”There’s nothing better than riding my bike and watching the sun come up” – meet endurance athlete Mimi Anderson

Mimi Anderson is a record-breaking endurance athlete, and she isn’t letting turning 60 stop her

Mimi Anderson – or Marvellous Mimi, as she’s often known – has conquered some of the world’s toughest ultra challenges, including the infamous Marathon des Sables, a race in the Sahara billed as “the toughest footrace on earth”.  

Even though a serious injury forced her to change sports, she’s celebrating her 60th year by taking on six more endurance challenges. But Anderson believes that with a bit of determination, anything is possible – whatever your age. 

Mimi on beach with bike in the airCredit: Mimi Anderson

Anderson took up running when she was 36, fitting in training when her three children were at school. She found it helped her to deal with the anorexia that she had battled since she was a teenager.

My first goal was to run a mile, which was a huge struggle as I couldn’t even run for 30 seconds, she says. But once shed got going, she began to enjoy it and built up the distance she could run.

“I aimed for three miles, then 10. Though if one of my kids was ill or needed me, my running took a back seat.” 

She started running with a couple of girlfriends at the weekends, training for races. “They also had small children, and our husbands would look after them while we ran.

“We built up to doing the Hastings half-marathon, and a duathlon called the Ballbuster at Box Hill, which was cycling and running up and down the North Downs. Then we started looking for our next challenge.”  

Mimi looking out over waterCredit: Mimi Anderson

One of Anderson’s friends came up to her in the gym one day with a magazine and said she’d found it.

“There was no internet back then, so I didn’t really know about ultra races,” she says. “All I saw was a picture of some guys running through the Sahara desert wearing these funny hats with flaps covering the back of their necks.  

“I just thought: ‘My goodness, that looks absolutely amazing!’ I didn’t think about the distance, it was just so different to the life I had at home – so we entered.”  

Toughest footrace on earth

Eighteen months after starting her running journey, and with the support of her husband and family, Mimi completed the Marathon des Sables.

Described as ‘the toughest footrace on earth’ on its website, it’s a six-day 251km (156 miles) ultra-marathon challenge in the Sahara desert, a landscape of seemingly endless sand dunes and white-hot salt plains. 

The challenge kick-started Anderson’s love for ultra-running. When you’ve done something like that, you look for the next event you can try.

“For the first few years when I was ultra-running, I could only do one big event a year, as the children were young and I couldn’t always go abroad. But I increased my distance and did more events when I could.” 

Mimi runningCredit: Mimi Anderson

Setting a world record

Anderson was a few years into her running career when she challenged herself to go for a Guinness world record.

“I knew world records existed, but I didn’t know about this particular one – running from Land’s End to John O’Groats until somebody sent me an email saying I should go for it. I thought: ‘Why don’t you give it a try Mimi?’” 

So, she did. In 2008 she set the world record for the fastest female, completing 840 miles in 12 days 15 hours and 46 minutes – a record she held for more than 10 years.

Over the next few years, she ran her way into the record books multiple times, including the female record in 2012 for running the length of Ireland (345 miles in 3 days, 15 hours, 36 minutes) when she was 50.   

Knee injury stops play

In September 2017, Anderson went to America, with a goal to become the fastest female in history to run across the country from Los Angeles to New York. 

However, after completing threequarters of her intended route, a persistent knee injury (which had already forced her to postpone her challenge by a year) meant she had to stop, or risk permanent damage and never be able to run again.  

Mimi Anderson kneeCredit: Mimi Anderson

She had to reassess her running ambitions, which she describes as beingreally, really tough. Rather than it stopping her completely, she found a way around it.

After spending time resting and recovering, she got involved in the triathlon and ultra-biking world. I never think I cant do something, I always say to myself: ‘Why cant I do that?’ So I just decided to give it a go.”  

Having built up her cycling skills since then, this year shes challenging herself to one of her greatest adventures yet – The North Cape 4000 in July. Its a self-supported 4,200km (2,610 miles) ultra-cycling adventure.

Starting in Turin, Italy, it travels through Paris, to Oslo, then Lapland, before finishing in North Cape in Norway.

