FEEL GOOD | KZN ultra athlete tackles world's toughest footrace for charity

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Nontu Mgabhi underwent gruelling training for her run through the Sahara Desert.
Nontu Mgabhi underwent gruelling training for her run through the Sahara Desert.
PHOTO: Nontu Mgabhi
  • Ultramarathon runner Nontu Mgabhi is undertaking the toughest footrace on the planet.
  • She will be running for charity through the Sahara Desert.
  • Mgabhi has been raising funds for the Khiphinkunzi Primary School in Dukuduku Reserve in Mtubatuba, where she already helped build several classrooms.


South African ultra-marathon runner Nontu Mgabhi, who previously ran seven marathons across seven continents in seven days, is now taking on the gruelling Marathon des Sables, one of the toughest foot races on the plant.

Mgabhi, who in 2020 ran and raised R1.7 million, and through sponsors built five classrooms equipped with desks, chairs, blackboards, and uniforms for pupils at the Khiphinkunzi Primary School in Dukuduku Reserve in Mtubatuba that was handed to the pupils in February.

Now, she wants to help raise funds to build new toilet facilities and an administration block for the school.

She said thus far they raised R720 000 and are short of R380 000 to achieve the target of R1.1 million.

She said:

I have faith as I run in the desert or as I finish the balance will be raised. People are kind and generous, they want to see a better South Africa for all, especially those who are fortunate, I have learned they are blessed because they give. They want to be part of changing lives for a lifetime.

Mgabhi, a registered psychologist and general manager of human resources at Richards Bay Coal Terminal, will now take on the gruelling 250km Marathon des Sables.

The multi-stage run takes place in one of the world’s most inhospitable environments, the Sahara Desert. Touted as the toughest footrace on earth, it entails running across sand dunes, rocky jebels and white-hot salt plains over six days. The fourth day covers over 80kms.

What motivates you?

Mgabhi, who hails from rural Nseleni, said she was subjected to poor education infrastructure and resources, like millions of South African children.

"You show up at school because you have to. There's no building that says 'wow', or any motivation to go there other than getting a free meal at school. To see what education has done for me, the opportunities I've got, to be able to afford to study at tertiary level, it made me realise that, if we invest in education, we can slowly change the tide."

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She said that the dropout rate in rural villages was high.

"A child does not get inspired and excited by going to school, because sometimes they will be sitting on the floor, shattered window panes, holes in the floors."

Nontu Mgabhi on one of her training runs
Nontu Mgabhi on one of her training runs ahead of her 250km charity run.

Mgabhi said there were many amazing academic talents in rural areas that went unharnessed.

"My message is that hard work beats talent if talent does not work. I realised that when I went to university – all of my friends went to private schools and only I came from a public school. There is a natural inclination to look down on yourself.

"But I quickly learnt that they are not that smart. They just had opportunities that I didn't. I realised that if I work harder, I can close the gap or even edge in front of them. First year can be very challenging, testing your identity.

"Many people judge you when you come from a rural area and cannot express yourself, but spending sleepless nights in the library, you start getting distinctions, and then they start asking who you are. Sometimes you have to just have the confidence to show up as you are."

How did you train for this marathon?

Mgabhi said her training for the ultramarathon entailed running on beach sand.

"I think three months leading up to the race, I would run two to three times a week on the beach sand. Prior to that, the focus was doing long distance, because running 250km in six stages with one of the stages 80kms or so, I had to practice by doing some 75km runs so all of that, you want it to be done well before the race so you are not fatigued."

She said the entire preparation took about six to eight months. Her biggest challenge during the race would be to "negotiate with my limits and fight the temptation to give up".

Nontu Mgabhi training for ultra run
Nontu Mgabhi trained for six to eight months before undertaking a 250km ultra run.

"You have to dig deep and persevere and stay true to what you signed up for. You also have to remember you are not alone and the only one feeling what you feeling. For me, that also translates to real life.

"Sometimes it is easy to give up thinking only you are going through hell. Everyone else is going through things, even people who look the happiest, they are going through things. It is about how your carry your load."

She said: 

Running these races has taught me that you are never alone in the suffering. The moment you think you are the only one going through something, you are going to give up.

If you would like to donate to Khiphinkunzi Primary School contact Mgabhi on: nontu.mgabhi@icloud.com


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