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An Interview With Marvellous Mimi Anderson

Ordinary Women Being Extraordinary

Mimi Anderson, 55, is an ultra runner and a phenomenon – the very definition of endurance woman. She doesn’t give up. She finds opportunities when things change. At the start of this week, she tweeted: ‘I’ve had 18 years of running around the world it’s been AMAZING but I stay positive that new & exciting adventures will happen with my cycling & swimming: When one door closes another opens. There’s always another door we just need to search for it!’

I don’t have the space to  list the multiple record holder’s achievements and fortunately she’s selected her highlights on her own blog, which include running double versions of ‘hard to get your head around’ ultra races such as, Badwater, the Grand Union Canal 145 mile race and Spartathlon. Mimi’s recently documented her running life in a book, Beyond Impossible: From Reluctant Runner to Guinness World Record BreakerI spoke to her (interestingly, my longest interview to date) about her life as a runner and how she’s adapting after a recent run-stopping injury…

‘I’ve bought myself a turbo, and I’m having swimming lessons,’ Mimi tells me as we start to chat. ‘I promised myself I’d learn how to do front crawl.’ She started learning to swim on the 5th January, by blowing bubbles in the water. As a child she’d seen her sister nearly drown and had she says subconsciously it turned her against swimming. But now she’s up to swimming one length without stopping, and although she finds it frustrating she’s feeling determined. But why is the record-breaking ultra runner swimming?

In 2017, Mimi ran 2, 217.2 miles across the USA, that’s three quarters of the way across the third largest Continent in just 40 days. She was aiming to run 2,850 miles in 53 days but the excruciating pain of serious knee injury that if she’d carried on running would have left her in wheelchair meant the end of the challenge – and for now, it seems an end to her running career. ‘Bone was rubbing against bone and the pain levels were unbearable, even for me,’ she says.

‘At first I felt like I’d lost my identity,’ says Mimi, who’s been running big challenges for 18 years. ‘It’s been like grieving. But, I’ve shaken myself up and I’m focussed on looking forward. I’m thinking about maybe doing a half Ironman and I’ve entered a big bike ride. I can’t think small,’ she adds laughing.

The Start

Mimi’s running career did, however, start with a small idea. ‘I wanted thinner legs,’ she admits. ‘I hadn’t done any sport since school and when I first went to the gym and got on the treadmill, I felt very self-conscious. My first goal was to run a mile.’

Before her 18-year relationship with running, she’d had almost the same amount of time caught up in a far less healthy battle, with the eating disorder, anorexia nervosa. ‘Like lots of girls it started off at school when someone called me fat. I was at a boarding school which I loved and in sports was quite competitive.  The weight loss began by cutting down on second helpings, then puddings until eventually I was skipping meals. But I’m an addictive type and I soon became obsessed with losing weight and keeping it off.’

Mimi managed her anorexia and in 1985 gave birth to Emma and had her second child Ruariadh in 1987 but after each birth the cycle would start again. Mimi was weighing herself about 10 times a day, taking over 100 laxatives and vomiting when she did eat food – this had to stop. She eventually plucked up the courage to go and see her doctor to ask for help and was treated as an outpatient at St George’s hospital.  Part of the treatment was having to consume 3,000 calories a day, ‘This was terrifying,’ she says. ‘But I continued to lose weight. By the time my third child, Harry came along in 1993, I was weighing myself up to 10 times a day.’

‘After eight weeks of treatment at St George’s it was obvious it wasn’t working so it was decided that Mimi should be admitted as an impatient at an eating disorder unit.  With children to care for Mimi decided she had to find an alternative way of overcoming her anorexia and a friend recommended she tried hypnotherapy.

‘At first, I’d hear the traffic, all the noises around me, but couldn’t open my eyes.  I was certain I couldn’t be hypnotised, and would sometimes be naughty and scratch my nose or twitch my face to show I wasn’t hypnotised. But eventually, stuff came out, things I’d forgotten and had planted deep within myself. After one year, I knew I was free of my eating disorder.’

A new beginning

In 1999, Mimi took her running outside. ‘The significance of the distance I ran didn’t occur to me. I just loved the freedom, and very quickly I was running five miles out and five miles back. It felt natural to me.’

