Running the Sahara

I recently ordered the Running the Sahara documentary DVD of Ray Zahab, Kevin Lim, and Charlie Engle running the 4500 miles across the Sahara desert from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea. I finally watched the DVD over the Christmas holidays. It's an amazing story of three tough as nail guys who ran nearly 80km and sometime more per day over 111 days. To put that into perspective that is two marathons per day. They each went through 100 pairs of shoes. Kevin's shoe size went from a 7.5 to an 8 as his feet swelled from the heat and running.

I enjoyed the movie and was inspired by each of them. Charlie the drill seargeant is a guy one may hate in the moment but realize later that his enthusiasm, drive, and how hard he pushes people only makes them better. I completely agreed with the situations that pissed him off and I would be equally pissed... but perhasp not express it the way he did. Charlie and I have a similar history. I just managed to avoid the drugs and found an addiction to sport much sooner in life. So I felt a strong connection to him but also cringed many times. Kevin is a fighter and a beautiful runner. Ray is mister easy going, a smart runner, and is very humble. His personal story is riveting and he's become a great example for everyone that one can turn their life around. I liked each of them very much.

It must have been so tough for the editors to piece together 2 hours from 111 days of running, sleeping, sickness, injury, partying, logistical hell, beautiful people, amazing landscapes, hygiene issues, and the arguing. Even though the movie was truly awe inspiring I feel I didn't get the whole story. What really happened out there? How tough was the running... really? Maybe this is something I'll never know unless I try to do the same. I've done week long hikes in the outback and know they can be tough when one runs out of food, gets lost, argues with the hiking partner, gets stinky... but I also know of the rewards, the personal connections one makes, and the majestic beauty of the back-country. I think the movie does a great job illustrating the beauty of the landscape, the majestry of running, deep friendship and respect in the face of very trying circumstances and uncertainties.

They movie skirted around the politics of the Sahara and it left me wanting for more. I kept wondering when the movie would get political and start making statements about the water crisis in the Sahara. The messages were subtle and sometimes very strong visually but without the spoken context. The very beginning of the run started on an extremely poluted beach in Senegal. They were wearing flip flops and I kept thinking I hope they don't cut their feet on the garbage. Given what I heard about the movie I thought the water situation would be more overt and a constant theme throughout. However, if you have the DVD you'll find sections on the water crisis and several special features on the water wells and related projects. If I hadn't heard about the water issues and just went into it without the bias I think I wouldn't have known any different.

Overall, BRAVO to the team, the directors, the producers and hats off to Ray, Charlie, and Kevin! What an amazing accomplishment!!! I recommend the movie to everyone. Even if you don't plan to run across a desert, run a marathon, or to the end of your road the movie has something to teach us all. Perserverance, friendship, respect, and dedication to making dreams come true.


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