Durban - There was no time to even shower as marathon runner Nontu Mgabhi went straight from finishing a marathon to jumping on a plane to compete in the next 42.2km, travelling in her running kit.
And Mgabhi, who has become the first woman from Africa to complete the World Marathon Challenge - 7 marathons in 7 days across 7 continents - said this week she “cried when she saw the bed in the hotel” after crossing the 7th finishing line in Miami.
Mgabhi, from Richards Bay, received a big welcome at King Shaka International Airport in Durban when she arrived on Wednesday after coming fourth in the challenge.
She had run seven standard 42.2km marathons, each on a different continent and all of which had to be completed in 168 hours (7 days).
Waiting at the airport were family and friends, as well as her coach and South African running legend Prodigal Khumalo, who described her achievement as “out of this world”.
The seven marathons took place in Cape Town (Africa), Novo Base (Antarctic), Dubai (Asia), Madrid (Europe), Fortaleza, Brazil (South America) and Miami (North America). There were 36 runners, 14 female and 22 male.
The World Marathon Challenge normally starts in the Antarctic but because of poor weather with snow and wind, the first was run in Cape Town on February 6. When they got to the Antarctic the next day, the weather was still bad and the race delayed by three hours.
“The race director said we have a situation, so we said we wanted to run.
“I had three layers of gloves on and at one point, it was so cold, I couldn’t remove my gloves.” But she finished the race in 6 hours 51. “We finished and couldn’t even shower because we needed to keep moving.”
The marathon in Perth started at 11pm (February 8) which she finished in 3h42; then it was back on a plane.
“The only place for sleeping was on the plane. We ate and changed on the plane and sometimes I would just wear my running clothes on the plane. We just had to keep moving. It was a test of character,” she said.
From there it was onto Dubai
(February 9) where she ran another sub four marathon with a time of 3h48 in humid conditions, before taking a plane to Madrid, Spain. On February 10 she ran the race in 3h46.
“It was another night run starting at 6pm. It was cold, the only race where I had to wear a jacket and we ran on the Ferrari race track,” she said.
Another long flight across the ocean to Fortaleza in Brazil took her to her second-toughest race. “The run started at midday and it was extremely hot at 36ºC. I thought I would do a sub-four, but I had to drop the pace otherwise I felt I might have collapsed. I thought I was used to the heat coming from Africa, but I was fooling myself.” She completed the race in 4h35.
From there, the final hurdle was Miami (February 12), which she completed in 4h01. She took fourth place overall. “I believed I could do it, but I wasn’t sure. When I got to the hotel and saw the bed, I cried and then I went and turned on the shower.
“The race has never started in Africa, but because of the Antarctic conditions we started in Africa, which was so special. It was amazing to see my family and friends and my coach. I give credit to his coaching,” she said.
Khumalo, who trains runners through his Orcas Academy in Durban, said Mgabhi came to him for coaching only three months before the World Marathon Challenge.
“I had never coached someone for such a challenge and didn’t really know where to start, so I worked with her to find her weak points. We worked on her mileage, focusing on her strength and stamina,” said Khumalo.
“We worked on physical and mental strength. A challenge like that you only do once and you don’t know what to expect. She did well under hectic conditions, she was going faster and faster, under four hours for three of the marathons.
“I was worried she might be pushing too hard and struggle at the end, but she knew what she was doing and kept it under control.”
Mgabhi competed in the challenge to raise funds for Khiphinkumzi Primary School in Mtubatuba.
To donate, go to www.backabuddy.co.za/khiphinkunzi-primary