On Tuesday I shared the first part of my Q&A with record-breaking ultra-runner, Mimi Anderson. Here’s part two, where Mimi talks more about her TransCon record attempt, including her disappointment of having to abandon it, plus we hear how she’s getting on training for her first triathlon.
When you’re running ultra-events what strategies do you employ when it gets tough?
I have quite a few strategies that I use while running long distances. My main one is having a picture in my mind of my family waiting for me at the finish line and I run towards them with my hands held high – this particular visualisation is a very strong one for me. If I’m racing, I’ll break the race up into smaller chunks, so literally think of the next checkpoint, get there and move on to the next so all I’m doing is 10km or so at a time. I do use music on occasions and have been known to play the same song over and over again for 3-hours or so because it fits my running rhythm!
Giving myself a good talking to also works a treat. If I’m having a bad time I’ll ask myself, “Whose idea was this in the first place?” stop moaning, pull yourself together and get on with it.
When things get really bad, I don’t have the energy to look at the scenery or talk to anyone. I need to go within myself, be in the moment and focus purely on putting one foot in front of the other until I’m feeling back to my normal self again.
What did you eat during your American record attempt and how often?
During my run across America I would start the day at 4.30 am with a highly calorific smoothie made by my crew and a coffee, and be out of the door running at 5am. My support vehicle would meet me four miles later with honeyed pancakes they’d made earlier, another gulp or two of a smoothie then continue. Basically I was eating every 3 miles which would be anything from mashed potatoes with cheese, mashed-up avocado, wraps with a variety of goodies inside, cakes, lots of ice-cream on hot days, coffee etc.
After running 30-32 miles I would meet up with the RV and have a 20-30 minute stop for a proper lunch, which would be pasta or something similar containing lots of yummy things mixed in and, of course, a pudding. Once my lunch break was over I would continue meeting the vehicle every 3 miles for more food. In the evening I had a gourmet two-course meal beautifully prepared by my crew. One of my support crew would work out the amount of carbs and protein I needed every day, so they made sure I was eating the correct balance of food.
What physical training did you do in preparation for your run across America?
I don’t think I have trained for anything as hard as I trained for my run across America. I knew I’d only get one chance at it and I wanted that record. Over the months my mileage increased with several back-to-back runs of anything from 15-30 miles, together with shorter, faster runs as well as cross training and strength and conditioning 2-3 times a week.
About 3 months before the event, the long runs increased to 6 days a week (I always had one day off a week). One week I would do 6 runs of 20 miles, the following week 4 runs of 20 miles and two of 25 miles, until eventually I was running 6 x 30 miles each day. The longest run I did was 40 miles and my coach wouldn’t let me do any races in the build-up as he said they would be detrimental to my training.
There were occasions when I lost the will to live as it did become very boring doing the runs on my own but I had to get them done. Only a couple of times did I completely lose the plot and went home after running 20 miles! This training paid off, however, as running 57 miles each day in America was doable.
How did the disappointment of having to withdraw from your run affect you?
I can’t even begin to describe to you how devastated I was to have to withdraw, it’s the lowest I have felt for years. The MRI scan had revealed bad bone oedema, swelling at the back and on the medial side of my knee, and I was down to bone-on-bone on the lateral side of my knee – it was quite shocking looking at the pictures on the screen. Had I continued, I risked multiple stress fractures and the chances of having to have a total knee replacement on returning home were pretty high. In fact, the consultant told my husband later that I could end up in a wheelchair should I decide to go on. After hearing this news I was left alone in the consultant’s room to work through this myself. Only I could make this decision.
As Isat there with my feet dangling over the edge of the couch, my hands covering my face, I rocked backwards and forwards as I sobbed uncontrollably. Although I knew there was only one decision to make, I didn’t want to give up; I still had my running kit on, my plan had been to be driven back to where we had finished the day before and continue. I didn’t want to give up and be considered a failure by everyone or let my crew down. I knew I could have done the run, but the decision to stop had to be made.
