Have you ever thought it was possible to run across the vastest desert in the world? How about running for over 100 days in the hopes of helping to improve the lives of the people in African communities that don’t have access to clean water? On November 2, 2006, three runners, Ray Zahab, Charlie Engle, and Kevin Lin set out across the world’s largest desert on a life-changing quest that lasted 111 days and covered 4,300 miles.
Traveling through Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Libya, and Egypt, these runners fought through extreme physical exhaustion and injuries to help aid the water crisis in Africa through H20 Africa. This incredible expedition of humanitarianism and physical strength has been captured in a documentary that will premiere in fall of ’07.
inTravel Magazine had a chance to speak to two of the runners, Ray Zahab and Charlie Engle, who happen to be close friends, as they reflected on their accomplishment and shared some of their struggles.
As Charlie Engle explained, it was Ray Zahab’s idea to run the Sahara in the first place, “He called me and we were just having a normal runner’s conversation. ‘What race are you doing next? How is your training?’ That kind of talk. Then Ray said ‘ I wonder if anybody has ever run across the Sahara Desert?’ That did it! I did the research and I decided at that very moment to give it a shot. It turned out to be the craziest idea of my life.”
Growing up on an Arabian horse farm, Ray Zahab had always been enamored by the Sahara. In the three years of his running career, he raced in the Sahara five times and it always felt like home. “The people of the desert were amazing, the topography was incredible, and there was just so much to discover. When I returned from running a 333 km non-stop race in Niger in 2004, I asked a buddy of mine, Charlie Engle, a question- Next thing I know we were on a plane to Senegal!”
Charlie Engle has had much experience in desert-type runs, “I have been running in deserts for many years and can honestly say it is my favorite environment to run in. I have done Badwater in Death Valley 3 times (two 3rd Place finishes and one 8th), run the Gobi March across the Gobi Desert (1st Place), and run the Atacama Crossing in Chile (2nd Place). I am not sure why, but the desert has always suited me.”