“The only person that can make you feel proud is you”: why Anna McNuff ran barefoot from Scotland to London

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Anna McNuff is a true hero for our times. The Girlguiding ambassador has just completed a 2,352 mile barefoot run, journeying the equivalent of 90 marathons over 168 days, all in order to inspire girls and prove to them that they can do anything. McNuff’s run, called Barefoot Britain, took her from Scotland to London, during which time she spoke to around 100 girls every week to inspire them to go and create their own adventures. Here, she tells Stylist about the importance of mental strength, and explains why denial and distraction are the two key things that keep her motivated.

What does strong mean to you?

Strong means finding a way to keep going when you’ve got no reassurance that everything’s going to be OK.

Girlguiding ambassador Anna McNuff
Anna McNuff takes a selfie during her Barefoot Britain run.

What impact do you think mental strength has on your life?

Mental strength allows me to keep perspective, and it opens up a whole world of opportunities. It’s about going beyond what I originally thought I could do – when you go on that journey and come out on the other side it leads you to new opportunities that you would never have had if you hadn’t found a way to muscle through it.

How do you motivate yourself, not just for the gym but for life?

I have a couple of tools – denial and distraction.

Denial means that I break everything down into tiny chunks. This means that I only think about a manageable amount of things at a time, and focus on the immediate goal rather than a bigger goal.

Distraction means that I take my mind off something, especially if all my brain wants to do is tell me how difficult it’s going to be. I love listening to stories from other people, meeting new people and seeing new things, and before I know it I’ve gotten through the day without thinking about it too much.

Girlguiding ambassador Anna-McNuff-run
Anna McNuff: "You have to remember no one cares what you’re doing half as much as you do."

Some women feel intimidated at the gym, what’s your best advice for getting through this?

My first piece of advice is that you have to remember no one cares what you’re doing half as much as you do. When you go into the gym you feel like everyone’s staring at you but actually, everyone’s worrying about everyone staring at them! So were all in our own little bubbles, and you’ve got to remind yourself of that.

Also remember that no one tells you what your challenge is: that’s for you to decide. At the end of the day, the only person that can make you feel proud is you. You’re completely in control and once you get your head around that, take the pressure off and do as much as you think you can. Don’t worry about everyone else, soon enough you’ll be on your own journey and you’ll look back and think, I did that, that was awesome!

Girlguiding-ambassador-Anna-McNuff-barefoot-run
Anna McNuff: "Unfollow anyone on social media who makes you feel bad or not worthy."

What should we remember when looking at other people’s fitness regimes on social media?

Take it with a pinch of salt! Unfollow anyone who makes you feel bad or not worthy. I heard a wonderful sentence on a podcast recently: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Remember that what you see on social media is only a sliver of someone’s lives and if someone makes you feel bad, you can curate that.

What’s your advice for women who are looking to gain strength both physically and mentally?

Come up with an idea of something you’d like to do and then push it a little bit further, because I guarantee we are all capable of more than we realise. If you’re standing at the start of whatever it is and you think, I’m 50% terrified and 50% excited, then that is the line you want to be on. Find that line and then embrace those nerves, because you’re about to put your body and your mind through something it’s never been through before, and you will come out stronger on the other side.

You can learn more about Barefoot Britain by clicking here

Stylist Strong is a fitness brand specialising in strength training specifically tailored for women. Our classes are designed to build both physical and mental strength in a smart and informed way.

So, whether you’re a beginner or already have strength-training experience, Stylist Strong has a class to suit you. Come and try our strength-based classes at our own purpose-built studio at The AllBright Mayfair.

Images: Anna McNuff

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Sarah Biddlecombe

Sarah Biddlecombe is an award-winning journalist and Digital Commissioning Editor at Stylist. Follow her on Twitter

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