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Podcast: Ultra-Runner Ray Zahab is preparing for 2,200km run across the Namibian Desert

By Josh Lemoine on January 11, 2018

Picture yourself getting in a car, preparing to drive 2,200km. That’s a pretty long drive.

Now picture yourself getting ready for that same trip, except it’s on foot.

That’s what Chelsea, Quebec-based ultra-runner Ray Zahab has been doing, as he prepares to run 2,200km across the Namibian desert. Starting January 13th at the South African border, he’s hoping to run 70–90km per day, and finish at the border between Namibia and Angola.

This trip is far from his first adventure. Partnering with the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, he has completed numerous running expeditions in some of the most extreme locations in the world. The 2007 National Geographic documentary Running the Sahara (narrated by Matt Damon) followed Zahab and a small team as they ran 7,000km across the Sahara desert, and brought attention to the water crisis in that region. Ray and his team even made an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno following the release the documentary.

Zahab is not a lifelong runner. A pack-a-day smoker until New Year’s Eve 1999, he only started thinking of himself as an athlete at the age of 30, and starting doing some adventure races and cross-country bike races.

In his mid-30’s he signed up for his first ever running race: the 160km Yukon Arctic Ultra Marathon. He gave it a shot to see if he might learn something about himself.

“I learned something that I think about often: that all of us, we underestimate what we’re capable of.”

For most of us, running the distances Ray does would be unfathomable. But he stresses the distance is not something he thinks about.

“I try not to think of complete distances. I’d rather think of this concept of taking chances, taking risks in life. When we ran across the Sahara, we ran 7,000km. So if I was to think about the fact that we were on kilometre 3,000… we still had 4000km to go. It would seem like such an enormous task. That’s why I don’t think about the number. I rather think about the day that’s in front of me.”

“There’s a flow into life that way too. You have goals, and you have things you want to accomplish on a day-to-day basis, or a year down the road. But it’s focusing on what’s happening in that day, or in that moment that’s so critical.”

In this interview, we ask Ray how he’s been training for the expedition, how to prepare for anything that may arise, and how students and schools are able to connect with him and learn from his experience in real-time during his run.

To follow Ray on his expedition, check out the website, or follow him on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.

This interview originally aired on January 9th, 2018 on CHUO 89.1fm.