I just signed up without really thinking about it and thought let’s panic later – so I’ve been panicking ever since! Though I do have an amazing coach [former Olympic cyclist Sara Symington] and she’s fab.” 

Mimi’s 2023 cycling challenge calendar: 

Hell of the Ashdown: 100km (62 miles) 

London Wales London: 407km (252 miles) 

Wild West Country: 852km (529 miles) 

North Cape 4000: 4,200km (2,610 miles) 

Namibia to Tanzania: Over 3,000km (1,864 miles) 

A family affair

What do her family (she now has three grandchildren) think of her setting herself all these different challenges this year?

“Oh, they’re totally used to it. They didn’t even bother asking any more. Well, my husband does ask, because he needs to mark when I’m home on a calendar. He once said: ‘Mimi, are you actually here at all this year?”  

Mimi and her husband TimCredit: Mimi Anderson

She enjoys every adventure, she says, because she meets extraordinary people and does a lot of laughing along the way, but adds: “I also have moments when I cry – I will just burst into tears and then I feel better again.

“It’s not because I feel sorry for myself, it’s just the way I get stuff out so I can carry on. There’s nothing better than getting up early in the morning, riding my bike and watching the sun come up.  

“I just think: ‘How lucky am I? How many people get to see this magnificent view? There are just too many positives to not get out in the world. I also like seeing what I’m capable of doing. I’ve turned 60, so I just wonder what can I still do at my age? 

She doesn’t think she can be a really fast competitor on her bike these days, but she’s happy about that. I’m not sponsored or anything, I just enjoy plodding along in my own little way and I love it.

“It takes me a bit longer to recover now, though, so my training has changed slightly. Before I would just go out and not worry about my recovery, but now I have to factor in a rest day or two – and I listen to my body when it gets tired.” 

Anderson also enjoys relaxing after completing an adventure. “I like just chilling and switching off. When I’m competing, I’m only thinking about cycling, eating, drinking and sleeping. So, it’s quite nice to come home and not have to think about any of that.” 

Mimi Anderson on beachCredit: Mimi Anderson

Feel the fear

She encourages everyone to have a go at a new adventure, even if it feels scary. “There’s absolutely no reason, whatever age you are, why you can’t take on a challenge if you’re able to. Give it a go, you’re never too old to try something new.  Take that first step, find a challenge that really excites you – even though it might be out of your comfort zone. 

A few years ago, Anderson took part in a 250km (155 miles) self-sufficient race in the Peruvian jungle – a place she’d always wanted to race.

“The problem was, there were over 57 river crossings, which terrified me as I have a fear of water. I got to the first major crossing and went into a complete panic. I didn’t know how I was going to get across the fast-flowing river.

Luckily for me, a fellow competitor who knew of my fear was waiting for me. With his help, I got across the river. It was one of the kindest things anyone has ever done for me.”

Life lessons

What has she learnt over the years? Because of the nature of the challenges, Ive become much more adaptable. If a plan isnt quite going the way I want it to, or it’s not working, Im able to adjust my goals and listen to my body.

“Another important lesson Ive learnt is not to be afraid of failure. Even if I dont get the results I wanted, or didnt finish a race, thats OK. You never know what you can achieve until you try.”  

Mimi at lakeCredit: Mimi Anderson

Mimi’s favourite things: 

Favourite bit of kit? A Buff. They’re so versatile when running or biking. You can put it around your neck to keep warm, use it as a headband, or even wear one as a strapless top or a mini skirt!  

Favourite thing to do after a challenge? Have a glass of wine and a bubble bath. 

How many bikes do you have? Three and they have names: Mavis, Pebbles and Sylvia. 

Challenge you haven’t done yet you’d like to do? Cycle across America as I didn’t quite get to finish running it.  

Rebecca Frew

Written by Rebecca Frew she/her


Becky Frew has written various articles for newspapers and magazines focusing on fitness, is a qualified run leader, and a certified sleep talker trainer who loves to help advise people how they can nod off easier. When she is not writing or reading about fitness, she is at hot pod yoga, bounce class, training for an ultra-marathon or booking anything with a medal and free food at the end.

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