was going
to be an extremely difficult journey for my family.”
Having covered 2,217 miles in 40 days(three quarters of the way across the third largest continent in the world) and on track to break the female world record, she had to stop. She was in excruciating pain and, had she carried on, was looking at the possibility of having to have a total knee replacement on returning home. It was the end of her running career.
“That was beyond devastating. I’ve had to re-find myself and completely re-evaluate where I am and who I am.”
“I found it very difficult and when I got back from America I did want to hide. I don’t mind failure but I felt everybody was going to ridicule me and I felt totally ashamed.”
During her run in America, Mimi received lots of negative comments from online trolls but her team kept the comments from her during the run. When she was back, however, they continued.
“I found myself going into a black hole, but somehow I had to find a way to pick myself up. The only person who could get me out of the black hole I was in was myself, if I didn’t it was going to be an extremely difficult journey for my family.”
“That one decision to run the MdS back in
2000 completely changed my life for the better.”
Throughout Mimi’s running career, she has had to keep extremely strong mental strength. Not only to finish the mad challenges she sets herself, but also to overcome an eating disorder, a career ending injury, the death of her father whilst competing and online trolls.
None of this has stopped her yet. Okay, she can’t run, but now Mimi is focused on cycling and swimming. Having just cycled the length of the UK, Mimi is aiming to cycle the Pacific Highway in America, 1884 miles from Vancouver to the Mexican Border, as well as learning how to swim.
“That one decision to run the MdS back in 2000 completely changed my life for the better. I hope that, in turn, it shows my kids and other people you don’t have to be an elite athlete, you don’t have to be particularly special. If you work hard, have a touch of determination the results can be fantastic.”