With long distance running Mimi had found her peace. A 10K was quickly followed by the Hastings Half Marathon in 2000. Next she had entered and completed the Thames Path Meander – ‘I wasn’t frightened by the distance, I saw it as an adventure’ – and then in 2001, she was one of just 12 women (now there are 40 plus women) who took on the race described as the ‘toughest footrace on the earth’, the Marathon Des Sables, a multi-stage 251K ultra marathon, held in the Sahara desert and run over six days. ‘I was one of a team of three, called Tuff Muthers. We were very lucky in that we managed to get sponsorship and were able to pay for a week’s training in Lanzarote. We turned up at the gym in our heels and the trainer looked at us as if were mad, and said, in disbelief you really think you can run in a desert? By the time we’d finished the week’s training, he said he’d never seen anyone work so hard and had no doubts were up for the challenge.’

The Marathon Des Sables

But, when it did come to the race, Mimi hit an unexpected barrier. ‘I was put on a drip for dehydration and felt awful. It had never occurred to me that I may not come home with a medal, that I may not complete the race, but on the day before the longest day of the race, it was looking like some far-off dream.’ A hug and some words from her friend reminded her why she would complete the race. ‘Just think of all the people expecting you to fail,’ she’d said. ‘As I watched the runners ahead of me pouring over the Dunes like ants, tears rolled down my cheeks, and I promised myself I’d finish.

‘It was such a fantastic feeling. I’d proven I wasn’t some dumb blonde on a long holiday, I felt as though I could achieve anything. As for the medal, I slept with it for the whole week after the race!’

Let the Good Times Roll

From then on Mimi’s achievements continued with one or more big races every year. It seems strange to not mention all of her challenges, one of them, for example, coming third in the Marathon of Britain, a 175-mile run done over six days, would be enough for most of us to dine out on for a lifetime, but for Mimi there are so many epic achievements, that it has to be edited highlights.

‘I’d heard about Badwater around the end of 2003. Back then not so much was shared online so I was gleaning bits of information. I knew not many Brits had done it and that to run it you had to qualify by running 100 miles in under 40 hours. I set my sights on the Grand Union Canal race, and everyone told me I was mad to go for sub 40 hours. I ran it in 39’39.

Badwater covers 135 miles (217km) non-stop, starting in Badwater Basin, Death Valley, at the lowest elevation in North America at 280’ (85m) below sea level and finishing at Whitney Portal at 8,300’ (2530m), which is the trailhead to the Mt. Whitney summit, the highest point in the contiguous United States. The course covers three mountain ranges for a total of 14,600’ (4450m) of cumulative vertical ascent and 6,100’ (1859m) of cumulative descent. ‘It’s held in July, it’s very hot and there was a time limit of 60 hours,(now it’s 48 hours)’ explains Mimi. ‘It was a must-do,’ she adds. Mimi first ran the race in 2005 and managed to run under 48 hours (41 hours and five mins) which meant she was awarded the much coveted ‘Buckle’. You can read her blog here. Then in 2011, Mimi went on to a far greater challenge, running the race twice. She became the female course record holder, completing the 292 miles in 108 hrs 10 mins 24 seconds (at the time the third fastest ever crossing). Read more about that race here.

Mimi’s Training

So how did Mimi, a mum of three fit in the training and commitment required to complete these challenges? ‘Running became my full-time job,’ she says. ‘But I still made sure it fitted around family life, running a baseline of five sessions a week on Monday to Friday, and then doing nothing at all on Sunday as this was family time.’ Like many of the elite, long distance athletes I’ve spoken to, Mimi avoided getting too hung up with stats. ‘I had no idea how many miles I ran. I never kept a journal or logs. I had no phone, no watch, no GPS and when I did have a plan it had to be very flexible, especially when racing. I had to listen to my body and realise I could only run as fast as it would allow me to (I’m not naturally fast but I can go long!).’ But setting a clear goal was vital. ‘Without a goal race I would just be floating along,’ explains Mimi.

Mind Power

What about the mind? Do long distance runners in particular need to focus their attention on training their mind? ‘I believe the mind plays a huge part in my ability to run long and keep going. I’m someone who is happy to put myself out there. I’m determined, and I don’t like to fail.

‘Before I race I like to reccy the course and familiarise myself with the hills, the flats, the hard and easy parts. I like to look at photos of others who’ve done the race. When I’m running I keep looking forward at what’s ahead, and avoid looking around. Running for 30-plus hours requires me to empty my head of all thoughts. I listen to music – and I cry. Crying is a great way to release pent-up emotions. I also use visualisation and picture my family at the finish line.’

