How Ray Zahab is Keeping his Adventures at Home

By Shana Cesaire

It’s hard to believe that it has been over a month since we’ve been told to stay home. Although most of us agree that cabin fever has sunk in, some people aren’t letting the restrictions set by social distancing guidelines bring them down. Last year’s OAFF Lifetime Achievement Award Winner, long-distance runner Ray Zahab, is one of those awesome people.

We caught up with Ray to talk about his training before the pandemic, and how he’s managing to follow social distancing guidelines while still enjoying his active lifestyle.

Ray is known for his inclination towards intense expeditions, stating, “I’m on an expedition in extremes, winter and deserts. I like being in these extremes. The photo of a sky in the arctic in January is impactful – I love being able to share that imagery.”

This is evident in the film Running the Sahara, which documented one of Ray’s most known expeditions. From November 2006 to February 2007, Ray crossed the Sahara Desert by foot with fellow runners Charlie Engle and Kevin Lin. Although an extraordinarily difficult 111 days, Ray’s favourite part of his journey was all the people that he met.

“Through adventure, you can learn about culture in unique ways because you’re there on foot, and that starts a conversation when you run into a remote community,” says Ray. “You end up sitting down for a meal together.”

He says there are peaks and valleys in his training throughout the year. In the winter, he does a lot of cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and multisports to develop an extended base of strength for his expeditions.

But, for some, right now would be considered somewhat of a valley. With the current global pandemic, people around the world are being told to stay home and social distance themselves in order to stop the spread of Covid-19. Ray, of course, is doing his part. But how does an adventurer continue doing what he loves when the scope of his adventures are limited?

At the core, he has shifted his focus to “Be as healthy as we can be. No volume, no intense work. That’s all you can ask for. Perseverance. Stay home and follow guidelines around social distancing.”

Luckily, Ray thinks ahead and has set up his life to always have options to continue to stay active, even at home. He has a home set-up that enables him to continue with his strength training, which includes using TRX, a bosu and comprehensive training. He also has access to a trail and a rig in his backyard.

“I love where we live,” he says about his home in Chelsea, known for its trails and boasting many opportunities for outdoor activities. “It’s a great place for running and biking and outdoor sports, trail running here in the summer is exceptional, I love the foliage.”

All of this may not be the same as running long-distance across the country, and he may not be experiencing the extremes that he loves, but he is more than content with scaling back right now.

Ray is also very appreciative of the extra time he is having with his family right now. His two daughters, age 11 and 9,  take after their father and love doing the activities he does, including trail running, skiing and mountain biking. They have also had to adjust their normal outdoor Spring activities, but they completely understand what’s going on and why it’s necessary. “They do kids stuff outside,” says Ray. “Kids are much easier to entertain.”

Ray’s advice to others trying to cope during this time is simple: take it one day at a time. 

“Look at each day individually and set goals for that day,” he says. “Find other elements to do in your life. I have a friend who started jumping rope. Movement is a really good thing. Don’t get stuck mentally thinking that it’s a waste.”

“If you can go outside, great. But follow the public health guidelines. Do things in your yard – run around in circles in your yard if you want. Be as fit and as healthy as you can be.”

Ray is optimistic. As of now, this summer’s youth expedition with his foundation, Impossible2Possible, which takes young people on expeditions that are connected to classrooms, is still expected to take place. He is also excited for when he can continue his project in Death Valley.

“The uncertainty is what we feel the most, but if we’re able to realize that every one of us has the ability to be resilient, it will happen.”

Visit Ray at his website, and follow him on Instagram.

Visit impossible2possible to check out his youth expeditions.