Q&A: Mina Guli

Photo: Thirst

It's easy to take water for granted as a runner - from freely handed out water bottles at races to post-run showers, it's an integral part of the sport. However, many countries aren't so lucky, with water scarcity being ranked the number one risk facing society by the World Economic Forum. Mina Guli, founder of the water sustainability charity Thirst, is taking on the equivalent of 40 marathons across seven deserts on seven continents in seven weeks to raise awareness of the issue.

What made you choose this particular challenge to raise awareness of water scarcity?

I wanted to do something bold that would capture people's attentions and make them ask why I would do something like this. I wanted that thing that I chose to be connected to water, and to enable me to take people on an emotional journey to illustrate the true scale and enormity of the problem we are facing.

The "40 Marathons, 7 Deserts, 7 Continents, 7 Week" challenge was created - chosen to highlight countries, places and people suffering extreme water scarcity.

You’re taking on the equivalent of one marathon a day – what’s your running experience like? How much bigger is this challenge than your previous events?

I didn't start running until I was 22 when I hurt my back in an accident and was told I'd never be able to run again. Rather than act as a deterrent or an excuse, this "threat" spurred me on to start swimming, then biking, and eventually running. I'm not a good runner - I tell the kids I speak to in schools actually I run like a vegetable. But you know what? Even a carrot like me can run when we know what we are running for!

Until now, the biggest mileage week for me has been 250km which I have done in Madagascar through one of the Racing the Planet multi day stage races and the Marathon Des Sables. This challenge is easier in that I don't have to carry my own pack, and I have a support team to help crew [Mina has two friends and her podiatrist/physio joining her]. But it's also much more challenging in it's extreme changes in temperature and conditions, need to adapt after long haul flights, and the sheer difficulty of the ongoing physically demanding distances.

It's something nobody has ever done before, and when you confront a challenge like that it's always going to be difficult... and a bit scary!

How have you been training for the challenge?

Not surprisingly I have done a lot of running! But one of the things I was quite surprised about was the amount of strength training that we have incorporated into my training program. This is not only to help me become a better runner, but also to help me adapt to significant increases in training volume without getting injured.

There’s going to be a vast difference in temperatures across the different deserts. How will you adapt to these in terms of performance, schedule and equipment?

I've been quite concerned about how much kit we have - too much and we get stuck with significant excess baggage costs, not enough and we face cold or heat without the necessary equipment. It's a tough thing to manage!

The strategy I have used in training and will deploy during the challenge is to use layers, and smart use of resources. I have a rule - everything I take has to have at least two uses! 

How will you be fuelling your runs?

My background is as a triathlete, so I thought nutrition was mostly about consumption of carbohydrate. However since I started doing these ultra distance events, I have learned that to get maximum performance from your body in these long long events, you also need protein. So now I use a 4:1 carbohydrate/protein mix which I love and which i have found makes a high difference in how I perform.

What scares you most about this challenge? How do you think you’ll overcome that?

I was really worried about two aspects of this - the first is clearly the physical components of this challenge - the blisters and physical hardship and the mental one for dealing with the loneliness and isolation for extended periods, and then having to adapt afterwards to the media attention. 

These will be challenging but the second thing I'm worried about is making sure we (I) tell our stories about water in the best way we can so that we can achieve our goal - getting people to take the pledge and help people take action to save water today. 

What’s your ideal outcome for the challenge?

To run across seven deserts on seven continents in seven weeks, raising awareness about the water crisis, and inspiring people to take a pledge to reduce their water footprint. In sum, I want to get one million pledges and commitments to save one billion litres of water.


Mina Guli was speaking ahead of running 40 marathons, across seven deserts, on seven continents, in just seven weeks to raise awareness of water scarcity. For more information on her challenge, visit the Thirst website and keep up to date via social media by following Thirst on Twitter using #run4water.