I was shamed for leaving my kids at home to run – then I broke world records

‘When are you going to stop?’

That’s what people have been asking me for years now. 

See, I’m 61, a former ultramarathon runner and multi-world record holder.

Yes, I’m old, grey, have wrinkles and am a grandmother now, but I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. 

Pushing for more world records, and smashing old ones.

When I was at school, I was quite sporty. We mainly played team sports, like netball, and never did athletics, or running.

After leaving school at 17 I think I was so delighted to get out of education that I threw myself into work – leaving exercise behind, too.

I became a receptionist before getting married at 22, and had my first child the following year.

After that, I became a seamstress – making wedding dresses around the kids. There was no time to get fit, or stay active.

My youngest was six when I started running, realising it was important to have time to yourself too – even as a mum. 

Still, the kids came first – and weekends were family time, fitting my runs in during the week when they were at school. Some people even scolded me for leaving my kids at home, as if I was selfish – but I needed some ‘me time’.

In my mid-thirties, I started doing longer, more challenging runs. I did treadmill running at first, then moved to longer distances outside. 

It sounds weird now, but at the time, hardly anyone ran outdoors – it just wasn’t the done thing. After meeting a group of female runners in the gym, they encouraged me to start running outside, and 10 km turned into half marathons, which turned into marathons. 

And soon, ultramarathons.

Running made me feel alive and positive – to me, then a mum-of-three, it was an escape. I didn’t need to think about anything.

About 18 months after I started running, aged 38, I signed up to compete in the Marathon des Sables after my friend showed me it in a magazine. You run 250 km across the Sahara desert for six days, with everything in a backpack – camping as you go.

My husband didn’t think I’d do it as I love my make-up and bed – but I managed it, even if I did pick up a tummy bug at the beginning of the race and couldn’t keep any food or liquids inside me…

I remember thinking: ‘If I can finish this race feeling rubbish, imagine what I’d be like at 100%’ – and so started the beginning of my crazy running adventures.

In 2008, aged 45, I broke my first world record. I became the fastest woman to run about 840 miles from John O’Groats to Land’s End, completing it in 12 days, 15 hours, 46 minutes, and 35 seconds.

I remember feeling so tired, barely being able to walk, that I only had two sips of champagne before having to be carried to bed. Not really taking in the significance of my run.

I held the record for about 12 years. Records are there to be broken, after all.

When I was 50 I broke the record for fastest woman to run from the top to the bottom of Ireland – completing it in just over three days. The woman before me had only held it for six months, so I don’t think she was very happy with me! 

I’m also the record holder for the furthest distance travelled on a treadmill by a woman – I managed seven days, non-stop.

This record has been broken. I had one main break during the day where I slept for 90 mins. Each stop had to be recorded. 

I won an amazing 352-mile-long race in the Arctic back in 2007 aged 45 and was one of only two people to finish – even though 10 of us crossed the start line. 

With temperatures as low as -40 degrees Celsius, I think people were being overly polite about my usual preference of pink race gear – and stunned when I not only completed the race, but won it in 143 hours! 

To my knowledge, my race record still stands – but I won absolutely nothing, not even a medal!

I’ve raced in the 135-mile-long ultramarathon, Badwater 135, in Death Valley, too – widely known as ‘the toughest foot race on Earth’.

But despite all of these achievements, I’ve noticed that women become invisible as they get older – as their children grow up, as they get grey hair and soft bodies.

When I was 50, my husband came to a race with me and was told ‘an old woman with grey hair’ had already crossed the checkpoint he was waiting at. I was that ‘old woman’.

Sadly, in 2017, I took on the epic challenge to run across America. After over 2,215 miles in 40 days I was on track to beat the female world record, but I suffered a knee injury that stopped my running career – for good.

It was devastating, and I grieved a part of myself that I’d never get back for a long time.

So, I turned to cycling. And, on the 10 year anniversary of my John O’Groats record attempt, in 2018 I made the journey by bike in nine days. I even began swimming to overcome my fear of water. 

Sometimes, when I tell people my age, they gasp and go: ‘Wow, really?’ It’s as if it’s a shock that I’m up for a challenge, or fit at ‘my age’. People think I should be frail, or forgetful and doddery.

That I’ve already had my swan song.

But I’m far from being written off.

In fact, on my 61st birthday last month, I flew out to Turin in Italy to take part in the North Cape 4,000 – a 4,400km self sufficiency bike event crossing 10 countries finishing at the North Cape in Norway. It took me 20 days.

There’s absolutely no reason why I can’t keep going  – hopefully into my seventies, eighties and even nineties.

I love pushing my limits; testing what it is my body can achieve and is capable of. Exercise gives me so much. I don’t need to worry about what anyone else thinks of me unlike when I was at school where I was made to feel very negative about myself. 

Adventure makes me feel good, and that’s enough to lace my trainers up for or get on my bike  

Mimi is an ambassador for Absolute Collagen for its ‘Strong in Your Own Skin’ campaign – find out more at www.absolutecollagen.com/pages/strong-in-your-skin

Age is Just a Number

Welcome to Age is Just a Number, a Metro.co.uk series aiming to show that, when it comes to living your life, achieving your dreams, and being who you want to be, the date on your birth certificate means nothing.

Each week, prepare to meet amazing people doing stereotype-defying things, at all stages of life.

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