Australian Mina Guli took on some of the harshest environments in the world in her incredible, world-first 7 Deserts Run marathon challenge. She completed the journey on March 22 — World Water Day 2016 — having run seven marathons on seven different continents over seven weeks — along with an additional 33 marathon-length runs peppered throughout the journey.
The route covered Spain’s Tabernas Desert, the Arabian Desert in Jordan, the Antarctic Desert, Australia’s Simpson Desert, the Richtersveld in South Africa, Chile’s Atacama and the Mojave Desert in the USA. Guli tells us more about the feat below.
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RedBull.com: Why did you choose this challenge?
Mina Guli: I wanted to run in some of the harshest environments on the planet, so I challenged myself to do seven deserts on seven continents. But because this is all about raising awareness of the water crisis, I did 40 marathons to symbolize the fact that by 2030 there will be a 40 percent difference between demand for water and supply.
You did Marathon des Sables (known as the toughest footrace on Earth) in the past — how did this compare?
From a physical perspective, it’s very different. For a start, this is seven weeks, not one! And each day didn’t end with me in a tent relaxing, it ended with me telling stories, making notes and figuring out how to tell messages about the water crisis. Also, this involves many different continents and time zones, so it is on another level.
What were the biggest challenges you faced?
Spain was my first destination and that was a bit of a reality check, but Antarctica was the biggest shock to my system. It was the first time I ran without my team and it was also different to anywhere I’d run –—so white and hard to distinguish between sky and ground.
In Australia it was hard to adapt to the extreme heat having just come from Antarctica, while the travel distance and time differences between there and South Africa also made that really challenging.
What has been the variation in temperature throughout the project?
We have gone from -4ºF in Antarctica to 117ºF in Australia.
What kind of terrain have you come across?
Most people think of deserts as rolling sand dunes, but actually they are extremely varied. Antarctica was loose snow, some places so deep up to my knees that I fell over. The other deserts ranged from rocky trails to boulders, some bigger than me, and of course lots and lots of those sand dunes.
How does it feel to run on sand?
Just imagine strapping a couple of kilos of weight to your ankles and running through ankle-deep mud. That's pretty much what it feels like. You feel like you’re going nowhere, your feet move in four directions and you end up with massive tension on your upper legs as you try to stabilize.
How did you train for that?
I ran. A lot. I also did a huge amount of strength work. My physio Justin told me only a strong body would get me through and injury was my worst enemy, so my coach Nathan put together a training program that was not just about running but also about making my body extremely strong and resilient.
What are the three biggest dangers you came across?
Dehydration and over-hydration — getting my fluids right — and heat exhaustion have been tough. And there was a mountain of boulders in South Africa where I was terrified I would fall and get injured.
Watch Mina’s half-way video below:
What was your most emotional moment?
Running Antarctica mostly on my own, without my running mates and my support team, was an enormous emotional challenge. But my first day in Chile was also really, really tough. It was extremely hot and I was tired and run down after a long flight. I was at the end of my tether then.
So was there a day you thought you wouldn’t make it?
Many days. Like most people, I’m often filled with self-doubt, but unless you try you never know if you can do it.
What were you eating?
I thought I would do lots of supplements, but as it’s a long event I’ve actually been eating real food, fruits and vegetables. I’m a vegetarian, so I’ve been eating lots of highly nutritious food.
And how are your feet?
OK. I have a fabulous podiatrist, Brock, who has looked after them! In my last big run before this, my feet were caked in blisters, toenails coming off, but this time I have had none of that.
What are your lasting memories?
A big part of this was telling stories about water and a lot of my memories are about people. We met aboriginals in Australia who told me "without water we have nothing" and in South Africa we saw people struggling to cope because the river they took water from had dropped nearly 20 feet due to crop irrigation.
What do you hope to achieve from this project?
I want to really spread the word about the true urgency of the water crisis. I knew about water conservation growing up in Australia because we were told to turn off the tap when we brushed our teeth, take shorter showers and so on, but until 2012 I had not understood the urgency. Climate change is important, but water is absolutely urgent. Without it we have nothing — and we’re fast running out.
The other issue is the concept of invisible water. Some 95 percent of water we use every day is not in taps or showers, it's used to create the things we use and consume. That's a pretty staggering statistic.
Find out more about Mina and water scarcity here.