Mina Guli is already the first person in the world to run 40 marathons in 40 days—all to raise awareness about the global water crisis.

By By Mina Guli (as told to Faith Brar)
Updated: March 23, 2018

Growing up, I hated running. I wouldn't run to a bus even if I absolutely had to catch it. In fact, I hated all sports and was always the last person to be picked for a team. But today it's a different story. I'm training to run 100 marathons in 100 days later this year. You're probably wondering how I got to this point, right?

Well, it started when I was 22. I got pushed into a swimming pool while messing around with friends and broke my back horribly. My doctors told me that I'd probably never be able to run again, even if I wanted to. That's when, suddenly, I wanted to run. The accident was the scary push I needed to give me the motivation I never had before. While on the one hand, sitting on the couch and eating pizza for the rest of my life sounded amazing, on the other hand, I realized the gravity of potentially losing my mobility. I realized that the only person to set limits on my abilities was going to be me, so I asked my doctors what I could do to stay active after recovering from my injury. (Related: I Broke My Neck at the Gym and It Changed Everything I Thought I Knew About Fitness)

They suggested I start by swimming-ironic, considering how I was injured in the first place. But it was a low-impact, safe way to get in some cardio. I decided to go with one of my friends to a nearby camp where triathletes trained. While the others swam 6 miles, I struggled through 10 laps. But everyone was so supportive and motivating that they made me believe I would be able to swim 6 miles eventually. (Related: The Next Time You Want to Give Up, Remember This 75-Year-Old Woman Who Did an Ironman)

Nine months later, I was stronger and knew I was ready for a greater physical challenge. I was introduced to the Ironman-a triathlon where you run a marathon, swim 2.4 miles, and bike 112 miles without any breaks. (Psst, check out these unconventional multi-sport races you'll want to sign up for.) My first thought when I heard about it? Why would anyone do that to themselves? And then someone I worked out with said, "If you want to prove to yourself that you're the only one who can set limits for yourself, this is the way to do it." It was the first time I allowed myself to think that I could do anything if I just put my mind to it. (Related: Why Chip Gaines Is Starting Small While Training for His First Marathon)

So I started working on my swimming even more, and slowly I started to add in some biking. Running was the thing I was the most nervous about so I started by walking after consulting with my doctor. Once my body got used to walking long distances, I started to add in some running-all the way up to the point where I was running for a few miles straight without stopping. (Related: How Sucking at a Sport Made Me a Better Athlete)

Nearly two years after my injury, running became second nature to me, and I felt prepared enough to complete a half Ironman. Once that was behind me, I finished a full Ironman just as I was wrapping up law school, proving to myself that I had the ability to redefine my own limits.

Shortly after, I accepted a position as a lawyer at a firm in Melbourne, Australia. I kept swimming, biking, and running in my spare time, but my career eventually led me to Washington, DC, where I cofounded Peony Capital, an investment company focused on developing climate-friendly projects. It was here that I was introduced to the problem of "invisible water."

Before that, I didn't fully comprehend the magnitude of the global water crisis. For instance, many people don't know that the amount of water that goes into creating things like clothes, shoes, and electronics, is more water that you'll consume in your entire lifetime. That, paired with the realization that hundreds of millions of people are living without access to clean and safe drinking water, helped me decide that I needed to do something about it.

So, in March 2012, I launched a nonprofit dubbed Thirst. Its mission is to build a socially conscious generation of young people who could help end this international water problem.

It was here that my ultra running campaign for water began. To help bring attention to Thirst, I set a goal to run 40 marathons across seven continents in seven weeks. No one had ever attempted something like this before, but I was so driven by the cause that I was confident in my ability to do it. (Related: Katrina Gerhard Shares What It's Like to Train for Marathons In a Wheelchair)

There were two major aspects to training for this kind of thing. The first is obviously physical-you need to get out there and run. Anyone who's ever trained for a marathon or any endurance-based event knows the importance of being consistent with your training. But being 45 years old at the time, I knew I had to do a lot more than just run to make sure my body wasn't going to give out on me during that time. That's why along with running, I paid just as much attention to strength training, stretching, recovery, and of course, eating clean.

The second and arguably more important part is mental. When you're physically exhausted, you need to be strong enough in your head to push through. For that, you need to know why you're doing what you're doing. For me, I was running for the farmers committing suicide because their lack of access to water ruined their crops and livelihood; for the people I met in Utah who were worried about their Great Salt Lake turning into the Great Salt Puddle; for the doctors I spoke to who were concerned about what the global water crises could mean for health care around the world.

This is what kept me mentally focused and moving as I ran those 40 marathons in 2016. The event garnered so much attention that I knew I had to keep the momentum going. So in April 2017, I ran 40 marathons in 40 days along six rivers around the world in support of the United Nations' Global Goal #6: Clean water for all. Why 40 marathons? Because by 2030, global water demand will be 40 percent greater than the supply. (Related: How I Went from Running a Mile to Completing Ultramarathons In 5 Years)

Now, as I gear up for my greatest challenge yet, my motivations haven't faltered. Through Thirst and partnerships with Reebok, Colgate, and the United Nations Development Programme, I'll complete 100 marathons in 100 days, to raise awareness for water conservation. Why 100? Because we all need to be 100 percent committed if we ever hope to see a change on this issue. I'll be the first to attempt the feat, but anytime self-doubt starts to creep in, I remember when I was told that I may never run again, and I know how strong I am and that I can do it.

The challenge starts in November in New York, and I'll be running across Europe, China, Australia, India, the Middle East, Africa, and South America, before finishing the 100-day run back in the United States. I'm encouraging people around the world to get involved in the effort to conserve water by tweeting "count me in because #EveryDropCounts."

Beyond just water though, if through this process I can somehow encourage people to believe in the power of dreams, to believe in the power of themselves, then I've accomplished something worthwhile.

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Comments (2)

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January 13, 2019
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eleanorai1
April 9, 2018
is it safe to run a marathon when you are 4 months pregnant ?