After the initial disappointment about her injury and having to abandon her run across America, it’s clear that Mimi has applied all she’s learnt as a runner to his next chapter, where she’s learning to swim, discovering Zwift and even buying brightly coloured socks for cycling! Mimi went from ordinary mum to extraordinary athlete, inspiring others along the way. Now as she heads off on the journey to be a triathlete, this extraordinary grandmother is a trail blazer in true endurance woman-style showing 50 plus women what’s possible. Take a leaf out of Mimi’s book and put yourself out there. You never know what’s ahead until you try.

Follow Mimi on Social Media:

Twitter: @MarvellousMimi

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/marvellousmimi/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mimi.anderson.526

 

 

Week 11 of 40: Swim Smooth Stroke Analysis and pre-camp training

Monday 12th March to Sunday 18th March

This week was a pre-training camp week, so not too much work before arriving on Sunday, when the bulk of my week’s training was carried out, with the week’s IM training tally being three runs, three bikes, and one swim, which included some fantastic Swim Smooth stroke analysis.

The week started with a ‘just do it’ nine-mile easy run after the weekend. I decided to run for an hour to an hour and a half and not look at my watch and thoroughly enjoyed it. On Tuesday I returned to an old favourite of 6 x 1K with a 60-secs instead of 90-secs recovery. I went as hard as I could which on current form was my current half marathon pace (4.40).

On Wednesday I settled for a 30-minute My Ride spin session. I missed the slot on Thursday morning for a run, then it was back to the club My Ride session on Friday AM, with a killer 3 x 3 minutes at 120% FTP.

An unexpected turn of events on Friday meant no sleep at all before travelling on Saturday, so I was pleased with Sunday’s four-hour block on Day one of the Got To Tri Camp.

Swim Smooth Video Analysis: Work on the Catch

We were videoed to see how we swam and coaches Graeme and Rachel gave us excellent and detailed feedback using Swim Smooth Stroke Analysis.  My weakness is  in the catch and therefore I need to train myself to ‘reach over the barrel’. I lack power due to not engaging the big muscles in my back (latissimus dorsi). Our coaches base their analysis on Swim Smooth Training. In 2016 I had my style analysed by Fiona Ford, a leading Swim Smooth Coach who analysed me as a  Kicktastic swimmer, with a stroke characterised ‘by a very dominant and propulsive leg kick’ but one that ‘lacks catch and feel for the water with their arm stroke. As kicking is a relatively inefficient method of propulsion, and uses very large muscle groups, this swimmer is often short of breath.’ At the time I was probably running more frequently and more miles. A year on and my upper body and position in the water has improved, as has my cadence and rhythm, but the kick is similar, if not as robust. This time the coaches classified me as Bambino where, ‘Co-ordination in the water is a key concern and learning to improve their rhythm, timing and catch will really aid this’.  As someone who swam competitively as a child (6am in the morning for three or more years)  and loves open water swimming I think there were some limitations in the description from Swim Smooth, however, having not trained for three months I can see how this label fits. The focus for me in the run up to Barcelona is, says coach Rachel, about improving the catch and feel for the water by sculling/doggy paddle and trying a slightly increased stroke rate.

Check out the video of me in action!

Week 10 of 40: Fitness tests in the pool and on the bike

Monday 5th March to Sunday 11th March

This week was low in volume but I was pleased to fit in some fitness tests on the bike and in the pool. I also decided that I may swap the marathon for a half marathon as I focus my energy on the six month countdown to Ironman.

I had given myself a pass on hard training this week, as after three half marathons in five or six weeks and the start of the triathlon season, just around the corner, I thought I deserved a bit of recovery. But the recovery was a bit more than planned due to another turn of events, called life.

On Wednesday on what was hers and my dad’s birthday (he died last January), my aunty in Ireland died.  Being Ireland, funeral arrangements were quickly organised and we flew out on Saturday morning and back Saturday night.

Fitness Tests

Earlier in the week I’d managed a couple of swims and three My Ride (spinning) sessions, including another unexpected FTP test (see last week’s post). This time I scored a little higher, 164 (it was 159 the week before), but I’m not sure it was totally correct as I didn’t hit stop after I’d finished in time to record the result accurately, so I’ve given myself a FTP  of 162 (or 2.89 watt/kg) and am using that for sessions going forward.

