Miles with Friends

In the middle of the cappuccino colored sands of the Atacama Desert, with miles of dusty rock strewn ground stretching to the horizon, I sat beside the trail. I was exhausted. Physically, mentally and emotionally. I had given everything I had to my effort to run across 7 Deserts on 7 Continents in just 7 Weeks. It was a ridiculously ambitious goal for someone who was a self-confessed non-runner, and the reality of the whole thing was setting in with a vengeance.

Photo: Kelvin Trautman

Photo: Kelvin Trautman

My legs felt like they were running through quicksand, and my body was as heavy as a jumbo jet. Inside I felt empty – devoid of everything except just the desire to stop and sleep. I couldn’t understand how I had got myself into this, or why I was feeling as bad as I was. This was my 6th desert and I still had this plus one more entire country to go. I had nothing left to give.

As the hot winds blew sand around me, Kelvin (my photographer) came up beside me. We’d had a number of conversations during the long tough morning. We’d talked about life, about hopes and dreams, and about how terribly hot it was (it felt like being in an oven with the fan on). Kelvin had been doing his best to distract me from the pain. In characteristically Kelvin style, this included banter, teasing and his attempts at seriousness.

He bent over and looked me in the eye. “How you doing, Mina?”

I looked back. Too tired even to cry with exhaustion. I was well beyond that.

He sat down beside me and paused a beat.

“You know you got this, right?”

I’m silent. I don’t know what to say. The honest truth is I don’t know that I’ve got it. I’m so far away from even thinking I might have it, let alone knowing it.

He turns to face me.

We’ve been through a lot together, Kelvin and I. He’s seen me suffer through the icy cold isolation of Antarctica, battle the desert sands of Jordan and confront the clouds of flies swarming around me as I ran in Australia. I’ve talked to him about my doubts and concerns. We’ve shared hopes, dreams and disappointments. And somewhere along one of those trails, Kelvin became family.

But even he realised we were now in a different place. I was truly suffering.

I muster the energy and courage to tell him honestly I didn’t think I could do this. For the first time, I was staring defeat in the face.

There was silence. The wind blew and the sand bit into my sunburnt skin. Salt crusted on my clothing and I hung my head.

“Remember why you do this, Mina.”

“For water.” I was struggling to get the words out.

“And who do you do it for?”

“The next generation. The kids.”

Kelvin looks at me. “So think about them.”

I looked up. He was right. Somewhere today I had lost track of my purpose. I was feeling alone. Isolated. Like I was battling the world. By myself.

In that moment, I realised that what I was doing was bigger than me. That I wasn’t alone. That around the world I had people following me, encouraging me, joining me. I had messages of support that my team read me when the going was tough – messages from kids, parents, CEO’s. Messages from people I knew and many I’d never met. 

But most importantly I knew that this journey was about not giving up. About persevering in the face of adversity. Of continuing on when everything was against me.

Water is the biggest issue facing our generation. It’s going to affect how the next generation lives, and it has the potential to restrict their ability to achieve their dreams.

I’m not prepared for that to happen.

And right then, I realised that all around me I had the hopes and dreams of the next generation. I was running for something far bigger than me. And with many more people than those I knew.

I pictured the faces of the kids I know – kids of friends and family. I thought about the messages they’d sent – and that had come in from those I didn’t know.

Sitting in the sand of the Atacama desert, I realised that I would never again walk alone on this planet. That beside me every step would come the support and power of a community of family, friends and strangers who would become friends.

That in moments of doubt, they would be there in person or in spirit to encourage me, inspire me, push me when I needed it, or just to give me a hug and tell me everything would be ok.

I stood up onto shaky legs. Drank some water, straightened my beaten up hat, put on my sunglasses, and started to put one foot in front of the other.

I finished that day. And the next. And the one after that.

I ran through the Atacama, and across the Mojave in America. And a year later, I ran down 6 Rivers on 6 Continents – 40 marathons in 40 days.

I will never be able to express my gratitude to my friends, my family and to the community of people around the globe who have supported me on this journey. The power of your kindness and your encouragement is beyond what words can express.

And my greatest wish, is that everyone here has the opportunity to feel what that is like. To be part of a community driven to do something bigger than themselves. To encourage and support one another in achieving that goal, and to be there for each other – no matter what.

Because being a part of that really does make you understand that every single one of us is capable of changing the world.

Please join me on my journey to run 100 marathons in 100 days. Follow the journey, send me messages of encouragement, come and run with me if you can! I can’t do this alone, but together we can do great things.