Runner Mina Guli is used to hearing the word "can't."
After injuring her back at age 22, she was told by doctors that she'd never run again. Soon after, Guli began preparing for an Ironman.
In 2016, Guli ran 40 marathons in seven weeks. A year later, she ran the same distance in just 40 days.
Each of these tasks helped her prepare for her biggest challenge to date: attempting to run 100 marathons in 100 days.
As the CEO of Thirst, a global non-profit initiative that encourages young people to use water more sustainably, Guli wanted an original, attention-grabbing way to raise awareness about the global water crisis. So from November 2018 to February 2019, Guli planned to visit water-starved communities across six continents, while clocking 26 miles a day.
Her trip began with the New York City Marathon and took her through the UK, France, Italy, Uzbekistan, India, China, Hong Kong, Dubai, Jordan, Palestine, Israel, Australia, and South Africa.
Less than two-thirds of the way into the campaign, Guli experienced an awful pain while completing a marathon in South Africa. Her team of medical experts had to carry her to the car.
The next day, she sat in a wheelchair while a doctor told her that her running days were over. Her femur was fractured so badly that the slightest bit of pressure could break it.
So instead of continuing to run herself, Guli started touring the places where she'd intended to run, and accepting "donations" of miles from members of her team. She crossed her intended final finish line on crutches in New York City's Central Park on February 11.
As a self-professed "bad athlete," Guli knew she had to be particularly strong to attempt 100 marathons in as many days.
Leading up to the challenge, she relied on a regimen of daily runs, swimming, and cross-training. She also set a goal of putting on extra weight.
Even with a team logging her food intake, Guli said she struggled to consume 3,000 calories a day. For the most part, she tried to eat high-protein, high-calorie meals and avoid low-calorie items like salad.
"I'm not going to eat a leaf of lettuce because that's effort to chew," she said.
Guli estimated that she burned around 4,500 to 5,000 daily calories, which placed her in a constant deficit.
"You can't physically eat enough," she said. "Your body and your stomach and your mind just ends up going, 'I can't digest this much food.'"
As the challenge progressed, her shape began to change quickly. Over the course of the 100 days, Guli said, she had to wear different sizes of clothing to accommodate her shrinking frame.
Though they didn't add many calories, she said found herself addicted to Bonk Breaker's Strawberry Energy Chews, which gave her a jolt of caffeine.
"I have to be rationed," she laughed, recalling her secret pile of empty packets.
To help her attempt the challenging physical feat, Guli surrounded herself with a support team that included podiatrists and physiotherapists.
She also meditated, though she said she's not very good at the practice.
"I get so excited about everything around me," she said.
In her running and training, Guli said she didn't rely on music. She prefers to listen to the sound of nature, she said, and feel connected to her surroundings.
There has been one exception to that, though - during Guli's 40-marathon challenge in 2016, she traveled to Antarctica, where she completed a solo run through snow.
"You're surrounded by white," she said. "The sky is white, the ground is white. You feel like you're running along in an eiderdown quilt."
Completing that marathon, she said, required the help of a few songs.
Looking back on her 100-marathon goal, Guli said she didn't entirely think the challenge through.
Not only was she waking up at 4:30 a.m. to run 26-plus miles, but she was also spending the rest of her days traveling, touring, and meeting local residents.
"I had to get the run done as efficiently as I could because the rest of the day is about investigating and understanding the water crisis," she said.
By around 7 or 8 p.m., she would return to the camp where she was staying to cook dinner, set up tents, and do her evening stretches.
Guli said the journey was made particularly difficult by the fact that it spanned "multiple countries on multiple continents in multiple extreme conditions."
"If I'd just chosen to run 100 marathons in 100 days, life would have been a lot easier," she said.
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