I also attempted a Critical Swim Speed (CSS) test for swimming, which includes a warm up, then 400M at pace, with five to 10 minutes of easy swimming/drills, followed by 200M at pace. The times are recorded and from this you can estimate your goal time for 1500M and race pace in general. It tells you what your lactate threshold is, and, just like in running and cycling, training at this threshold pace once a week, can help you get fitter – and faster. You can read more about CSS testing here. I completed it at a busy public pool in a session time popular with senior citizens, so there were a few stops and diagonal lengths and for a more accurate result I will do the test again!

Maintenance now. Hard core very soon!

I have to confess to some bailing out and procrastination this week. For example, opting for a cup of tea with Bri Tri Club mates on Friday instead of going straight out to run (saying that the spinning session had been tough!). I did have the tea break and chat justified as I’m not in the six months red training zone!  However, I think this is the last month I can get away with this. After Easter it’s six months to go, and then I have to get my head down and get training, consistently – and up the volume of training. And from Easter onwards I have to say no to tea breaks and yes to running off the bike.

I’ll have a half!

However, when it comes to running the Marathon, I think it’s looking less likely. I had decided last week I’d need to do four 20 mile long runs to get me in shape. I’m now a long run – and a whole week of running – down. I think even my planned ‘tempo’ marathon maybe counter-productive when it comes to the longer term goal of the Ironman. And I’ve done enough marathons to know what training I need to do to enjoy it and run it well – and that box has not been ticked. So I’m going to stick with the half marathon, and soon after the 2018 triathlon season will be in full-swing.

To keep base building and for my peace of mind, I’ll try to fit in three more long runs before tri season starts. I love long runs (here’s what I think about long runs). And I haven’t forgotten that this summer, I also need to fit in long bike rides.

 

 

 

 

Brathay 10in10: 10 Marathons in 10 Days

Ordinary Women Being Extraordinary

For most of us running one marathon is a lifetime’s achievement. But for a growing number of women it’s been to run the same marathon, every day for 10 days. Even more amazing is that amongst the 34 women to have completed the Brathay 10in10, six of them have done so as many as two, three and four times.

And this year five more women have been offered a place, one of whom is returning for a second time. In addition to training for the event, no mean feat, they have also pledged to raise over £18,000 between them for Brathay Trust, a youth charity who organise the event to support their work with vulnerable children and young people.

Along with 15 men – also raising £3,000 each, they will run the same 26.2 miles each day. It is an anti-clockwise route circumnavigating England’s longest lake, Windermere and taking in the honeypot villages that include Hawkshead and Ambleside. It’s now one of a handful of marathons around the world whose course is entirely within a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Lake District.

Recognised as one of the UK’s ultimate endurance running events, it was devised by academic Sir Christopher Ball, as a trustee of Brathay. He ran it aged 72, to prove that ordinary people can tackle extraordinary feats of physical and mental endurance. It has since raised over £1.2million for Brathay’s work including supporting residential programmes at the charity’s base near Ambleside and community projects in the Furness area of South Cumbria. 104 people have completed it.

With just months to go, we take a closer look at these endurance women ahead of their monumental challenge which starts on Friday (11 May) and finishes on Sunday 20 May.

And we start with the person who looks after the event and keeps a close-eye on the runners – Brathay Trust’s operations manager, Aly Knowles. She has first-hand experience of what the 10in10ers go through to train and then ultimately cross the finish line on day ten, having taken part in two 10in10s. Aly says she was lucky enough to be involved with the first 10in10 and then watched with awe when two women completed it the following year. In 2008, when many believed it was impossible for women to tackle such a physical challenge, Selina Da Silva and Michelle Atkins proved it was. It earned Michelle a place in the Guinness Book of World Records, for the most consecutive marathons run by a female. In 2012, Sally Ford’s phenomenal run meant she was first over the finish line and became the second female 10in10er to enter the Guinness Book of World Records – the 10in10’s fastest woman with a time of 36:38:53 which remains unbroken today. Legal PA Kaz Hurrell has set another record by being the only woman to run the 10in10 four times and she’s keen to be back for a fifth one.

This year the five women who are taking part have very different running backgrounds, and are entered as FV35 to FV60.

