Mina Guli went looking for a water problem but discovered a global "catastrophe".
Driven by passion and the testimony of water crisis victims worldwide, the Australian completed her 200th marathon in a year on March 22 to demand action against a looming disaster.
From her home country's deserts to the glaciers of Tajikistan, from the Amazon rainforest to Africa's parched riverbeds, the self-described reluctant ultra-marathoner has covered 8,440km (5,244 miles) across 32 countries.
Her remarkable journey concluded when she collapsed into her mother's arms outside United Nations headquarters, where a global water summit was being held.
An outlandish challenge?
"I think I'm crazy too," Guli laughed during a solo run earlier in New York's Central Park – her 198th marathon-length outing.But "I want to raise awareness about the global water crisis", the 52-year-old said.
"I'm not a natural runner," she confessed. "I didn't grow up running. I don't really like running."
But she found that putting one foot in front of the other – marathon after marathon – was the best way to "take the voices of the people from the frontlines of this water crisis... and inspire these government officials, these corporate leaders, to take action".
Guli, a former lawyer who founded and leads the Thirst Foundation, which promotes global water awareness, recounted the highlights of this past year's "Run Blue" journey.
"I thought I was going to see a problem, and what I found was a catastrophe," she said, noting the "women and girls who walk for hours every day risking their lives to fetch water".
She crossed dried-up lakes, running "past carcasses of boats lying stranded in the sand", and traversed the high glaciers of Tajikistan, where global warming has precipitated rapid ice melt.
"What I saw was heartbreaking – the (glacier) surface pockmarked with these blue puddles," Guli said. "It's horrifying."
'Step up and listen'
It's one thing to see the crisis displayed in the world's media, the alarming facts and figures laid out in black and white, Guli went on, as tears rolled down her cheeks.
"But when you go there, and you see it for yourself, and you feel the raw emotion, the hurt of these people, you just realise this is far bigger and deeper than anything we could have imagined."
Thousands of delegates gathered just steps away at the UN conference as she broke the blue tape early March 24 on her final run, high-fiving observers as applause and cheers rang out.
"It's time for our leaders, and particularly our leaders this week, to step up and to listen to those voices, to hear them and to say 'we're going to do everything we can to solve this global water crisis'," Guli said, noting she was "a little sad" her monumental adventure has come to an end.
Back in 2018, the Australian had embarked on a challenge to run 100 marathons in 100 days, but she broke her leg on her 62nd race.
"I thought I could mobilise and create change instantly," she recalled. "The truth is that change takes time." – AFP Relaxnews