Mimi Anderson ran her first mile on a gym treadmill at the age of 36, having battled an eating disorder for most of her adult life. Within two years she’d taken on the six-day Marathon des Sables – and the challenges haven’t stopped coming. In September, the mother of three embarks on an attempt to break the women’s trans-America record.
Was there always a runner in you?
I don’t think there was. There was a sporty gene – my father represented the army in athletics and biathlon – but I was never into running at school. The only reason I took it up was because someone told me it would make my legs slimmer!
Has running changed your relationship with food?
Anorexia never totally goes away. After a knee operation last year I put on a bit of weight and found myself watching my calorie intake. But running has played a role in helping me re-evaluate my relationship with food – I have to eat in order to do what I love doing and I’m not frightened of food anymore.
Why is your first mile still meaningful?
I’d lost so much confidence through anorexia, it was the most fantastic feeling in the world to set myself a goal and achieve it. I had to work really hard for it. So many people do marathons and other endurance feats these days, it’s easy to forget that first milestone can be a real hallelujah moment.
What running achievement are you most proud of?
My John O’Groats to Land’s End record [840 miles in 12 days, 15 hrs and 46 mins]. There was just so much emotion when I finished, especially as I’d tried and failed the year before and felt I’d let everyone down. I will have held it for a decade next year – and everything’s moved on a lot since then in terms of nutrition, technology and kit.
What drives you?
I’m not always motivated by races. It’s about wanting to find out what I am capable of. I’d still get up and run if I had nothing to train for, but having a goal means you have to do it today, not put it off until tomorrow.
How do you cope with injury or illness?
I get grumpy, but I’ve got better as I’ve got older. Now, If I’m told I can’t run, I won’t disobey, as I know that could put me back. I’m diligent with my rehab exercises and cross-training, too. I’d like to still be running in my 60s and 70s, so that makes me more mindful about taking care of myself.
What’s so special about ultra running?
It’s a fantastic community – like a big family of slightly bonkers, quite driven and very determined people. In an ultra you can be feeling fantastic one minute and then be in floods of tears or throwing up the next. But there’s such a strong support network, someone will always check you are OK.
Related: How to rock your first ultra
Are you confident about your upcoming record attempt?
You have two little people on your shoulders, chatting all the time. One says, ‘Why are you doing this?’ The other says, ‘If you don’t try, you’ll never know.’ It’s just a matter of listening to the right one. The women’s record has been held since 1979, when Mavis Hutchinson ran it in 69 days. Two women tried to break it last year and didn’t manage. My goal is 53 days.
What’s with all the pink outfits?
It was a very male-oriented world when I first started running in 1999. I sought out girly stuff to wear and pink was the perfect colour. When I did the Marathon des Sables, my friends Maxine Ward and Louise Clamp and I crossed the finish line in sparkly dresses we got from a charity shop. I find I’m being outpinked by other runners these days!
How has running changed you?
I’m a stronger and better person. I didn’t have much confidence in myself for many years but running has given me back my feeling of self worth. It was 17 years ago when I ran that first mile. I had no idea it would lead to where I am now.
Follow Mimi’s adventures on her website.