Meet Manika Gamble, the First African American Woman to Run 155-Mile Race Through Oldest Desert in the World


May 21, 2024

Manika Gamble is “a runner and a track star”–and she just completed the ultimate race.

At the start of May, Gamble made history as the first African American woman to complete the 155-mile Namib Race through the Namib Desert in the African country of Namibia. The 34-year-old Hawaiian-born marathon runner is the first African American woman to complete the seven-day self-supported trek through the oldest desert in the world. But long runs are nothing new to Gamble, who’s been competing in marathons and running in races since childhood. 

“In middle school, I was in my [physical education] class, and my teacher told me how I ran so well, and I should consider being on the track team. That was the start of a now lifelong passion for running,” Gamble told the Windhoek Observer. “I moved to ultra running because I enjoy being outside in nature. I like to challenge myself and the reward and the feeling after is indescribable!”


After watching a YouTube series on running in Namibia, Gamble knew it was a challenge she wanted to conquer. “The landscape stole my heart, and I was locked in on doing this race myself to experience the culture, the landscape, the people, and food!” she said.

It took her eight months to get physically fit for the race. She incorporated weights, sprints, swimming, and running up hills into her training, as well as recovery work like yoga and stretching. She also had to prepare her mind for the tough road ahead.

“Mentally, I prepared myself, knowing that I was going to go through one of the hardest experiences of my life,” Gamble told ESSENCE.com. “So, I tried to prepare myself to get through the dark moments and push through.”


Even with all that training, Gamble still experienced some pains and setbacks during the run that she was not prepared for, like blisters on her feet and extreme heat up to 135 degrees. But she pushed through and made history as the first Black woman to complete the desert marathon all on her own.

“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.”

After the race, Gamble returned to her Atlanta home for some much-deserved rest and relaxation. She’s already gearing up for her next challenge. 


“I told myself throughout the race, ‘If I get through this, I promise I will never do it again,’” Gamble told ESSENCE. “Now that I’m fully healed, I’m ready to try something similar very soon.”

Cover Photo: Manika Gamble Makes History As First Black Woman To Run 155-Mile Race Through Oldest Desert In The World / Photo Credit: Manika Gamble

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