It’s no stretch to say that going from a sedentary lifestyle to an active one takes effort, determination, and discipline. It’s a feat that requires an almost complete change behaviour and the thought patterns that are associated with those behaviours. Ray Zahab was sedentary. Ray smoked a pack a day, and by his own admission lacked drive or a sense of fulfilment in his life. Ray became inspired by the athletic feats of his younger brother, and from there, the rest was history.
In November 2006 Ray and two friends (who happened to be experienced ultra runners) set off from the coast of Senegal, West Africa and 111 days later stepped into the Red Sea. They had, in that time, ran across the Sahara Desert, averaging 70 kilometres a day, without a single day of rest. Ray hasn’t stopped since this point, completing a multitude of epic adventures; running in climates so extreme, so inhospitable, that many would consider them impossible. Notable amongst his many amazing feats of endurance, Ray has traversed the Atacama Desert in Northern Chile, known as the driest place on earth. Ray has also set a world record for the fastest unsupported team expedition to the South Pole. 1100 Kilometres, on foot, without skis.
Ray’s passion for running equalled by his passion for advocacy, engagement with community and giving back through running. On his Sahara exhibition his team conceptualised the documentary “Running The Sahara” to raise awareness and advocacy of the water shortage in North Africa. Not content with this, in 2008 Ray founded impossible2Possible, an organisation whose goal is to inspire youth through adventure learning, inclusion and participation in expeditions.
Ray took time from his busy schedule to speak with us about his path to running, what it means for him to give back and what he has planned for the future.
Ray is sponsored by Inov8, you can find him on the web at http://www.rayzahab.com
Ray, you made a spectacular, 180 degree lifestyle change; from a man who was largely sedentary and who smoked up to 40 cigarettes a day, to the man who ran the Gobi desert. Many people choose to continue with habits that are less than healthy. What changed for you? why did you start running?
It”s a great question, but to be honest what inspired me to change my life was a lack of passion and happiness. We all have low points in our lives, times when we feel directionless. I was all that and more when I reached a decision that something needed to change. My younger bro was and is this inspiring athlete who ‘does it all’. I SO wanted to be like him, to be passionate as he was for his sports. I thought to myself, I have nothing to lose…so…i decided to go for it, and three years later was smoke free, attempting the life my brother led.
It’s no stretch to say that through your endeavours and your advocacy you inspire people. Who are the people that influence you the most?
Without doubt I am most inspired by our i2P youth ambassadors. Seeing them challenge themselves and then seeing them achieve their goals and dreams at such a young age is so inspiring to me. I also admire greatly those in life who choose to take chances, to take those first steps off the couch to a healthier and happier life. That takes guts.
How would you describe yourself? both as a person and a runner?
Just someone like anyone else…but I love to run, and I love adventure! Impossible 2 Possible is a groundbreaking way to look at education; Both by it’s striking use of technology and how it enriches not only the students who undertake the expeditions, but the populations they interact with whilst on the expeditions.
How did you come up with the idea for i2P?
After my two buddies and I spent 111 days running 7,500km across the Sahara Desert I realised we learned not only significant things about ourselves, but we also learned about the cultures and the water crisis in North Africa. We had an amazing documentary team capturing the expedition on film, and I realised that through and adventure we can learn so many amazing things.
What a great way to learn in general! I also realised that through film and photo you can share what you learn. I decided that it would be INCREDIBLE if young people could have their own version of running the sahara, their own learning based adventures that they would share with their peers all over the world through technology, storytelling and learning together, and it would all be free. i2P was born!
What is it that motivated you to found impossible 2 Possible ?
My own lack of desire to learn anything in school….contrasted with a desire to learn as much as I could through adventure! I sincerely hoped we could create something that would be an engaging and unique way for kids to learn about themselves and the world.
Can you remember the moment that you knew i2P was going to be a reality?
Once I met my co- founder and i2P executive director Bob Cox. I just knew once my wife and I met him, that as a team we could do this. we could make it happen!
What have been the most challenging aspects of your journey towards raising awareness for i2P and making it a viable, ongoing entity?
Funding is always huge. I am a volunteer in the organisation, and I continue to do my own long expeditions as a way to raise awareness and funding for i2P. We have many initiatives and sustainability programs we are launching to make i2P even better and more robust!!!
Nothing worth having or doing is easy. When things get tough, What motivates you to keep going and achieve your goals? Both in terms of your advocacy work AND your epic journeys?
Honestly, I just remind myself of every i2P Youth Expedition I have been on, and how inspiring these kids are. They remind me we can do anything!
What facet of running do you enjoy most? Is it the distance, training, engagement with community?
Everything you have mentioned, plus for me it is a family thing. My kids and wife love to run, and it’s a huge part of our social lives too. Our friends love to run!
How do you prepare yourself for such huge distances? Do you follow a specific training regime? Do you cross train or is it all running?
I typically take a year to train for one expedition very specifically, with a periodised program.
My program changes based on where my expedition will be- terrain and climate are huge factors in my prep.
On your journeys, and during your physical endeavours, what stands out as the best experiences for you, and why?
Meeting amazing people in extraordinary places. It’s always the people that make the greatest memories!!!
How do you achieve balance in your life? If you could share three tips for this, what would they be?
Balance is incredibly important, but I’m a big believer in finding your passion. With passion and happiness in life, balance will follow.
Where to from here? Can you share with Good People Run your next adventure? and where can we hear about this?
Stay tuned! I’ll be trying to span 100 degrees on the thermometer…that’s all I’m saying!!!