Brathay training weekend 2018Diane Morris has six children (aged between 12 and 26 years-old) and three grandchildren. She first started running eight years ago with a group of mums who were fundraising for the playgroup. Since 2013 she has completed six marathons and eight ultra-marathons.

Janet Shepherd claims she would never run for a bus until she made a start in her late forties. Making up for lost time Janet celebrated her 55th birthday by crossing the finishing line of her first 10in10 in 2013. Now she back to kick start her 60th birthday celebrations from the start line of another 10in10 challenge.

Brathay training weekend 2018

Joni Southall says she has been running on and off since her school days, representing North Yorkshire in the 200m and 100m relay and enjoying cross country events in the winter months. This year she and her dad, Gary Wade, are making event history by signing up to run it together – running is clearly in this family’s genes.

Liane Warren voices the relationship many of us have with running – loving it, needing it, but not finding it easy. Running gives Lianne focus and motivation and, describing herself as a natural worrier, it is her stress-reliever and a refuge from the pressures of life too. She says she has a terrible running style, likes to eat chocolate and drink wine – but dares to hope to do something amazing.

Linda Somerville is the event’s youngest runner and ran her first marathon in Edinburgh in 2011, three months before her 30th birthday, and has been hooked ever since. Having notched up 23 marathons she shouldn’t have any problem achieving her goal of getting to 50 before she is 40, and 100 before she hits 50.

All five endurance women and fundraising heroes have only a few months of training left before their first marathon on Friday 11 May.

Why not join them on their last – Sunday 20 May – when the course coincides with the one day ASICS Windermere Marathon? You never know where it may lead – this year, 15 of the 20 signed up for the 10in10 are past Windermere Marathon runners. More details can be found on the Brathay Challenges website.

Profiles of all of the 10in10ers can be found on the Brathay Challenges website here and videos and updates will be shared via twitter @BrathayEvents and facebook @BrathayRunning.

Week nine of 40 (part two): My 3rd Half Marathon for 2018

The week started slowly with three days of no training. And finished with a four-day cram and my 3rd Half Marathon of 2018.

In my last post, which I wrote half way through week nine on Wednesday night, I talked about the lack of training, due to work and family and life. Writing it down helped get me motivated – and I’m accountable – so with just four days left I had a renewed sense of purpose on Thursday morning kicking off the week then with a treadmill run and finishing on Sunday with a half marathon.

Week 9: cram training

The Dreadmill

The crazy session was 17-miles on the treadmill. I’d been inspired by fellow Endurance Woman Wendy Oates, who had shared her 18 mile treadmill run with the Facebook Group. Energised, I realised there was really no excuse, and the Beast from the East wasn’t getting through the doors of Withdean Stadium gym. I’m not a treadmill fan. The longest I’ve run in the past is around 10 to 15 miles. But, I found the experience really useful at this stage in training. For one, as my meditation course was drawing to a close on Thursday night, it gave me an opportunity to consolidate what I’ve learnt, and to practise mindful running. I find my biggest issue on the treadmill is a wandering (bored) mind. I get obsessed with numbers, time drags and my RPE is much higher relative to running outside. But, once I started to run in the moment I realised I felt fine, it wasn’t difficult, the pace was right for a long run, and I’m only where my mind is whether I’m up on the Downs or staring at the gym car park and listening to Absolute Radio. I believe all of this is good training for an endurance athlete, so with accountability in mind, I commit to the following:

I will do a long treadmill run once a month in the run up to IM (that’s six more sessions from April).

There was snow stopping Wendy – and she inspired me!

FTP Test

Ignoring all sensible advice and what I know about training and performance, I decided to follow Thursday with a hard FTP /Ramp test on the bike with the Bri Tri Club on Friday morning at 645am. Ideally, any test of V02 Max (which essentially is what the test measures)  should be performed when an athlete is well-rested. But at the moment I think it doesn’t really matter. I wanted a rough idea, and I think the test was fairly accurate. The problem with doing back to back hard sessions isn’t so much the short-term, it’s the longer term impact on recovery. But in my mind the psychological damage of not doing what I  had planned would have been worse. As it goes as I’m a fairly average cyclist so the test didn’t go on for very long,  but I do have a benchmark from which I can measure my bike fitness – and an incentive to get on my bike. For anyone who’s an expert in FTP and Ramp tests (I know that there is a difference) and the sports scientists among you, I’m still learning about the variables, so don’t want to give any incorrect information. I did the Ramp Test on a My Ride bike at the gym, and from this I can train in colour zones/intensity relative to me: https://www.teamicg.com/is/bikes/ic7/wattrate. My score was 159 which if I divide by 55.5Kg (my weight) gives me this score, 2.86 which is my watts/kg.

