Nordic Oil ambassador, Mimi Anderson, is our fabulous ultra-marathon runner. She has recently completed the epic challenge of running 'The Freedom Trail' in South Africa, which equates to running 63km per day, for 32 days! Mimi talks to us about the mental battle she went through, with her friend Samantha, how she fuelled herself through the run, and how there's still time to donate to her chosen charity.
Thank you to Tim Anderson for supplying the photos during this interview with Mimi.
A huge congratulations on your fantastic achievement, alongside Samantha, running for ‘social change’, where by you ran the whole length of the Freedom Trial. Explain a little to our audience, what this involved?
Mimi: The Freedom Trail is in South Africa running between Pietermaritzburg and Paarl just outside Cape Town, a distance of approximately 2,000km. The route was originally set up as a mountain bike race called the Freedom Challenge where riders have 26 days to cover the tough route, but Samantha and I decided to run from one end to the other.
We worked tirelessly for over two years to plan and organise the expedition. This involved not only the charity side but also the logistics, transport, accommodation, support crew and of course the route, all this needed to be put in place before we could even put our trainers on and begin running.
Our plan was to run the route over 32 days, running on average 63km per day with no rest days; not as simple as it sounds as many of the sections were very technical and covering the terrain quickly wasn’t easy.
The accommodation along the route varied from small B&B’s to game lodges and in the more isolated areas we stayed with local Farmers and their families. Everyone made us all feel extremely welcome and looked after us well.
You must have seen some extraordinary scenery, wild nature and breathtaking views. What were the highlights?
Mimi: The scenery really was breathtaking and it just got better as the run went on. The first 8 days in Natal were more mountainous in character and as we ran through the Karoo the landscape became much more open, surrounded by beautiful rolling hills. Getting closer to Cape Town it changed again to beautifully manicured vineyards.
Some of the highlights for me were climbing 8km up to the highest point of 2,700m. There were no paths to follow and the wind became stronger as we climbed but with the views from the summit it felt as though I was standing on top of the world.
On one of the days we climbed up, up and up this stunning winding and twisting mountain dirt road going through the Swartberg Pass, it seemed to go up forever. When I turned round to look at the view all I could see for miles was this never-ending road. Once at the top the dirt road continued until eventually descending into a place called “Hell”!
The wildlife we encountered along the route was fantastic. We ran through various private game reserves where we were surrounded by Wildebeest and Antelopes. Sometimes springbok would literally leap over the fence and run across the track in front of us and on one occasion a warthog ran out from the undergrowth right in our path. We even spotted 5 rhinos; thankfully they were the other side of the fence from us! During the last 10 days we saw lots of monkeys and baboons – one of the baboons even stalked us as we ran past the rocks where he was sitting!
The last day had to be the most stunning scenery I have ever seen; the area is so remote that many South African’s will never see it, I felt extremely privileged. There were no paths to follow and the terrain was hilly and steep, covered in rocks that you couldn’t see because the plants had grown over them. We climbed down waterfalls, over boulders, had so many ascents and descents I have lost count, waded through and across rivers and at times had to fight our way through the undergrowth in order to keep moving forward – Then just when we thought we had finished there was a near vertical climb to get out of the valley. We covered 10km in 6 hours!
How did you fuel yourself through the day? Were you on liquid calories to allow yourself to run post ‘feed’?
Mimi: The beginning of the day always started with a good breakfast that consisted of a bowl of either porridge or granola type cereal that I mixed with yoghurt followed by two pieces of toast with marmite, sliced avocado and tomato, black coffee and of course my two Nordic Oil capsules, this set me up for the 6 hours of running ahead of us before our lunch break.
During the run itself I tended to stick to “normal” food as I don’t like gels or bars and running for an extended period of time you need to have variety otherwise you would get very bored of eating the same thing day in day out. I would eat anything from dried figs, dates, nuts & dried fruit mix, custard, pureed fruit sachets and my favorite treat, once I had finished for the day, was a bag of twiglets!
I didn’t have a specific sports drink but would have a half fruit juice, half water mixed together with some protein powder added into the bottle, this worked really well for me.
The first 10 days we ran without any major stops for food during the day but both of us were losing weight too quickly so it was decided to have a stop at about midday for lunch. I have to admit that initially I was not happy about this idea, as I don’t usually stop for any length of time in my other long events, but as it was only for half an hour I agreed (the lunch stop was something that I began to really enjoy and look forward to!) During the half an hour stop we would have delicious sandwiches made for us by the crew, followed by orange that had been cut up for us and bag of salt and vinegar chips (Samantha loved these) and occasionally a piece or two of chocolate (special treat!). In the evening we were always fed extremely well by our hosts, this included a main course and always a delicious pudding.
Mentally, you must have gone into ‘dark times’ running consecutively for that period of time, constant pounding and impact on the body. What were some of the biggest challenges you faced?
Mimi: I felt that I had prepared myself well mentally for the challenge ahead and went out to South Africa feeling strong.
Although I’m used to running long distances on consecutive days I had done nothing on this scale before, so with the support of my coach Ray Zahab, I trained by running long distances day after day and in my mind imagined what it would feel like when my body was in pain or my legs couldn’t take another step and then try and find ways that I could deal with the situation. There are always going to be low points during a race but it’s how you deal with them that makes the difference between success and failure. I tend to do a lot of talking to myself (I know totally mad!) telling myself to “pull myself together, it was my idea so get on with it and stop being pathetic” and if things get really tough I think of all the people at home who think I’m going to fail, for me that works every time.
I always knew for me the toughest parts of the run were going to be the technical sections where I was definitely the weaker of the two of us. The way I dealt with this was to go at the back, I didn’t feel I was holding Samantha up, she could go at her pace and I was quite happy plodding along behind. The toughest moment was on the last day where the terrain was incredibly technical and I had to concentrate really hard just to remain upright (thankfully both of us found this last section difficult). I was tripping over rocks, climb over rocks using my hands for support, and then trying to go down steep rocky descents - my nightmare! About three hours into this section we were having a short stop to eat and I just burst into tears, I didn’t know how else to cope with how I was feeling, I felt completely useless – everyone else seemed to do it with ease yet for me every step was becoming harder and harder – BUT I pulled myself together and managed to get out of the valley in one piece! The mind and body are a great team!
How much money have you managed to raise, and what influence will this now have on your charity chosen?
Mimi: Samantha and I had pledged to raise at least half of the £27,500 before we went to South Africa which we managed to do with all the amazing donations we have received before, during and after the run. We only have about £3,500 until we reach our target which is super exciting, but we only have a couple of weeks to get there.
With the support of Save the Children Australia/South Africa, the money raised will go to setting up a social enterprise business in the Free State in South Africa, employing a dozen women who will be trained to make re-usable feminine hygiene products. These will then be sold at a discounted price to the girls living in the community that will enable them to remain in education.
We discovered that 1in 3 girls miss out on 4 to 5 days of school each month once they reach puberty simply because they are unable to afford to buy sanitary pads; instead they remain at home using anything from old rags, rolled up newspapers and sometimes nothing at all, eventually opting out of education altogether. By providing the girls with the re-usable sanitary pads (that should last between 3-5 years) they are able to remain in school and this in turn empowers them to make choices about their futures, something most of us take for granted.
We are SO close to our target it really would make a huge difference to these South Africa girls. You can make a donation by going to https://donate.savethechildren.org.au/FreedomRunners