Running the length of the UK for Mind

Running challenge: “I’m running the length of the UK – and I’m aiming to become the youngest woman to ever do so”

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Find the idea of running a half marathon tough? How about running an ultramarathon every day for the best part of a month? That’s Imogen Boddy’s plan when she canters down from John O’Groats to Land’s End – and she’s about to become the youngest woman to do so. She talks to Alice Porter about the adventure of a lifetime.

“Do you remember what you were doing in May 2021? While most people were creeping back outside after the nth lockdown and getting their social lives back on track, I was busy running seven marathons in seven days to raise money for the mental health charity Mind.

It was tough, but I’m planning on going even bigger this year: I’ll be running the length of the UK (a distance of over 900 miles) over 22 days. That’s going to mean running around 60km – an ultramarathon – a day. And I also want to become the youngest woman to have ever run the length of the UK. At 22, I want to show other young women just how incredible our bodies and minds are. We’re capable of being so much more than we look.

That may sound like torture but I’ve always loved setting myself meaty mental and physical challenges. Testing your limits and seeing how much you can achieve is one of the most rewarding experiences you can have.

I did my first endurance challenge at the age of 17, when I did my own Iron Man-like course – swimming 10km across Lake Windermere, followed by running a marathon around the lake and then cycling the 35 miles back to my school in Sedbergh… all in under 10 hours.

Imogen has been training to run the 900 mile course since September.
Imogen has been training to run the 900 mile course since September.

I was lucky to have been inspired by a host of brilliant female athletes growing up. My biggest inspiration was Michelle Rothwell, who completed the Arch to Arc Triathlon in 2012: running, cycling and swimming between Marble Arch in London and the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. 

Running is a mental game

My UK-based adventure is going to see me run over all kinds of terrains, beginning at John O’Groats in Scotland and finishing down in Land’s End. It’s not the kind of thing you can do with just a couple of months’ worth of running under your belt; I’ve been training for this since September and spending my spare time racking up around 100km a week. When I’m not on the road, I’m in the gym strength training twice a week or getting treatment from my physio.

Many people think a challenge like this is a crazy thing to do but running is such a mental activity. The human body is amazingly resilient and our minds can get us through the toughest situations. That’s why I’m using this opportunity to raise money for the charity Young Minds, which supports young people dealing with mental health problems. With the number of people living with anxiety, depression and eating disorders dramatically increasing across all age groups in recent years, it’s never been more important to support the work that organisations like this do. 

Exercise as a form of mental therapy

Exercise has been a crucial part of my own mental health journey. When I left school, I – like so many other young women – developed an unhealthy relationship with food and exercise. 

Going through that kind of situation can tarnish your relationship with exercise forever, and it was only by focusing on training for performance that I managed to get a hold of my issues. It dawned on me that if I didn’t fuel myself with food, I wouldn’t be able to reach my goals. That realisation allowed me to re-evaluate my relationship with food and exercise, and develop a much better relationship with my body.

Challenges like the one I’m completing this summer allow me to set myself goals that have nothing to do with the way I look, and it’s this mindset that has changed the way I think completely.

The journey is often harder than the final result

That doesn’t mean that I always enjoy training. It’s intense and requires a lot of sacrifices. But the journey leading up to a challenge like this is just as important as completing the challenge itself. As anyone who has set themselves a fitness challenge will know, all those months of getting up early and training in the dark, forgoing drinks with mates so you can train early on a Saturday and the hours spent preparing to go that extra mile can be the toughest part of the whole thing.

Anyone who's done a big old fitness challenge before will know that the journey to the start line can often be tougher than the challenge itself.
Anyone who's done a big old fitness challenge before will know that the journey to the start line can often be tougher than the challenge itself.

Everyone starts somewhere with their fitness journey. A few years ago, when I was struggling with my mental health, the idea of taking on a challenge like this would have seemed insane. I’ve found out for myself that with the right training and mindset, however, you can achieve truly unbelievable feats.”

For more incredible fitness stories, check out the Strong Women Training Club.

Images: Imogen Boddy

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