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Quick Sprint Out West

Ultramarathon runner Ray Zahab on his surprising first marathon win and his carry-on essentials.

Ray Zahab

Chelsea, Quebec, resident Ray Zahab has set foot on every continent except Australia. Best known for running the length of the Sahara Desert in 111 days, Zahab is also the founder of impossible2Possible (i2P), a non-profit that uses adventure as an education medium to inspire youth internationally. We caught up with him before a quick trip to Vancouver to deliver a keynote address at Simon Fraser University about his organization’s latest expedition.

Scrunch, roll, fold or stuff?
I fold everything neatly to fill up every last space in my bag.

How would you describe your packing philosophy?
When I’m not travelling for an expedition, I’m superminimalist. Everything goes in my carry-on, even my belt. My pants will be falling off in the airport, but it’s all right.

What’s the first thing you do when you land?
I source out a little coffee shop, and then I drop off my bags and go for a run. I love to see a city on foot.

You’ve travelled the world. Where’s your favourite spot?
I’ve been through the Gobi Desert in China, Agadez in Niger and Antarctica, but there’s nowhere as beautiful as Baffin Island.

Have you always been in great shape?
Seven years ago, I smoked a pack of cigarettes a day. In 2003, I entered my first ultramarathon and, to my surprise, won it. It’s not that I’m a great runner; it’s that we’re all capable of doing extraordinary things in our lives. We only have one trip on this planet so don’t wait until you’re 40; start when you’re 14.

What’s in Ray’s carry-on?

Ray Zahab

01 Shoes
They’re dirty because I ran 10 kilometres through Gatineau Park this morning. I probably do 100 to 160 kilometres a month, which means I go through a pair every four weeks. 

02 Gatorade Prime
I take this before a long run or if I get off the airplane slightly dehydrated. It’s instant calories.

03 Anti-Chafe
I use this so my legs don’t get chafed, but you can also use it to prevent blisters. It has the consistency of antiperspirant.

04 Flip Camera
This is for capturing experiences on the trail quickly. The last video I took was in Bolivia, as the i2P youth ambassadors crossed the finish line at an altitude of 4,572 metres.

05 Lucky Coin
Admiral Allen of the U.S. Coast Guard gave this to me after a talk I gave about the water crisis in Africa.

06 Wedding Ring
This traditional Tuareg wedding band was made in Niger by one of the nomads on our team. I had one made for me and one for my wife, Kathy.

07 I2P Running T-shirt
I wore this in the Atacama Desert. It’s breathable, but it’s not like cotton; it wicks the sweat away from you.

08 Light-weight Shell
Canada Goose creates custom gear for my expeditions. I asked them if they could make a super-duper lightweight jacket for the desert, and this is what they came up with. It weighs less than an ounce.

09 Arm warmers
If it’s really cold, I’ll put these on for an instant long-sleeved shirt.

10 GPS
In case I get lost.

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