Tri Training: Trying to fit it all in

I had hoped to fit in another bike session, but tiredness did kick in, so on Saturday I ran an easy five miles and swam 2.5K at a steady pace. Then on Sunday, on a mission to race myself fit I took on the Eastbourne Half Marathon, revisiting the town I left in August last year.

Eastbourne Half

The treadmill session, FTP test and the 2.5K swim did catch up with me. The half marathon was perfectly manageable, but there was nothing in me that would let me race. I crawled up the infamous hill (9.27)  and decided to try to get it back by picking up the pace to a nice 6.44 on the down. When I reached the seafront I decided to race and try to catch the women ahead, which I did… but not for long. In the past (or when I’m rested) I can inject some speed in a race and then go back to the pace the other runner was at and stay ahead, in this case 7.22 to overtake, and then back to just under 7.30. But it didn’t go to plan. Yes, I was quite happy at 7.22 for one mile, but rather than settle back to 7.30 for the rest of the race, I only managed one mile at 7.30.  Once I realised I was slowing down, I consciously decided to stop racing and just run the race at a tempo pace, which turned out to be an average of 7.54 for the remaining six miles and a race average of 7.47, which for where I’m at now was just fine. I followed the race with a 1K swim and sauna (surprisingly I had achy arms when swimming not legs) – and had a satisfying Sunday lunch and complete crash, rounding off another week’s training.

Why I started Endurance Women

I’m an ordinary woman, but very occasionally, I feel extraordinary – after a week of hard training, or when I’ve completed a big race, or got up and met some friends for a freezing cold swim in the sea at 6am.
I think I’ve always been an endurance woman. As a child I loved to push myself running or swimming further and faster, climbing trees higher, staying out to play later. When I was six years-old I set myself the challenge of swimming 100 lengths of the outdoor pool at the Hotel Hermanus in Winterton near Great Yarmouth, as my dad lay on the lounger and counted for me. Soon after I was doing backward dives off the top board at Amersham swimming pool and had ambitions to go higher at the 40ft board in Galway (but somehow mum and dad distracted me). There were some blips along the way, you can read my story here.
My career is driven by my passions. For more than 20 years my work in content and communications focussed on health, fitness and sport. For 10 of these years I worked as a personal trainer and coach. Endurance is in my DNA (literally) and I’ve run over 20 marathons with most success in my 40s when I ran 10 under 3.30 and five under 3.15; I’ve competed in ultra events and triathlon and at my best I’ve been competitive for my age.

Approaching a new age category

As I got closer to the big 5-0 I realised what I’ve gained from this passion is so much more than times to be proud of: I’ve made great friends; had amazing experiences and I’ve learnt all there is to know about myself and what I’m capable of. So, at the end of 2017, as the big day loomed, I decided it was time to create Endurance Women and consolidate what I’ve learnt as a coach, content provider, and story-teller.

Ordinary Women Being Extraordinary

First, I wanted to share the stories I hear every day of ordinary women being extraordinary. Each woman I’ve spoken to has an amazing story to tell. Jane went from feeling a bit fat and unfit at 40 to winning Ironman Kona (the competition for the world’s best age-group triathletes); business owner, Joanne, a 49-year-old mum of three, didn’t let blood cancer and persistent injury get in the way of her aspirations to race long; Buggy-miles Becci, a new mum of two and general hospital Sister, transformed her local park-run into a fundraising event for the local hospice; and of course, The Guardian‘s very own Running Blog Editor, Kate Carter, mum of two young girls who took just six years to go from starting running to completing a sub-three hour marathon.

Endurance Women are Pioneers

All endurance women are pioneers. We’re the first generation of women to push our endurance boundaries, and to take on challenges like these. And the further we go in distance, the closer we get to being on a par with men, as we’re more efficient at burning fat and stamina is one of our strengths. But in the year I was born (1967), the general consensus was that women were too ‘fragile’ to run a marathon. Kathrine Switzer proved this was not the case, by being the first women to officially enter and complete the Boston Marathon. She was famously man-handled by the race manager, who tried to pull her out of the race but went on to finish the in 4.20 and is celebrated as an advocate for positive change and the founder of 261 Fearless, an organisation that uses running to empower and unite women. Read her story here.

