Ray Zahab is a Canadian ultramarathon runner. He founded impossible2Possible (i2P), an organization that aims to inspire and educate youth through adventure learning, and inclusion and participation in expeditions.
In early 2011, Ray ran across the “driest desert on Earth”, the Atacama Desert in Chile. He ran 1200 kilometers in 20 days- with minimal daily re-supply and with his camping gear on his back.
Healthynomics: What inspired you to become an ultra long distance runner?
Ray Zahab: It’s actually a long story. I will try to be short! In 1998 I made a decision to take a different path with my life. I guess you could say I was in a bad space both mentally and physically. I was smoking a pack a day- was nearly 30 and felt like I had no direction or purpose. My brother John had become an amazing athlete. He was and is a huge inspiration to me so I made the decision to follow him into the outdoors. I quit smoking- got my health and did every sport he did. With one exception. Running. I just didn’t see myself as the physical type to be a runner- or rather what a runner would be. That was until 2003 when I stumbled upon an issue of Explore magazine that had a story about an ultra marathon that takes place every year in the Yukon. What impressed me was that regular looking people were willing to take the risk by entering such an event…people that I felt I could relate to- people that looked like me!
I decided to enter that race…and I won it!!!
HN: From a mental perspective, how has running impacted your life?
RZ: Wow…great question. Without doubt running has taught me that we ALL are capable of the extraordinary in our lives. After running 7500 kilometers across the Sahara in 111 days I truly learned that we are capable of things in our lives we might not think possible. As I always say, those long miles are 90 % mental, the other 10 % is all in our heads!
HN: What do you think about when you’re running for such long periods at a time?
RZ: In late 2007 I along with my wife and close friends founded the organization impossible2Possible. Our goal was to use exciting adventures as a backdrop for an innovative Experiential Learning Program. The idea was to conduct 3 expeditions per year on various topics. Two of the three projects would see selected Youth Ambassadors completing the expedition- THEIR expedition, with us in tow. These have included Running Tunisia in 2010 where four youth ran across southern Tunisian Sahara, a distance of 268 kilometers in 8 days. They shared their adventure- what they were learning about themselves and the educational topic of water- with thousands of their teammates in classrooms all over the world.
The Youth Ambassadors utilized video conferencing, a live website, tracking, video/photo journaling plus a comprehensive Educational Program to achieve this. Students in classrooms were then challenged to help the Youth Ambassadors in meaningful action. By December 2010, enough money had been raised by students all over the world to construct 2 water projects in Africa through established water based NGO’s. Youth Expeditions have also included treks/runs on Baffin Island and most recently the Amazon Jungle (www.jungle2010.com), and a project to Bolivia this May (more info on impossible2possible.com). There is no cost for participating schools, and there are no costs for the Youth Ambassadors to participate on an expedition.
So, long story short, when i am out running my personal projects…I am planning the next youth expedition!
HN: What running related injuries have you had and how did you overcome them?
RZ: I have had everything from tendonitis to stress fractures. On my 33 day unsupported expedition to the South Pole in 2009 (with teammates Richard Weber and Kevin Vallely), and my recent 1200 km run the length of the Atacama Desert the worst injuries were infected blisters. Specifically one doozy! I was able to get through the pain by convincing myself if I wasn’t making it worse then I could run on it. And so I did!
HN: What type of running shoes do you wear and how often do you change them?
RZ: I prefer minimal, lightweight shoes with a maximum 4 mm differential between front and back sole height. I change them as I need to!
HN: Tell us about your eating and hydration strategies when running ultra distances.
RZ: Each project is different. This past January in the Atacama I started out drinking 5-6 liters of Gatorade with extra sodium for each 25 km section in between water drops ( I had a back pack with all of my gear, but received water and food re-supply each 25 kilometers).
By the end of the expedition on day 20 (I averaged 60 kilometers per day) the temperatures had reached 50 Celsius, but I had adapted and was now drinking approx 1 liter for each 25 kilometer section!
So it depends.
Last year across Lake Baikal in Siberia (50 kilometers per day for 13 days- unsupported- 100 pound sled of gear in tow) it was -35 to -40 Celsius. I was drinking approx 2 liters per day. It’s all we could melt with limited fuel!!
HN: What prompted you to start Terra Fitness?
RZ: The concept behind Terra Fitness was to bring the knowledge of great people like Mark Simonson from Kinemedics and my brother John Zahab – and develop awesome fitness products…actually a lifestyle that includes not only being fit, but being socially aware and active.
HN: Do you have any favourite training tools or pieces of equipment to help keep you on the road?
RZ: My iPod!!!