Running the Sahara in 111 Days

March 13, 2007  interview with Ray Zahab on running 7,500 kilometers across the Sahara desert, Africa in 111 days. November 2, 2006 to February 20, 2007. Over six countries and nine ecosystems starting in the west in Senegal at the Atlantic ocean and finishing at the Red sea in Egypt in the east.


"There is no record of anyone crossing the wastes of the worlds second largest


desert in such a short amount of time."


Ken: Nice job on running across the Sahara faster then anyone in history, no man has done that before, were you scared for your life at any time during your 111 days?


Ray Zahab: " Over the 111 days I mean, really being scared for my life I wasn't necessarily scared for my life, I tell you what though I was scared of not finishing . I was scared of everything else, but not scared for my life. I guess you're so focused on what you're doing at the time it's like ignorance is bliss I guess, it's one of those things and then that wasn't my focus my focus wasn't to be scared about what was going to happen to me so far as somebody shooting me or something like that or being abducted or whatever. But what was scary for me was the possibility of not finishing."


"I mean the distances we were running were obscene, obscene distances every day. And when we hit the Egyptian boarder we ramped it up to 100k a day and then the last 60 hours we ran 300k I mean it was nonstop! It was crazy! It was so tough."


Ken: Ray how long did it take for you to adjust to civilization when you returned after a 111 days?


Ray Zahab: "Oh like culture shock kind of thing? Instantly! Instantly! because I was so ready I was dreaming of Canada, dreaming of it when I was out there and I loved Africa and I loved the people and I loved all the stuff we did, but to get home, coming home was great, I love to run and I'm still running but I couldn't wait to get home. "


Ken: When did you start to feel comfortable enough during your trip that you knew you would finish the 7,500 kilometers?


Ray Zahab: "The expedition was 7,500k long. I would say at 7,100k, because I had injuries I had Dysentery I had everything. And then people asked was there ever a time you thought you couldn't finish? Every day the thought crossed my mind I might not finish. It would be foolish of me and boastful to think you know every day that I have the ability to finish something like this, the distance I ran in this was further then I ran in my whole life."


Ken: You can't really prepare for something of this scale.


Ray Zahab: "No I was running 30 to 40 k a day before I went, you either adapt or you don't." you know what happened is I dropped a tremendous amount of weight. I was light anyhow, my racing weight is about 147 - 48 .I went in to this heavy, I went in at 160 pounds because I knew I was going to lose a lot of weight. And I was down to 120 pounds at one point that was when I had dysentery. I came out of it at about 130. So you know, it was up and down."


Ken: You probably lost a lot of weight each day from water loss due to the extreme temperatures as well?


Ray Zahab: "Well yes In Senegal, Mauritania, and Mali and at the beginning of Niger it was 45 plus degrees Celsius and then it got cool very cold and then it poured rain in Northern Egypt and Libya."


Ken Ray what kind of food and fluid replacement did you use during the expedition.


Ray Zahab: "I drank exclusively Gatorade and it was an incredible amount of carbohydrates as well to. Solid food, dude we were eating whatever we could get our hands on .Sometimes we would go through villages, the larger villages and we would stock up on cookies and chips and whatever, high calorie stuff."


Ken: Did you eat dried fruits like dates?


Ray Zahab: "Not so much though, but mostly you ate whatever you thought you could eat, because there was hardly anything else. On our expedition team we had a chef or cook and he made rice and pasta and other sorts of things like vegetables when we could get them. I had very little protein though."


Ken: Did you take vitamins and supplements?


Ray Zahab: "Yes we took vitamins, you're wasting, your muscles are just wasting and it was actually not funny, but actually sort of a fact that we were in a catabolic state, that is our muscles were wasting the whole way, so it was a race against the clock with our bodies, if we would have kept going another 1000 kilometers we would have run out, when I got to Egypt I was out! "


Ken: Ray in your interview with George from the Hour, you said after winning your first race 2004 in the Arctic that you were hooked on this sport of Ultra endurance marathon running from the beginning and you said. "This is what I want to do forever "do you still feel that way? And are there any more record attempts in your future?


Ray Zahab: "Yes you know, I do but the expedition length, like to do 7,500K, never again. It's too far, but I mean I have other plans; I have other expeditions I want to do. You know I am tossing around the idea of running across Newfoundland, Newfoundland nonstop. I mean things that have never been done, I mean its just a crazy thought anyhow, you know there's not many firsts left in the world and the Sahara was my big one there will all ways be other expeditions, there will all ways be other races but not 7,500 K. That was so unbelievably brutally tough you know so when you're out on the desert there is no one to hold your hand and pull you along you have to run it yourself, in the end you just got to do it."


Ken: Ray in regards to an Ottawa Citizen article quote from Feb 25, 2007 When you finally finished at the Red sea your comment in the article was " I don't know if I was expecting glorious beams of light or something. But that didn't happen "


Ray Zahab: "No you know people said that there is going to be this huge feeling, it wasn't anticlimactic it was just like that we started, we ran, we kicked our asses for 111 days and there's the Red sea it's done. You know what I mean like it was just there, then the expedition is over. It was a great feeling and it was awesome, mentally you had been preparing for the finish, you were just gunning for it and just so hungry to get to that finish. I mean your legs are full of tendinitis and you're still running on that and you have tunnel vision to get to the end."