We are strong!

We must not underestimate our strength. When we set a goal and achieve it whether it be going from couch to 5K like many of our community, or taking on a seven-day treadmill challenge like ultra-runner, mother and grandmother, Mimi Anderson (story coming soon), we’re making an impact and forcing positive change. As we share our fundraiser pages, our success stories, our smiling race-face pics and medals on social media, the movement gathers momentum, and the ripples of positive energy become a tidal wave of change.

The power of Endurance Women

When we stretch ourselves through sport – physically, emotionally and mentally – there is power. And endurance is a pathway to a very big positive change for women individually, and collectively for society. From interviewing ordinary women being extraordinary and from my experience as an endurance athlete, I’ve seen that when we come out of our comfort zone we unleash an inner strength and great things happen. When women push limits the effect in the world is a little different to when a man does this. Women are at the core of creating families, and making change happen from the inside out. This can be catalyst for a powerful movement, creating healthier homes in the workplace and going beyond boundaries both physical and metaphorical – ultimately creating a stronger and happier society where we don’t just live long (kept alive by modern medicine) but we live well.

A Growing Movement

As the community of endurance women grows in numbers, I’m inspired and can’t wait to see what comes next. It’s easy to take for granted that every time we push a little more, when we put on our Lycra, get muddy, and celebrate crossing a finish line the impact we’re having. Each step forward is a step away from self-imposed limitations (and excuses) of age, time, family, work.

Join Us

I’ve focussed on women, but I believe all of us can be more successful in life if we adopt the qualities of an endurance athlete: never giving up, staying in the moment, keeping positive, setting goals, and supporting each other.
Join us and set your next challenge. Be at the start line. Celebrate on the finish line.

Six years to reach sub-three-hour marathon success

I met Kate Carter the week before she went to Seville and reached her goal of running her first sub-three-hour marathon. At the time of the interview I had no idea she had planned to take on the challenge just four days ahead. As Editor of the Guardian Running Blog and with a high-profile on social media, she understandably chose to go under cover!

‘As a Guardian Life and Style Editor I became aware that running was becoming a  huge thing about seven or eight years ago, before I started running myself.  Parkrun was gaining in popularity and more people were taking on challenges like couch to 5K, including my then editor, so when I suggested starting the running blog at a meeting, it was a case of perfect timing.

‘My own running started at about the same time as the Running Blog, back in 2012. I had done a bit of running before, there was one 10K which my husband had entered me into, the Nike North versus South event. It was horrific. I trained from zero to race in six weeks, and ran it in just under an hour, and the last mile was endless. I also did a triathlon in 2006, but running had never been a focus. I was cycling to and from work, there was a pool next to my office, but the run bit I really didn’t like. There was no structure to my training, I just added in a run. So, I was quite surprised when I managed to run 48 minutes for the 10K as part of the London triathlon. But none of it inspired me to continue, until I had children.

Timing it Right

‘I think running is something that you have to find at the right time for you. And I believe that’s why so many women come to it after they have had children. After breaking from work and having young children dependent on you all day with no adult conversation, many women need to find time to themselves. I didn’t start running properly until I was on maternity leave with my second daughter (Kate is the mum of two girls aged six and nine). One of the reasons I started was simply that I wanted to lose weight and get fit again. And running was an easy way to do this and much more time-efficient as there was no time spent driving to a gym or pool and getting changed. I just needed to get out the door.

Kate Carter and her daughter Lily attend the weekly 2km fun run at Wimbledom park for juniors aged 4-14.
Photo by Souvid Datta
Commissioned for DO SOMETHING

‘As well as getting fit, and giving me time to myself, I discovered I was good at running. In the first few months you gain so much, so quickly and that keeps you motivated to keep going. I started with my friend who had been a runner when she was young, and our goal was to run 10K in sub 50 minutes. I followed this with a half marathon, and managed to run it on small mileage in around 1.45.

‘My husband recognised I was getting good at this and as a birthday present he bought me a package with a coach. I met with him and he watched me run, and then for the first time I had a structured plan to follow. I also joined a running club, and even though when the girls were young I couldn’t get to all the sessions, I loved being part of a club.

