The woman who's running to save the world
Celebrating Global Running Day with Mina Guli
I’m on vacation with my family this week, so my publishing schedule is light. But I didn’t want to miss catching up with you because today, June 1, is Global Running Day — a day meant to inspire us all to get our bodies moving, no matter how fast or slow, and no matter how far or short you run.
I hope you have an amazing run today, wherever you are in the world. Summer, I’ve found, is the perfect time to have fun with your running — to run shorter distances, run in cool places you haven’t before, or run fun races (like Atlanta’s Peachtree Road Race, where I live).
To celebrate the day, I thought I’d reshare a post I wrote four years ago about Mina Guli, a onetime corporate lawyer from Australia who gave it all up to spend her time running marathons in the driest places around the world.
Back then, she ran 100 marathons in 100 days to bring attention to the global water crisis and the climate crisis. Now, she’s doing it again, this time running 200 marathons in 200 countries — so far this year, she’s already run 27 across Australia, and she’ll run the remaining 173 in Central Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Europe, India, Latin America, South East Asia, Mexico and the U.S.
I hope you enjoy reading about her as much as I did writing about her. She inspires me because she’s an ordinary person doing something extraordinary, and she gives me hope — something we all can use a lot more of.
Have an awesome, awesome day — and let me know how your run goes out there!
When I grow up, I want to be Mina Guli.
The 52-year-old from Australia, pictured above high-fiving a crowd after one of her many marathons around the world, is in the middle of an awe-inspiring running odyssey.
Starting from New York, she plans to spend the next 100 days running 100 marathons all around the world — heading first to Europe, then traveling to Uzbekistan, India and China, followed by runs in Africa, Australia, the Middle East and South America, before bringing it back to finish in NYC in mid-February of next year.
Why is she doing it?
After a career spent back and forth between London, Beijing and Washington, D.C., as a corporate lawyer and investor, Guli founded a nonprofit called Thirst in 2012, devoted to raising awareness about water conservation.
As you might expect, catching anyone’s attention for a cause in the dizzying world we live in is difficult, to say the least. What better way to win media coverage than putting yourself through a grueling physical test?
There’s just one problem. Guli doesn’t see herself as a runner at all. Or a good one, anyway.
‘I’m not an athlete’
“I’m a bad runner,” she told CNBC in an interview a few years ago. She’s been injured a lot over the past several years, which means she’s had to spend lots of time in the gym getting stronger in preparation for this effort, which will see her run 2,620 miles over the next 3 months.
“I’m not an athlete, I came to running very late in life,” she explained in an interview a few years ago, after running 40 marathons across the world’s deserts. “The fact that I’m here is testament to what happens when you believe in something much bigger than yourself.”
When she was in college, she suffered a serious back injury when she was pushed into a swimming pool, a prank that went horribly wrong. Her doctors, she said, told her she’d never run again.
Guli said she could have “shrugged my shoulders and used this diagnosis as my excuse to sit on the sofa and eat pizza!” (Not that it would have been all bad... :)
Instead, after she recovered, she slowly began inching her way back to exercise. Starting first with swimming just a couple of laps, eventually she worked her way up to bicycling and then to running.
Fast-forward a couple of decades, and after a high-powered career at places like the World Bank and an investment firm she co-founded, work on climate-related projects got her thinking.
She was in South Africa for business when she found herself standing along the banks of the Orange River. A park ranger she talked with told her that years ago, the water in the river was as much as 6 meters (nearly 20 feet) higher than it is today.
“And all these people rely on the river for drinking water, for washing water, for their livelihoods,” she said the park ranger told her. “Without this water, these people have no economy, no society, no life.”
That incident sparked the idea that eventually became Thirst, and her globe-trotting running journeys to spread the word about it.
We all have to start somewhere
Six years ago, she ran 40 marathons in 40 days along six of the world’s major rivers to highlight water issues in those places; and last year, she completed what she calls the “Seven Deserts Run,” running 40 marathons across seven deserts on seven continents in seven weeks.
That’s what I call commitment.
I know what you might be saying to yourself — Guli is extraordinary in so many ways, she has money and resources I don’t have, or time that I don’t have. And all of that is true — she most certainly does possess both material resources and the time and flexibility to pursue endeavors that most of us can only dream about.
But I think that’s the point, too. Remember where she started: as a little girl growing up in Australia who hated sports, hated running, and always dreaded getting picked last for sports teams, because none of the other kids wanted her on their team. (Reaching back into my own memory, I remember plenty of moments like that too!)
And yet, now she’s running marathons all over the world, just because she believes deep down in her soul that we all need to hear what she has to say.
Next year, I’ll be the same age as Guli, so it’s safe to say I’m never going to equal her career accomplishments. (To put it mildly!)
But she started with a broken back — and now she’s running marathons. If she can do that, then I can do something too. And so can all of us, right?