Ken: Ray was it harder to run 250 kilometers in the Amazon Jungle or a similar tough day on the Sahara desert for 250 kilometers?


Ray Zahab:" Well this expedition was the toughest thing I have ever done, because its compounded distance every day, the first week wasn't so bad but if you put it in perspective over ten days we would run anywhere between 700 and 800 kilometers. I mean it's just not the same."


Ken: But in that context obviously it's going to be worse because of the sheer enormity of your run.


Ray Zahab: "That's right so the conditions are so different the Amazon jungle was tougher from the fact that you were wet all the time and your swimming and your feet are torn apart instantly like in the first five hours your feet are done and you've got to run on them. In the desert it's the heat, the sand and the conditions like the wind that physically just exhausts you and running on the sand exhausts you to the point your brain doesn't function properly anymore, so there two totally different things."


Ken: A hypothetical question: Ray do you think a 22 year old Ray Zahab with 3 years of running experience would have finished the 7,500 kilometers across the Sahara? Cigarette smoking aside.


Ray Zahab: " No because you don't have , I don't think I could have I didn't have the maturity if that's what you mean, I definitely didn't have what it took then the experience you know I mean don't forget I started running a couple of years ago right, and so when I had my first couple of desert races I learned a lot you know I learned so much and when I was mountain bike racing I struggled, I never really, It wasn't my thing I tried really hard but the guys were to fast. There are technical riders that would just kick my ass you know! I could climb as fast as anybody, but I could never descend like they could, its what your good at. For me when I did my first race I knew that running really, really for me was something I seemed to be all right at. So then the sport is taking care of itself now, learn everything you can from people around you. So every time I would go to a race. I would say okay, I know I can run what I don't know about, you know stuff like preparation mentally and work on my weaknesses."


Ken: Ray after having ran for 111 days did you get sick after finishing?


Ray Zahab: "I started taking a lot of Pro Biotics when I got home and I had the runs for a few days. I am sure I have a parasite I all ways get parasites when I do a gig anyhow. But being there for so long your body adapts to its surroundings, 3 and a half 4 months."


Ken: Ray an article said you relived a whole day in your life with your wife from the past in your head as you were running, were you in a zone like trance where you felt no pain and time slipped by effortlessly?


Ray Zahab: "I would relive a day just to pass the time. I would go without an ipod and I would just run, for 2 or 3 weeks sometimes without any music or anything, all I would do is think a day the life in Chelsea, waking up, having coffee with Cathy, you know going out the door and then driving her off to work, coming home. I would do one step at a time, so each step in the desert was one step in real time you know whatever it takes."


Ken: Ray what would you think of riding a mountain bike in an endurance event?


Ray Zahab: " I did the Trans-Rockies it was brutal, I did the Trans-Alp and the Trans-Rockies was way more technical so you would be really good at that and the climbs I mean it's a more pure mountain biking experience, where as Trans-A lp is like a road race set to mountain bikes. Huge dramatic climbs, amazing, gorgeous scenery, sick descents, but not as technical as TR. TR is more mountain biking at its roots you know? And also Trans-Alp has 1,200 or 1,300 riders and it's a massive race, so that's at the start every day 1,500 people take off at the same time."


Ken: Did you like it at all?


Ray Zahab: "It's fun but it's crazy, it's scary for me, it's scary you know."


Ken: Are you going to do any road bike races?


Ray Zahab: "No, No, No, I am not strong enough for that, it's not my thing you know, the 24 hours of adrenalin, I've done a couple of those and did real well at those."


Ken: Ray; National Geographic is doing a video documentary of your trip with Matt Damon narrating the whole expedition that means you will have the most unbelievable record of your accomplishment when this is all over has it sunk in for you yet?


Ray Zahab;" It's a documentary produced by Live Planet and Matt Damon and it will be premiering some point in the fall. It's a documentary about the expedition basically, but about so much more to, it highlights the water crises in Africa. The expedition itself in the planning stages you know through a process of whatever Matt Damon found out about a well not Matt but how would I say this it came together, it came together in the planning of the expedition. I mean Matt Damon is a huge Philanthropist, I mean he is for real! The dude is for real and the water crisis in Africa was something that is very important to him and it's important to us as the runners, so we wanted to highlight that with this film and the opportunity came up to be part of this, Hey its awesome!"


Ken: Everything came together like the perfect marriage?


Ray Zahab: "Absolutely, I think so you know."


Ken: Ray: are you headed off to the Yukon Wednesday morning? Is your trip for pleasure or pain?


Ray Zahab: "No Yellowknife."


Ken: I heard it was minus 6C.


Ray Zahab: "I heard it was minus 40. I co-host a race actually it's my buddy Scott's brainchild, but were sort of in the process of organizing this race together and it's called the Rock and Ice Ultra and its going to be an incredible kick ass event in Canada's north, I mean it highlights what were all about you know in this country. So people from around the world will be there, it's awesome!"



Ray Zahab