On a train? Definitely. Standing at a bus stop? Possibly. But losing yourself in a book while running an ultra marathon? Extreme.

Image: South African Book Development Council

Not for Marukgwane Moremogolo, a 39-year-old South African lawyer who has redefined the concept of multitasking by reading as he runs to raise awareness of the country’s reading and literacy crisis – and collect book donations for libraries.

He recently ran Cape Town’s 56 kilometre Two Oceans Ultra while reading Zakes Mda's The Zulus of New York, taking breaks between the 44 km mark and the finish line to get stuck into the story.

Reading for pleasure

Moremogolo was spurred on by research showing many South Africans don’t read for pleasure and that children have poor comprehension.

He has asked people to donate books for every kilometre he runs, with the aim of building two libraries, in Atteridgeville and the Vaal area of Johannesburg.

He told The Star: “Kids are not able to comprehend and understand what they are studying because they don't read books outside the school curriculum.”

He’s now preparing to run the second half of the 89 km Comrades ultramarathon in June, while reading, to collect 600 (mainly children’s) books to distribute during South Africa’s National Book Week in September.

Literacy crisis

Image: South African Book Development Council

Only 41% of South African adults have read a book for leisure in the last month, according to a 2016 survey by the South African Book Development Council.

The same year, the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study tests assessed reading comprehension in the fourth grade (nine- to 10-year-olds). They found that 78% of pupils in South Africa fell below the lowest level on the PIRLS scale, meaning they could not understand what they were reading. South Africa came last out of 50 countries surveyed.

The survey also found that 62% of South African primary schools do not have school libraries.

A lack of books and motivation to read and share them with children has culminated in a literacy crisis in South Africa. The country is taking steps to solve this through initiatives including the Primary Teacher Education Project, training teachers how to teach reading.

And with people like Moremogolo raising literacy awareness, South Africa could one day become a nation of bookworms.