How far would you go to inspire students? For Canadian Ray Zahab, the answer is 1,400 miles across the Gobi Desert. He started on June 23 and will complete the run across Asia’s largest desert in about 35 days if he can maintain a pace of 44 miles per day.
Yep. 44 miles a day. On sand.
Each day Zahab’s team archives a slice of life in an area of Mongolia rarely visited by westerners. Through the non-profit organization Impossible2Possible the resulting videos and photographs are shared to educate, inspire and empower students around the world.
A support crew of 10 people including a cook, logistics expert, photographer and videographer, make the run possible.
Zahab gets food and water drops during each day. He started running with partner Kevin Lin, but Lin changed plans after an injury. “I’m running solo for long periods of time. The mental aspect is very difficult,” Zahab told me.
I called Zahab on his satellite phone. He shared a few tips about the equipment and support it takes to accomplish this ambitious run. —Sean McCoy
Rely on Local Knowledge — Zahab relies upon the knowledge of locals for a lot of logistics. “Local knowledge cannot be beat for an expedition like this, things like water, food… where we are going to be able to resupply. A member of my Mongolian team is a cook. Dinner is often whatever we can get our hands on,” he said.
Have a Base Camp — Zahab’s team relies on a Mountain Hardwear Stronghold tent. The expedition shelter sleeps 10, and each evening it is set up by his crew as home base. “I leave in the morning and start my run. At the end of the day I show up and can see the tent miles and miles away.”
Wear Running Packs — Zahab is sponsored by Inov-8, and he wears either the brand’s to-be-released Race Ultra Vest or Race Extreme 10 depending on the plan for resupply during each day of running.
Trail Shoes on Sand — Zahab uses Inov-8’s Terrafly 303 or Trail Rock 245 shoe depending on the day. “The terrain is so variable here,” he said. “I can start out a day with tufts of grass and rock and sand, but by midday God knows what will come. I start in the grasslands and finish in the dunes.”
Debris Gaiters — Running in sand and gravel will put a lot of hitchhikers in shoes. Zahab wears short gaiters to limit the amount of pebbles bouncing in at the ankles.
Lube up! — Chafe is an unpleasant reality of long runs. To help lessen the rub, Zahab carries Body Glide anti-friction cream in his running pack. “I use it all the time.”
Navigation – Zahab said that obvious trails cross much of the Gobi, running from one small town to the next. On remote sections of desert he relies on waypoints in his “old” Garmin Forerunner 205. “I have a few of them that I’ve collected and they still work great,” he said.
Tracking device – The nReach SEi by DeLorme sends out a GPS “ping” by satellite every 10 minutes to allow his team — and the world online — to follow Zahab’s progress across the desert.
Communication — Talking with Zahab in the middle of the Gobi Desert from my home in Denver was as clear as talking with someone in the next town. Zahab relies on MVS Satellite phones for his communications.
Electricity — All those gadgets need power, and Zahab and his crew rely on Goal Zero Yeti units to charge their gear. Because of the possibility of extra power needs, they also carry a backup generator.
Electrolyte replacement — When you run, you sweat. Without electrolyte replacement you can count on cramps. Zahab likes Carbopro Hydra C5, a blend of carbohydrates, sodium and potassium mixed into water.