Modern Athlete Magazine Issue 159 June 2023 | Page 49

Nontu celebrates another stage finish
Trail buddies
Images : Courtesy CanalAventure . Shams , Ultra Asia Race , Marathon des Sables , World Marathon Challenge , Nontuthuko Mgabhi
The Ultra Asia field ready to run

In March , South African running adventurer and fundraiser extraordinaire Nontuthuko Mgabhi boarded a plane for Vietnam to tackle her latest ultra-distance challenge . The Ultra Asia Race is a four-day , 160km self-supported event with a brutal course that includes 6500m of ascent and 7500m of descent through mountainous terrain , and requires runners to carry their own gear and supplies in their backpacks . Each night , the runners sleep over in local villagers ’ houses .

“ I love running a race where I can immerse myself in the local villages . That is spiritually awakening , and that ’ s what made me choose this race ,” says Nontuthuko , who works as General Manager of Human Resources at Richards Bay Coal Terminal , in KwaZulu-Natal . “ During this event , we spent the nights in traditional houses on stilts , immersing ourselves in the local culture in Mai Chau , so this race was beyond just running . Having grown up in the rural village of Mseleni myself , I could truly connect and identify with the villagers . The village is always my hometown , no matter the name or in which country it is . Also , the smiles from children as we ran past their village was so heart-warming , and I believe just by seeing other women like them running , we might have ignited some dreams in some girl children out there .”
The Ultra Asia Race included many types of terrain or challenge
The race wasn ’ t all smiles and fun , however , and Nontu says the third day was her toughest . “ On this day , we were running mostly in the jungle , which demanded that you focus on where you put your foot and trekking poles , to avoid injuries . Also , running a multistage race is an ongoing challenge , as you have to manage your energy usage to ensure that you endure for the entire four days . You have to run hard and smart , and to get the balance is sometimes a challenge . You also run carrying a heavy backpack and water , and you must manage your water until you reach the next checkpoint . It ’ s a race of management .”
In spite of these challenges , Nontu still managed to finish among the front-runners on each stage . “ Crossing the finish line is always a great symbol of perseverance and grit , so it feels good ,” she says . “ On the last day , I ran my fastest pace , and I was the first female to cross the finish line , and second overall , on the day . Over the four stages , I got second position in the women ’ s race , and fourth overall .”
Reason to Keep Running
Besides chasing a podium position , the other thing that kept Nontu going throughout the tough race was the knowledge that she was running to raise funds for the schoolchildren of the Maputaland area where she grew up , on the Northern KZN coast . She went to Vietnam aiming to raise R140,000 in sponsorships and donations , with which to buy 500 pairs of new school shoes for learners at five different schools in Mseleni .
“ As I run for causes close to my heart , I always use this as the source of my encouragement , especially when I need it in the toughest sections of the race ,” she says . “ It ’ s a privilege to give back while you do what you love , so I always remind myself that this is a privilege , not a punishment . I remind myself how lucky I am to be here , and take it in this beautiful view , while children in need benefit from my being here . It ’ s extra rewarding , and humbling , for me to get to run for social impact and change .”
She continues , “ Running for a cause has helped me to enjoy the process more , and this is how my initiative called ‘ Go Beyond for a Child ’ was born . I will run long and far for a child in need . I have always loved adventure , and have taken on many daring challenges , but since 2019 , my love for adventure has grown immensely , as through running , I get the opportunity to give back and change lives , thanks to my generous sponsors and supporters . They make it happen , because they believe in me and the causes I run for .”