Marathon Mum

‘Soon I had my eyes set on the goal of running a marathon and had planned to run Seville in February 2014, but a calf tear (the only injury I’ve had) meant I had to wait until the London marathon​ in April. My training consisted of around 40 miles a week, and I worked runs into my day, as my girls were only two and five. I often ran part of the journey to work to save time, or I’d fit in a lunch-time session. They say if you want something done, get a busy person to do it. I say if you want someone to do marathon training, get a parent to do it. It’s not easy when your children are young. I remember those long runs were so exhausting, and I’d come back from a 21-mile run to a crying two-year old and the demands of a young family.  When it came to the race, again I remember the last few miles felt like an eternity, but I wasn’t worried about it as I didn’t have a time goal and I was very pleased to finish in 3.25.

‘Running adds to our family life on so many levels. I go on holiday and run early in the morning which some people think is crazy. And I’ve been known to get off a long-haul flight and run (such as after a 24-hour flight to New Zealand)  because it freshens me up and helps me beat jet lag. I know that when I run, I’m happier, and a happier me, is a better mum. And now that the children are older we run together. In the summer we go to the track and they might time me doing laps, or do some laps themselves and then play. We also do our own circuits, and crazy yoga/dancing – they’ve learnt that exercise is fun and it’s not a transaction that’s just about calories in and calories out.

Progression

‘As I got more serious about running I started to up my mileage. I learnt early on that my body absorbs mileage and I’m lucky that I don’t seem to get injured. I’ll run at least 70 miles per week when I want to achieve a bigger goal. My progress continued and in 2014 I ran another marathon, this time in 3.11 in New York, which is a hard and slower marathon than ​some ​others.  Then in 2015 I ran 3.03 in London and finally got tantalizingly close to sub three, running, 3.00.07 in Berlin – so close –  in fact a friend told me I should just call it 2.59.67.

‘After this, in 2016 and 2017, I ran another five marathons (two in 2016 and three in 2017) some for fun, and  some that didn’t go to plan. In preparation for London in 2017 I had achieved PBs at every distance: 5K, 10 mile and half marathon. But  on the day of the race it didn’t happen for me. I think I’d peaked too soon and the timing was just off. In a marathon you can see saw between feeling great and feeling awful, and if you have a bad day, it’s not like you can go and repeat the performance the following week. But the good thing about running marathons is that it makes all other distances seem easy psychologically and physically. And things are on the up again as last week I was absolutely delighted to run a 10K PB of 38.32.

Power of the mind

‘When I’m racing, I try to focus my mind. I think about what my muscles are doing and make sure I check in on my posture. I tell my mind to shut up, especially in the first 5K, or at 16 miles when there’s still 10 miles to go. It’s important to be in control of your mind and break down the distance into manageable blocks, and to simply stay in the moment, and avoid trying to plan for what may or may not happen. I will have an internal dialogue and will always ask myself if there’s more I can give, I definitely do not want to finish a race feeling I may have left it out there.

‘When it comes to training, I’m very good at doing what I’m told. My husband likes to point out that I’m not like this in any other area of my life, But if my coach tells me to do a session, I do it. I don’t question it. I’ve learned that with running it’s a straightforward equation: you get out what you put in. And it’s worth doing. Running can add so much to  life, for busy parents it’s a great way to get much-needed head space – as well as a sense of feeling in control of life. I remember when I first ran the marathon I felt like superwoman, as if I could do anything now!

Men V Women: the race is on!

‘Long distance female runners are much closer to their male counterparts than in other sports, and the further the distance, the smaller the time difference between men and women. I often find when I’m running to and form work, a man will run a long side me and race me. Recently, a guy even decided to give me some unasked for advice about how I could improve my running stride. It was very satisfying to stop at the lights and then destroy him by running away quickly.

Getting Faster

‘I’m going for sub-three hours at the marathon again in April and then after the marathon I’d like to see if I can get faster over shorter distances and dedicate training to improving my 5K and 10K times. But first, it’s the marathon and I really hope I can do it this time.’

Now read what happened just four days later: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/the-running-blog/2018/feb/26/how-was-your-weekend-running

 

 

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/the-running-blog/2018/feb/26/how-was-your-weekend-running