Written by Martin Cleary, published in The Ottawa Citizen, Saturday, December 08, 2007
Adventure racer Ray Zahab loves a challenge, and he has plenty of them lined up for 2008 and 2009. Not only does he have the creativity to manufacture wild ideas for athletic pursuits, but also he has the physical ability and mental toughness to get the job done. Over the next 15 months, Zahab, 38, plans to run his first Boston Marathon, tackle another cross-Canada ultramarathon project and then pursue his polar expedition, where he’ll run to the North Pole. In the past, Zahab has amazed people with his feats of endurance.
He joined two friends in November 2006 and spent 111 consecutive days running across the Sahara Desert, covering 7,500 kilometres. He has won ultramarathon adventure races in China, the Yukon, Egypt, Libya and the Amazon. This past summer, he completed the eight-day Canadian Challenge, where he ran across Baffin Island in 27 straight hours, conquered the East Coast Trail in Newfoundland in 40 hours and then ran the West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island in 16 hours.
Whenever he takes on an adventure challenge, he does so for a cause, whether it’s water purification, nets to help prevent malaria or climate change.
Zahab, who only ran his first road race when he won the 160-kilometre Yukon Arctic Ultra in February 2004, plans to start the run to the North Pole between the end of February and the beginning of March.
He’s still looking for project funding and doesn’t have an official name.
Zahab will tackle the project with world-class adventure racer Kevin Vallely of North Vancouver. They’re hoping to run 750 kilometres from Ward Hunt Island to the North Pole in 25 days. Ward Hunt Island is on the north coast of Ellesmere Island in Nunavut.
From January until early April, Zahab will be training with Ottawa coach/runner Rick Hellard for his inaugural Boston Marathon. He qualified for the 42.195-kilometre road race by finishing his first marathon in three hours four minutes at the New York City race in early November.
“I did the New York City Marathon, but I didn’t actually prepare for it. I’d never done a marathon,” Zahab said.
“I entered with the intention of running faster, but this past summer was so busy. The (Canadian) Challenge also took it out of me. I was exhausted.”
When he raced the New York City Marathon, he had no time goal and just wanted “to wing it and have fun.” He wore his Ryan’s Well Foundation T-shirt to promote clean water around the world.
Starting on Victoria Day in May 2008, he hopes to run 13 ultramarathons in 13 days. His plan is to run one ultramarathon (any distance longer than a marathon) in each of the 10 provinces and three territories.
“It’s all about how incredible our country is,” Zahab said.
“I like to keep it interesting. I’m blessed to do what I do.”