These days, Anya Culling is considered one of the U.K.’s fastest female marathon runners — she’s sponsored by athletic apparel giant Lululemon and competed as an elite in this year’s London Marathon. But rewind to 2019, and running was merely a hobby Culling had picked up to benefit her mental health. 

Following a spate of significant medical issues, including undergoing radiation to treat an overactive thyroid, she’d lost much of her confidence. “Running was a way to be healthy and find that confidence again,” the now 25-year-old told the BBC. “I have never been a more confident person and it’s not really because of the results but because of how it has made me feel.”

Aside from being forced to do cross-country as a kid (and walking the 400-meter on sports day, much to her parents’ bewilderment), Culling had no real running experience. She’d played hockey and cricket as a child, though, and always appreciated sports and fitness, the Norfolk native shared in a recent piece for Marie Claire U.K.  

The peacefulness of running — its ability to quiet Culling’s busy mind — is what cemented the activity as part of her routine. But it was her affinity for “doing hard things” that initially led her to sign up for the 2019 London Marathon. 


“I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it,” Culling explained. She completed that first race in 4 hours, 34 minutes and was the 7,546th woman to cross the finish line.

When the pandemic hit, running became a way to get her through lockdown, and once restrictions eased, she joined several running clubs for social interaction. It made a big difference in her performance. 

“Everything I did was with these people that were runners, and all my social life was running,” Culling told Runner’s World. “I would run every single day with someone, which kept me accountable.” 

By 2022, Culling had cut her original time almost in half, finishing the London Marathon in 2 hours, 36 minutes. She was the third fastest British female in the competition, and was voted “Most Improved U.K. Road Runner” by Athletics Weekly the following year. 

“I think I progressed so quickly because being the fastest was never my intention. I never forced myself to train and it has never felt like a chore,” Culling wrote in Marie Claire. “My progression, although pretty quick, has all been down to consistency over time and putting the work in and my goal has always been to fit running into my life, rather than live my life around running meaning that getting faster has always been secondary.”


Mark Kerrison/In Pictures via Getty Images

Culling continues to run and now coaches others; she also serves as a role model for anyone looking to challenge themselves for the betterment of their well-being. 

“I am blown away whenever I think about what I’ve done. I still think it’s beginner’s luck, but then lockdown was a long time ago,” she shared with the BBC, adding: “It blows my mind when I get messages from people telling me I’m an inspiration to them, I don’t really believe it.” 

Want to pick up a running habit yourself? Check out Runner’s World’s guide for getting started