Manika Gamble Just Became The First Black Woman To Conquer Namibia’s 155-Mile Race

Manika Gamble

Manika Gamble is no stranger to conquering challenges that others may find too difficult or intense. As a seasoned marathon runner (she’s been running for 12 years), she enjoys accomplishing the unthinkable, like running for 155 miles throughout Namibia’s desert terrain. For Gamble, pursuing her passion for running through ultra-marathons in beautiful locations worldwide fulfills her. She says, “It’s quite the transition in distance from sprinting, but the joy I feel is immeasurable. Ultra-marathons get me out into nature where I can feel the fresh air and instantly feel home while running.” 

Recently, Gamble made history this year as the first Black woman and African-American, period, to run a 155-mile, 7-day self-supported stage race in Namibia, the oldest desert in the world. As you can imagine, thousands of people worldwide have supported her in this endeavor on social media. She’s great at letting her fans know the ins and outs of her training process, the clothes she planned to wear without washing them, and finally, a day-in-the-life video detailing her experience on the ground in Africa via Instagram Reels.

While many can’t understand why anyone would sign up for a demanding race, especially in a desert miles away from home, Gamble clearly passed the test, her first ultra-marathon. We had the opportunity to catch up with Gamble after she completed the marathon and got some much-needed rest in her home in Atlanta, Georgia.

Check out our inspiring conversation below!

ESSENCE: What inspired you to do this specific ultra-marathon in the first place?

Manika Gamble: I was inspired when I saw a video on YouTube that made the Namib race look so beautiful and challenging. It combined everything I wanted to take on myself, so I decided to go for it. 

How did you prepare for it mentally, physically, and emotionally?

Well, physically, I took about eight months to get myself ready. I did a combination of, you know, running, walking, hiking, and swimming. Mentally, I prepared myself, knowing that I was going to go through one of the hardest experiences of my life. So, I tried to prepare myself to get through the dark moments and push through. Emotionally, I knew I would feel happy, sad, overwhelmed, all of those things. And so I did the best I could to manage all that. 

So, you’ve ran for seven days in the heat and different environments. Can you share the obstacles you’ve encountered?

Leading up to the race, the officials told us to prepare for weather around 100 degrees. So, about a few weeks before the race, I did a lot of sauna training, not expecting it to get to the temperatures that it did, which turned out to be 135 degrees. One of the biggest obstacles I encountered was blistering on my feet. I wasn’t expecting that to happen so early on. Also, the gators I had on my sneakers broke on the first day, so my feet were blistered on the first day, which was very challenging for me to get through. I could not prepare for that pain. 

How did you take care of your body throughout the experience?

I had an entire self-care ritual that I followed every day. It included consuming a recovery shake, stretching, and rolling my feet, hamstrings, and calves out with my Chirp RPM Roller and Wheel, which was my saving grace. I also elevated my legs when I got into camp, trying to get as much sleep as possible. I also made sure I stayed on top of my hydration and nutrition levels, as all of that had to be factored in to ensure I could continue day by day.

What were your thoughts when you were engaging in the race? 

My thoughts, honestly, when I was in the race was, what did I get myself into? I did have to get myself out of a lot of low moments because of the pain I was in with my feet. But I also knew that it was much bigger than me. So I tried to focus on the people back home who had been so supportive and who I didn’t want to disappoint. I didn’t want to disappoint myself, either. I tried to reframe my mindset to accept that what I was experiencing was temporary pain to have a lasting accomplishment and feel fulfilled and successful in completing the race. I just kept saying to myself, “You got this, you got this!” 

What did you learn about yourself in the process?

I learned that I’m much tougher than I thought I was. Getting through some of those very moments showed me that I have a certain level of pain tolerance that I didn’t know I had and also a mental fortitude that I didn’t quite know I had. 

Would you do it again?

I would, and I told myself throughout the race, I said, “If I get through this, I promise I will never do it again.” But it only took me two days to get over that, and now that I’m fully healed, I’m ready to try something similar very soon.

What is it about running incredibly long distances and different locations and terrains that excites you? 

Doing things you don’t know you’re able to do drives me. I knew I could get through days one and two, but I was curious if I could get through the entire seven days. So, pushing myself to get beyond what I knew I could do excites me in that way, allowing me to continue to push my boundaries and limits and discover my full potential. And, of course, running in different terrains is exciting. I also had the opportunity to travel and meet different people from all over the world. 

What advice would you give Black women who want to do something they’ve never done before but are apprehensive about starting?

I suggest going for it. I recommend not putting too much thought into it because sometimes, you begin to overthink things. That’s the approach I took to this. If I had thought through, you know, everything at the very beginning, I would have been way too overwhelmed even to start. If you have any aspiration that you want to go for, just take the first step and go for it. Most of the time, it pans out that you have the dedication and the discipline to see things through. To anyone who wants to start running, it doesn’t have to be intense where you’re out sprinting for miles; instead, go outside for a walk. 

If you want a run-walk combination, run for 10 seconds, walk for a minute, do intervals like that, and work your way up. You’d be very surprised at how quickly you can build your endurance that way. Remember to show yourself some grace. It’s important to remember to take one step at a time.

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