On February 20 of 2006, an international expedition team of three men – Charlie Enge (USA), Ray Zahab (Canada) and Kevin Lin (Taiwan) touched the Red Sea in Egypt, just a few hours before sunset. They had just become the first people ever to run across the entire Sahara desert!
Their quest had lasted 111 days and taken them through 6 countries: Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Libya, and Egypt. By the team’s daily GPS record, they had traveled over 4,300 miles (6,920 kilometers). They had fought through injury and extreme fatigue to reach their goal, which changed them forever.
It all started with one of the most unlikely extreme adventure team formations:
Charlie Engle was a 42-year-old American father of two boys, a television producer, and one of the best ultra distance marathon runners in the world. Engle had been a runner, climber, and adventure racer for more than 30 years when he came up with this extreme running project.
Combining his tv production and adventuring backgrounds Engle came up with the Sahara running project which he simultaneously wanted to turn in an epic documentary focused on both the adventure and local water problems in the Sahara desert.
Canadian Ray Zahab had a much extremer story: in 1998 he made a life changing decision to leave a pack-a-day smoking habit and his other very unhealthy life choices behind him. On New Year’s Day 2000, he decided to go hiking with his brother John and has never looked back. New to the sport of ultra running in 2004, ultra-marathoning took Ray from the cold north of Canada to the Amazon jungle. But it was the Sahara desert that ultimately captured Ray’s heart. After witnessing and experiencing the water crisis and malaria epidemic in Africa, Ray decided to dedicate his future adventures to raising awareness and funding for causes that he supports and believes in..
Taiwanese Kevin Lin (28 years old) was one of the most well known endurance athletes in all of Asia winning (among many other things) the first ever 150-mile (241-kilometer) race across the Atacama Desert in Chile, dancing across the finish line while more than half the field had to be rescued from the course.
These three guys made up the Sahara running team that made it across this USA-sized desert in 111 days of incredible running.
Their adventure is captured in the award winning documentarty ‘Running the Sahara’ produced and narrated by Hollywood star Matt Damon who was also the founder of the H2O Africa Foundation (now water.org), the charitable arm of the Running the Sahara expedition.
The film is an up-close, character-driven documentary that delves deep into the culture of the Sahara through the eyes of three individuals undergoing a life-altering experience. Along with the runners, one crosses six countries: Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Libya and Egypt. Through the eyes of the runners, one comes to understand the realities of Africa – the beauty and the tragedy inherent in everyday life. This reality is underscored by the recurring theme of water – a daily necessity for the runners and a daily struggle for many of the people they encounter. They encountered many locals who would spend two and half hours per day, every day, finding and cleaning their water for that day.
Sprawling over 3.5 million square miles, the Sahara is a mystical land, enchanting for its extreme beauty and its complex culture. At the same time, it may well be the most unforgiving place on earth — the daytime heat and the freezing temperatures at night can suck the life from a body in an instant.It is in these circumstances that the running team accomplished running for 111 days averaging 1.5 marathon a day!!
From the solitude of the Tenere Desert to the bustling heat of Dakar (Senegal) and the overwhelming crush of Cairo, Africa’s largest metropolis. Every location along the way provided its own challenge and held a unique reward for the three explorers and their team.
And it resulted in a truly kickass adventure and documentary.