Tuesday, November 18, 2008

ray zahab: "running for my life" book review

the full title of the book is "running for my life: on the extreme road with adventure runner ray zahab." as i've mentioned countless times, i'm not a fan of long subtitles. but this tiny negative is probably the only downside to this otherwise short, breezy - and decidedly enjoyable - read!

ray zahab is one of the co-stars of "running the sahara" movie. rob and i saw him in person at the new york premiere of the film last month. it was fascinating experience to hear him talk about the grueling trek across the sahara after the screening. one reason i picked up this book was to fill in the back story - how did he get there.

his story is remarkable because he not only went from a basically non-athlete straight across the spectrum to elite runner! even more fascinating, his start wasn't with running - but horses! he was an elite equestrian rider! then, leaving horses behind, he switched over to biking - not running! ray's first major ultra was a 24 hour mountain bike ride, followed by a number of bike and adventure race events.

somehow, without any major running ultras (or races) under his belt, he kicked off his ultra career with the 160k yukon arctic ultra - which he won! not a bad debut for a newbie ultra runner :D he followed up yukon experience with ultras in the desert and then the jungle, before he decided that desert racing was his thing. the book ends with his awesome victory in the multi-day sahara race. it hints at the run across (the entire) sahara that he would undertake with charlie engle and kevin lin the next year.

the irony of his incredible accomplishments running across deserts is tempered by his only dnf - at badwater! ray's book moves along at a fast pace (definitely in the spirit of a runner) and ray's writing style is intensely personal and, for such an accomplished athlete, incredibly modest.

it's well worth the time and effort to track down his book - either before or after taking in the movie. together, the book and film, are a powerful combination.

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