Mina Guli is running 100 marathons in 100 days to bring awareness to water scarcity around the world

By Julie Mazziotta
March 23, 2018 04:27 PM

In 2016, Mina Guli decided to tackle an incredible challenge: she would run seven marathons, on seven continents, in seven deserts, in seven weeks, to raise awareness of the world’s water crisis. The next year she upped the ante, and decided to run 40 marathons in 40 days. But as countries continue to struggle with water scarcity, Guli knew she needed to keep running, which is why she’s now set to run a whopping 100 marathons in 100 days.

“I do crazy and ridiculous things to bring attention to the water crisis,” Guli, 47, tells PEOPLE. “I’m going to run until we don’t have a water crisis.”

That she’s running at all, let alone thousands of miles in just a few months, is still a surprise to Guli and her doctors. As a college student, she was pushed into a swimming pool and badly hurt her back, to the point where doctors said she would never run again. That shouldn’t have been a problem to Guli, who hated running and all sports, but hearing those words made her determined to prove the doctors wrong.

“I decided that I wasn’t going to let anybody else put limits on what I could or couldn’t do. And that the only person to set limits on me was me,” she says. “My life changed at that moment when I decided that my life wasn’t going to be what it was like before.”

Guli started her recovery with swimming, and eventually built up to running. But she still wasn’t a fan of the sport, and didn’t have any plans to take her running to the marathon level until her friend called her one day while she was at Thirst, the charity she founded to bring awareness of water scarcity to the next generation. He said he was running the Marathon des Sables in the Sahara Desert, considered one of the toughest in the world. And he wanted Guli to join him.

“I just put the phone down and laughed,” she says. “But the people in my office said that I should go and do it because I can show what water scarcity really looks like. So I picked up the phone and said yes.”

That ended up being the start of her seven marathons on seven continents challenge, and it was as she attempted to cross the Orange River in South Africa (marathon number five of the expedition) that she solidified her reason for running.

“I thought I was going to do this big crazy thing where I ran across seven deserts and then I got back to my normal life and never ran again. And I was talking to these guys who said I couldn’t take a boat across the river because it was too low. They said it had been going down more than six meters in the last six years, because they’re draining this river to grow grapes, which are a luxury product. I was horrified,” Guli says. “How can we live in a world where we’re unaware of water consumption in our daily life? I said that I can’t believe that we, as a planet, don’t know this, and I’m going to work on this for the rest of my life.”

That led to her 40 in 40 challenge, and now her 100 in 100 #EveryDropCounts campaign, which is sponsored by Colgate and kicks off in November. As Guli traverses the globe by foot (and the occasional plane), she’s putting the spotlight on areas with water shortages like Perth, in her home country of Australia, the Mekong River in Southeast Asia and areas in the United States, like the Northern Great Plains in California and Nevada.

“We bring awareness by telling grassroots stories, by showing visually what the water crisis looks like,” Guli says. “We’re also doing a short film series with Colgate to show what the impact of the water crisis looks like on the ground. Because in my experience, when you show people what the water crisis actually looks like, they make a change. It’s about using our feet to unite people around the world to use water differently, to think about water differently and to work together to save water.”

But Guli emphasizes that despite her incredible mileage, none of her runs come easy, and she’s nervous every time she starts a big challenge.

“I’m not a natural athlete. I am slow,” she says.

But she has to push any fears aside when she starts her 100 in 100 challenge, just as she did with the 40 in 40, for the good of the environment.

“I was scared when I started, but I’m less scared of the running than I am of not completing my promise, which is to make sure there’s enough water for everyone forever,” Guli says. “It’s all about perseverance.”