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Sunday, 29 April 2007

Running The Sahara - Page 2

Written by Sasha Didier
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Have you ever thought it was possible to run across the vastest desert in the world? How about running for over 100 days in the hopes of helping to improve the lives of the people in African communities that don’t have access to clean water? On November 2, 2006, three runners, Ray Zahab, Charlie Engle, and Kevin Lin set out across the world’s largest desert on a life-changing quest that lasted 111 days and covered 4,300 miles.

ray and boy

Runner Ray Zahab connects with a child he meets along the expedition route.
Photograph by Don Holtz

Ray Zahab had a rough start in his running career, which has completely changed his lifestyle. “Until January 2000, I was a pack a day smoker whose favorite hobby was drinking beer! I decided to change that- and a year or two later got into mountain bike racing and adventure racing. It really wasn’t until December 2003 when I read about that crazy race in the Yukon that was about to take place two months later- that was the start of my running career. Ten races later around the world from the Amazon to the desert to the arctic… and the rest is history. Training to run close to 7500 kms across the Sahara is just about impossible. It’s a race against the ‘body disintegration’ clock. As I always say when speaking about my crazy adventures—Ultra running is 90% mental- and the other 10% is all in your head!”

Even for the most mentally prepared runner, confidence in completing the goal is not always easy. As Charlie Engle confessed, “I was not confident at all. I used to laugh when potential sponsors would ask me if I was sure I could run that far. I would say ‘absolutely, no problem.’ But when a friend or family member would ask the same question, my reply would be, ‘ I have absolutely no idea.’ To me, that was the whole point. Why try something if I already knew I could do it? Where would be the fun in that?”

Ray Zahab lacked the initial total confidence as well, “Truly, my biggest fear was not being able to finish. This gig was by far the most physically and mentally challenging thing I have ever done. Period.”


Kevin Lin, Charlie Engle, and Ray Zahab (left to right) pace their route down a straightaway on the Trans-Saharan Highway in Mauritania.
Photograph by Don Holtz

During the 111-day quest of physical and mental struggle as well as the change in climate and surroundings- there were inevitable ups and downs. For Ray Zahab, there were moments when he thought about giving up the quest. “There were several times when I thought that finishing was out of reach for me. The biggest mental hurdles were the ones totally out of my control. I missed my wife so much in those first weeks that I thought I would die. Knowing that she would visit and run with me in Cairo kept me focused- and was integral in my ability to finish. Another mental hurdle was the distance. Close your eyes. Imagine you are in a desert running between 70-80 kms per day- and you have done that for 3500 kms. Now open your eyes! You have woken up- and you still have 4000 kms to go. Physically, the toll was huge. I had two very serious physical complications out there- severe intestinal virus and tendonitis. I thought the tendonitis would be the end of me. But we got through it together.”

Charlie Engle remarked on positive and negative aspects of running as a team, “I don’t think that the three of us were ever more than 100 feet apart during the entire expedition. If any one of us was struggling, then the other two had to slow down. We were only as fast as the slowest one of us on any given day. Of course this was comforting if I was sick and frustrating if I was healthy but that is the tough park of running as a team. Running as a team was both good and bad. It was good to have company but it was really tough too. Rarely did we all feel good at the same time so it took a lot of patience. We had some rough times during the expedition but ultimately; our struggles drew us closer to each other. No matter how we explain our journey to others, nobody will truly be able to understand what we went through. There is great power in shared suffering!”

(Page 2 of 3)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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