What do you do when you have completed five Comrades Marathons, summited Kilimanjaro and chalked up a 100 Mile trail run as well as a walk of a similar distance (160km) in addition to having about 50 marathons, plus numerous trail runs, under your belt?
There are other challenges aplenty out there, the most obvious perhaps being climbing Mount Everest or taking on the Abbott World Marathon Majors by running the six renowned marathons in Berlin, Boston, Chicago, London, New York, and Tokyo. Nontuthuko Mgabhi considered all these and more. But in the end the 32-year-old adrenaline junkie from Richards Bay, KwaZulu-Natal, acknowledged that “the universe has conspired to be very kind to me” and decided to “go beyond”.
“I felt it was time to do something that will not only challenge me personally but that will be of benefit to others. I decided to go beyond for a child,” says Nontu, as she is commonly known.
To “go beyond for a child” means taking on a challenge that has never been done by an African woman, raising funds in the process to help underprivileged children in her province through education.
“I’m going to run the 2020 World Marathon Challenge in a quest to raise R3.5 million for Khiphinkunzi Primary School in Mtubatuba,” says the Richards Bay Coal Terminal general manager of human resources.
The only African to have completed the World Marathon Challenge before is Johannesburg businessman Ross Taggart, who did it in 2018. The Challenge sees contestants running seven marathons on seven continents in seven days. It’s probably the ultimate road runner’s challenge.
The first of the seven races takes place in Antarctica on 6 February 2020. Participants then fly to Cape Town to run the next day before heading to Perth, Australia. Dubai in Asia follows, with Madrid in Europe thereafter. The Americas complete the Challenge. First up is Santiago, Chile, and then Miami in the United States to bring the curtain down on the adventure.
This should instil fear in even the most experienced runners. But Mgabhi says this is right up her alley. “I first read about the Challenge in February this year and I said I want to do this. It just seemed like this challenge was me personified.”
Mgabhi has done a lot of running and climbing in her 32 years, suggesting that she is cut out for this particular challenge. She boasts a personal best (PB) marathon time of 3:26:49, which she ran in March at the Barcelona Marathon. She has a Bill Rowan medal, which is given to runners who complete the Comrades Marathon in under nine hours, but no faster than seven-and-a-half hours.
“I have an 8:53 [8:53:42] PB for Comrades, which I achieved last year,” she beams.
Running enthusiasts will tell you just how tough trail running can be and for Mgabhi to have completed a 100 Miler speaks to her incredible endurance.
“I have realised that I am much stronger in the longer distances. I found myself more comfortable and even felt better after completing the 100 Miler than I did the Comrades. So, I am sure I will be able to cope with having to do those marathons over and over.”
‘Is this it?’
Mgabhi has also been to Uhuru, Africa’s highest peak on Mount Kilimanjaro, and her review of the experience shows her to be a woman made for challenges of a different kind.
“I took on the challenge of climbing Kilimanjaro and to be honest I was amazed at how easy I found it. No disrespect to Mount Kili, but at the end I was like, ‘Is this it?’ Four days after summiting I ran the Kilimanjaro Marathon and I did what was my PB then [3:57:36]. I suppose road running is my passion.”
With the decision to pursue that passion by running the World Marathon Challenge made, the question was how to raise the more than R500 000 needed to participate?
“The obvious hindrance to my participation was how do I afford to do this. I printed the flyer and showed it to my boss, who agreed that it was something I could do and asked what was stopping me. He spoke to the chairman of the board and the shareholders, who all agreed to help me.”
That hindrance out of the way, Mgabhi made just about everyone aware of her next adventure and why she was doing it. She met with some resistance back home.
“No one said I should not do it because they know that I am capable of completing the Challenge,” she says. “After all, they know I’ve summited Kilimanjaro and run lots of marathons, as well as the Comrades five times. What they did not like, though, was the fact that I was doing this to raise funds for a different school. ‘Charity begins at home’ most of them said to me.”
And perhaps rightly so, for why go to Mtubatuba when she could have helped a school in her hometown of Mseleni?
“Of course, I understood their misgivings, but this school just spoke to me. When I was running the Karkloof 100 Miler, I was approached by some people who asked to track my journey under the banner One Run, One Life and they told me about this school that is in dire need of help. The school is in a rural area, where most of the homes are child-headed families, and I knew I had to help. It reminded me of the kind of school I went to as a child.”
A school in need
Khiphinkunzi was founded in 1997 and has 657 learners between the ages of five and 15. It is in desperate need of basic infrastructure as the current situation undermines effective teaching and learning. With broken windowpanes, potholed floors, overcrowding in classes of more than 109 learners to one teacher, and a single administration office for use by the principal, departmental heads and administration clerk, the school is in desperate need of help.
“I am fortunate in many ways and I sometimes get extremely amazed at how the universe conspired in my favour,” says Mgabhi. She managed to go to university and graduate, despite not having had the greatest of school educations and coming from a big family of seven children with uneducated parents.
“We did not have it all, but our parents did their best for us and they helped us to want to do well. I always want to be the greatest, best version of myself and I am eager to help anyone else do the same. The other day, we went to a school and gave the children books, and to see their joy in getting those was just amazing.”
What excites her most, running and the prospect of being a trendsetter for African women by completing the World Marathon Challenge or the dream of seeing Khiphinkunzi being a proper school where children will be groomed in a conducive environment for the future?
“Everyone who knows me will tell you that I am crazy about two things,” she says. “Running and children’s education.”
No wonder she’ll be “going beyond for a child” next year.
For more on Mgabhi’s story and how you can pledge to help her raise R3.5 million for Khiphinkunzi Primary School, go to gobeyondforachild.com.