I recently read Mimi Anderson’s fascinating and inspiring account of her ultramarathon achievements. The story is told in an interesting flashback fashion: The main narrative is recounting the 12 plus days of her attempt to set the Women’s world record for running the length of Great Britain from north to south, from John O’Groats in Scotland to Land’s end in England, which goes by the acronym JOGLE. If you go south to north it’s LEJOG. It’s quite a “jog” of 1407 km. In the midst of the JOGLE story she occasionally takes us back in time to earlier events in her life.
She had been anorexic earlier in life, largely due to physical and mental abuse she’d received from a nanny (unbeknownst to her parents). She did not remember this trauma, having buried it in her subconscious. It did not come out until years later when she was undergoing therapy that eventually cured her of anorexia. I don’t want to spoil the story by going into more detail, but suffice it to say that recovering from her eating disorder took heroic effort.
Mimi discovered running later in life, after becoming a mom. First it was just to get in shape and socializing, and she didn’t particularly like the activity. This changed when she worked up to running a half-marathon (21 km). Many of us, when we discover the joy of running, and have accomplished a satisfying challenge like running 21K, are inspired to look for another challenge, like 30K maybe, or a full marathon? But in Mimi’s case she jumps from half marathon to the Marathon des Sables (MDS), a legendary multi-day ultramarathon in the Sahara dessert in Morocco!
After reading about her completing this, it finally sunk in to me that I was not reading the story of a typical mom, or human, but an athlete who, though humble, has elite talent. Again I won’t spoil the story by telling how the MDS run or JOGLE turned out, but will just list a few of her accomplishments:
- Himalyan 100, A 100 mile stage race at high altitude.
- Badwater and Double Badwater. The latter doesn’t just go through summer dessert from Death Valley to Whitney Portal, but throws in a jaunt to the top of Mt Whitney.
- World record time for running the lenght of Great Britain (John O’Groats Land’s end)
My favorite inspirational moment came after she complete the JOGLE record, and something happened which destroys any remaining possibility of anorexia. People with eating disorders often have dysmorphia,, which means they see their bodies in a distorted way (often fatter than it really is, even though to everyone else they may look painfully thin). In Mimi’s case, she had always had a desire to have thin legs. During the 12 day grueling run, Mimi lost a stone (14 lbs or 6.4 Kg). Much of this was muscle as she had problems taking in enough calories (not because of eating disorder, but stomach issues). She caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror and noticed she had the thin legs she had always dreamed of. But now they looked terrible to her! She wanted back the powerful athletic legs that had carried her to all her accomplishments. This exciting insight made her realize any dysmorphia was gone, and she was readily able to eat heartily to take in the calories over the next couple weeks to put the muscle back on.