I felt too ashamed to face the world so I hid for a bit in New York and spent time with friends who came to see me.
When did you come to terms with it?
As the weeks passed I began to dig myself out of my black hole and I realised that the run wasn’t a failure; OK, I didn’t achieve my goal but I took on a challenge that many people wouldn’t even consider. I ran 2,217.2 miles in 40 days; that’s three quarters of the way across America and, most importantly, I was well in sight of achieving the world record – again there are very few people in the world who have done that. My heart and soul had gone into this event so it was always going to take a bit of time to come out the other side if things went tits up!
You’re now training for a triathlon – how is the switch to training across three sports going?
Having been told by two consultants that my long distance running days were over, I had to make a decision about my options as I couldn’t visualise a life without doing some form of exercise.
Triathlon seemed the best option, although I have a fear of open water and being out of my depth in fast-flowing water, having watched my sister nearly drown when we were younger. I’d always been determined to overcome this and learn how to swim front crawl. On January 5th this year I had my first lesson. My coach was fantastic and completely understood my fear so I literally began by blowing bubbles in the water. I’ve just done my first open water sea swim (I was still able to put my feet on the bottom) and I really do feel that I have turned a massive corner!
Are you enjoying the cycling?
I’m enjoying the cycling now, but initially I had completely the wrong mindset. Every time I went cycling and passed someone running I found myself thinking, ‘I would rather be running than sitting on my bike’. I had to go home and give myself a good talking to. Although I’ll never be able to run the long distances again, I can still cycle; I’m very lucky. Now I love my cycling and hopefully will have many adventures on ‘Marvellous Mavis’, my road bike.
What’s a typical week of training look like for you at the moment?
My week at the moment consists of two long bike rides, 2-3 medium length rides, one or two swim sessions per week, and one run no longer than 5 miles. Recently I’ve been very slack on my S&C, something I need to rectify and try and do at least twice a week. I always have one recovery day in the week.
Going back to running, have you ever got lost while alone during your multi-stage ultra-events?
Luckily for me I have never got completely lost during a race. While racing Run the Rann in the North West of India a few years ago, I did have a bit of a moment! The race was 160km with no route markings so we had to navigate using a GPS which was fine. However, in the early hours of the morning it was pitch dark and my GPS unit decided it was going to play up; I simply couldn’t work out which way to go so I retraced my steps but still it wouldn’t play games. I was totally alone and I know they say blow your whistle to attract attention if you’re lost, but there would’ve been no-one around to hear me! I’m usually quite good in situations like this, so, remaining cool, calm and collected, I turned off my GPS, waited, and then turned it back on again. Thankfully, it worked and I could continue.
Have you had any other hairy moments during your ultra-running career?
There have been quite a few hairy moments. One time, again during a race in India, I was alone, feeling exhausted and hoping the next checkpoint would be close by. As I came round a corner I saw a man standing in a house beckoning me to “come here”. I felt incredibly vulnerable as there was no indication whether it was a genuine checkpoint or not, so my instincts were telling me to keep running. It did turn out to be the checkpoint but I still felt uncomfortable so I grabbed some water and kept going.
About five minutes later I turned a corner to be greeted by a pack of about 10 dogs snarling at me. I kept running but they followed me, snapping at the back of my heels. I was pretty scared at this point as they meant business. I remembered when I was racing in Colorado we were told that if we ever saw a bear we should make ourselves look very big and make a growling noise; I think possibly this might have been a joke, but I had nothing to lose. I stopped, picked up a large stone, faced the pack of dogs (heart rate was pretty high at this point) held my hands up high to make myself look bigger, made a very weird growling noise, threw the rock and ran like hell. What a sight I must have looked.
Do you do anything to help your body recover after a multi-stage event?
I always take Nordic Oil capsules as they’re very good at helping to reduce joint stiffness. Once home I’ll usually have a sports massage, then really it’s a case of no running for about a week to give my body time to recover properly, eat lots of good food and of course make sure I catch up on my sleep.
