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Michael Benge Friday, 18 November 2011 11:07 TWEET COMMENTS 0

Running In Place - Page 6

Although his peak training weeks topped 125 miles, says Engle, "There was no real way to prepare my body for 4500 miles, and weekly mileage of twice that, so I just tried to stay healthy and trusted that my body would adjust. I also had to learn to eat 10,000 calories per day, which was not as much fun as it might sound." He also incorporated core work and weight lifting four days a week.

On November 2, 2006, Engle, Zahab and Lin ceremoniously dipped their hands in the Atlantic Ocean off Senegal and began running. Their goal was to run the 4500 miles in 90 days (including 10 rest days) through Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Libya and Egypt to the Red Sea—that's about 55 miles a day—farther and faster than anyone had ever gone, facing tortuous terrain and conditions and complex logistics. That first day, they ran 22 miles.

The inauspicious start planted seeds of doubt, but the three slogged on through 120-degree daytime temperatures, a three-week sandstorm and constant headwinds, battling stomach issues, blisters, snakes, locusts, scorpions, energy-sucking sand, sleep deprivation, bad food and attacking wild boars. They eventually settled into a routine, though, rising at 4 a.m. and running until noon, napping till about 3 p.m., and then running until 9 at night. Over 40 miles a day, every day.

Watch Running the Sahara, and you sense the tension within the team, and Engle's intensity. The constant physical torture was monumental, but the psychological torment was off the charts. Engle actually thrived on it.

"I wanted us to suffer," he says. "To find a whole new level of self discovery."

Engle was the undisputed leader and relentless taskmaster. He deems Zahab "the moral officer, the king of happyland." Continues Engle, "Kevin was a good soldier, a great guy, but he had his down moments. I could yell at Ray, but yelling at Kevin was like yelling at a puppy, who would cower and not come out from under the couch all day."

Says Zahab, now 42, of Chelsea, Quebec, a professional adventurer and founder of the non-profit organization Impossible2Possible, "I had quit a pack-a-day smoking habit in 1999, and took up running in 2003. By the time we started running across the Sahara, I had competed in ultramarathons all over world, but nothing could really prepare me for the Running the Sahara project—and what it would teach me.

"It taught me without doubt that dreams are achievable. Period. Charlie definitely was the driving force. I always felt like I could lean on him, and he was always there for his teammates.

"One of the glues that kept us together was Charlie's ability to crack a joke and make you laugh in the most stressful situations. Sometimes on an expedition now, I think back to those moments, and no matter how sore or tired I am, I break out into insane laughter."

One hundred and nine days, 4350 miles, countless blisters and couscous servings, two showers—and no rest days—after starting, the three were poised for a final 150-mile push. Over 48 sleepless hours, in which Engle battled severe blisters, they pushed past the pyramids of Giza and through the madness of Cairo and, finally, stumbled into the waters of the Red Sea.


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