Taking on the gruelling World Marathon Challenge

Nontuthuko Mgabhi, General Manager HR at Richards Bay Coal Terminal in South Africa, aims to become the first African female to run 7 marathons on 7 continents in 7 consecutive days in 2020. I was fascinated to learn from her what it takes to prepare for such a gruelling challenge.

Nontuthuko Mgabhi pictured at the Richards Bay Coal Terminal, 2 May 2019. Picture: Rogan Ward

Tell us about the World Marathon Challenge: 7 marathons on 7 continents in 7 days?

The world marathon challenge entails running 7 marathons on 7 continents (Antarctica, Africa, Australia, Asia, Europe, South America and North America). This challenge will be done from 6 – 12 February 2020.

Why such a tough and gruelling challenge?

I was only able to attend university with the help of people and scholarships. I therefore know that sometimes all you need is a helping hand – you already have a dream and potential, you are just short of aid or an opportunity. I am therefore on a mission to pay it forward by running the world’s toughest footraces to help children overcome barriers to education. To help children, mostly in rural villages; education = opportunities. I believe every child deserves a fair chance to succeed.

I have therefore decided to combine my two passions; Education and Running. Taking on a daring and gruelling challenge to inspire the children of Africa, South Africa, in this case the 657 needy children of Khiphinkunzi Primary School in a rural village of Mtubatuba, in KwaZulu Natal to dream bigger. The pain of running an endurance race like the world marathon challenge symbolizes the pain impoverished children are subjected to….finishing this race and raising the funds to build them a decent school that enables learning and development will bring about the change and hope that is needed.

What is your fundraising goal?

The goal is to raise R3.5 Million ($233 000). All the proceeds will go towards renovating the school, addressing the current health and overcrowding issue faced by this primary school (most classes has over 110 learners) and to fully equip the school for learning and development. Khiphinkunzi Primary School was chosen based on the need. The conditions the children (aged 5 – 15) are subjected to are frightening.

Tell me about how you discovered your passion for endurance running. How did you get started?

I felt I needed a hobby that will keep me active and engaged. I started with 5km runs and 10km walks. Within 4 months I saw myself signing up for a half marathon. Shortly after the half marathon I signed up for a marathon. Believe it or not, within 14 months of moving from inactivity to some activity, I was lining up for the start of the 2014 Comrades Marathon (90km) in June. Since then the rest is history. I have now even ran a 100 miler (161km) and summited Mt Kilimanjaro.  I want to believe that running long is my strength – it comes more natural to me.

What does it take to prepare for an event as intense as the World Marathon Challenge?

It takes all of you really. Running is my life. It’s my drug of choice. I run 100 – 130km per week. I also purposefully go for world’s toughest footraces to inspire myself and others. Running 7 marathons on 7 continents in 7 consecutive days sounds impossible. Therefore this race in itself and finishing this challenge will send a strong message that; nothing is Impossible. It’s Possible! There is Hope. I believe all children, especially faced with poverty needs to see and hear this message.

How does it feel to know that you will be the first ever African female to participate on the event?

In fact when I chose this challenge, I was not aware that no African female has ever done this. I am humbled, honoured, and grateful. I believe the cause behind this race as well as being the first African female to do this challenge will add up to the objective; which is to close the gap. On the one hand, we will be closing the gap between the rich and poor by addressing educational challenges faced by impoverished children. On the other hand, we close the gender gap and make history by having the first ever African female to complete this race.

The money raised from the World Marathon Challenge will go towards improving the infrastructure at Khiphinkunzi Primary School in Mtubatuba. Why did you choose to focus on children’s education and select this school specifically?

I believe it is impossible for a country to develop if its children are not educated and developed. The future is in them (children). I believe education creates unlimited opportunities. Education = Opportunity. I was only able to attend University, with the help of scholarships because of good grades from high school. I’m on a mission to pay it forward by running the world’s toughest footraces to help children overcome barriers to education.

I chose Khiphinkunzi Primary School because I have not come across a school that is in so much need. The school is in desperate need of basic resources. The current school infrastructure undermines effective teaching, learning and development. All windowpanes are shattered. Old pieces of chalkboard cover the back windows. The pot-holed floors have not seen polish in years because there is almost no floor to polish but many pot-holes in classrooms. The implications of learning under such conditions are frightening. Classrooms are overcrowded, with each class having over 100 learners.

Running at the highest level must demand enormous amounts of time and commitment. How do you balance your hobby with a full-time job?

I do not see it as separate, I see myself as a business leader who is passionate about education and running. As a person, you have to be passionate or crazy about something in order to experience life in all its fullness. I am one person – a whole person, an executive that is responsive to societal issues. These roles don’t clash when you have a CEO who is as responsible and as passionate about societal issues as you are (if not more). My boss, Mr Alan Waller who is the Chief Executive Officer of the Richards Bay Coal Terminal is extremely supportive – perhaps this helps me manage to balance my passions with my career, because my career is also my passion. I am a General Manager of Human Resources, responsible for both Human Resources and Corporate Affairs. As you may see from this, I am someone whom her life revolves around developing people and communities.

Endurance running can push your body to its extremes. What steps do you take to ensure that you remain as healthy as possible?

I make sure every week I respect my rest day. I dedicate 1 day per week to rest – a rest day is a day where I do not do high impact exercise (i.e. running), if I am restless and feel I need to move, I would then go for a swim or walk.

What motivates you to keep going in those moments when you feel like your body has reached its limits?

Messages of hope and faith revive my soul when I feel the going is getting tough. My favourite message is from the book of Isaiah 40:31, which goes as follows; “but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They shall soar on with wings of eagles; they will run and not be weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

I also try my best to FOCUS. If you focus on the here and now and not allow yourself to be overwhelmed you turn to do better. I also remember the words of Thabo Mbeki which goes; “Those who complete the course will do so only because they do not, as fatigue sets in, convince themselves that the road ahead is still too long, the inclines too steep, the loneliness impossible to bear and the prize itself of doubtful value”.

I also try to focus on the mile I am on. I tell myself; “Nontu, Run the mile you are on.”

My parents also follow my passion closely – so I don’t like coming back to them to tell them I did not finish. So, yes, they keep me going – they motivate me to push my limits.

How can people contact you?

I am available on email; or mobile; +27 82 839 6442 and invite people to check the website

If people wish to support the fundraising for the school they can do so via this website 

Nontuthuko Mgabhi pictured at the Richards Bay Coal Terminal, 2 May 2019. Picture: Rogan Ward


Nontuthuko Mgabhi spoke to Sue Stockdale, who inspires leaders and coaches worldwide to achieve more than they imagined was possible. 



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