What kit do you swear by for your ultra runs and multi-day events?
Since 2011 I’ve been wearing Hoka trainers – whether on road or trail, they work really well for me as they’re well cushioned. Clothing is always X-Bionic; from an endurance point of view it works really well as it’s incredibly comfortable. I’m rubbish on nutrition as I never seem to get hungry but I do like Babybell cheeses, I find them easy to eat while running, as well as sachets of organic baby food. Sunglasses are always Sunwise, they are lightweight so easy to wear (they of course come in pink!)
I have the Suunto Spartan Ultra watch which has a long battery life so perfect for multi-day or single stage events, plus I can download my route onto it if necessary. Suncream is usually Ultra Sun 50, as I’m a bit of an old bag now and don’t want my skin to start resembling a crocodile in a few years’ time!
What’s usually the biggest challenge you face during your long record attempts?
For me, the biggest challenge is always fuelling. It’s not that I don’t want to eat; I simply don’t seem to get hungry. In both JOGLE and the Transcon I had to make a real effort to eat, otherwise I couldn’t have run the distances I ran each day.
My crew for the Transcon were great, I’d told them that my main issue would be eating, so they made sure that I consumed at least 6,000 calories per day. At first I found it very tough but knew it was essential. During the first week I had one particular day when I was away from the vehicle for several hours and stupidly hadn’t taken enough food. That night it was very noticeable how much weight I had lost – just in one day which was pretty scary. I don’t like gels, I prefer proper food. My day would start with a smoothie that apparently had about 1,000 calories in it!
What’s been your favourite event or challenge to date?
This is always such a tough question. Each one of my races is unique so it’s difficult to choose a favourite. There are three which I will always remember for totally different reasons.
The first is the 6633 Extreme Arctic Ultra which I did in 2007. This is a 352-mile non-stop race in the Arctic pulling everything that I needed in a sled. The scenery was spectacular and I had 5 nights of the most stunning display of the northern lights. It was as though they came out to play with me, it really was incredibly special. I spent 90 per cent of the race alone, but this is what I think made it special; I never felt alone or lonely, it was time to reflect on other aspects of my life that ordinarily I don’t have time to think about. I won the race overall, finishing 24-hours ahead of the only other competitor to finish that year. No one has ever broken my record.
The second special race was the Spartathlon which I did in 2011. This race is 153 miles non-stop from Athens in Greece to Sparta in 36 hours. There are 75 Checkpoints, each with its own cut-off time so runners are constantly chasing time. I had put off entering this event as I’m not a particularly fast runner and you need to be for the Spartathlon. Eventually, I took the plunge and entered, my goal was simply to finish within the cut-off, so as far as I was concerned this took all the pressure was off me. I loved the race and to my complete shock ended up coming 3rd female. It took me weeks to stop smiling!
My third would be the world record attempt to run the length of Ireland from North to South: ‘M2M’, a distance of 345 miles. I’d trained really hard for this with the aim of completing it in 3.5 days. It was a run that couldn’t have gone better; I gave it my all taking over 10 hours off the previous record by completing it in 3 days and 15 hours. Although just over my 3.5 day target I felt strong and happy with the result.
And what’s been the toughest ultra-running challenge you’ve taken on?
Up until America I would have said the MdS, simply because I was so ill, but now I would say that my attempt to break the female world record for running across America was my toughest. The constant huge distances I had to run each day, the endless fast traffic, coping with the pain in the last two weeks and eventually having to stop. I wanted it to be my “swan song” but it turned out to be an epic failure – definitely the toughest, no question.
Do you have any sponsors that support your challenges?
I’m very lucky and have somemarvellous, wonderful sponsors who provide me with trainers, kit etc which really helps, but I would only get financial help from corporate or individual sponsors when I was trying to break a record or do something that nobody else has tried before.