Ray Zahab
Credit: Courtesy Ray Zahab

For distance runner Ray Zahab, it makes getting to the finish line that much easier

If you were to ask Ray Zahab, Canada’s most celebrated ultra-distance runner, to run 100 kilometres for no particular purpose, he doesn’t think he could do it. This is a man who has run 333 kilometres without stopping and who traversed the Sahara Desert in 111 days. “I don’t see myself as anything special physically,” he says. “It’s mental. I need a reason to run.”

In the early days of his career, just finishing an event was reason enough, but now he needs more. These days, as one of the best ultra runners in the world, he uses his participation in an event to raise money for charity. “Having a cause is why I am able to drive myself,” he says.

No matter whether you’re aiming for an ultra or a 10K trail run, here are Zahab’s tips for getting you to the finish line:

1. Find a race that moves you. After his first visit to the Sahara, Zahab loved it so much he dreamt up the cross-Sahara trip just so he could come back. Even for a short cross-country race, it makes a difference to find an event that inspires you in some way. Maybe it’s a cool destination or a race with friends—either way, you’ll train inspired and push to the finish.

2. Write your goal for finishing down. Putting the goal on paper makes it real, not an abstract thought in your head. And tell everyone you know about it—that makes it harder for you to back out.

3. Find a reason other than just finishing. Raise money for a charity, especially one with a personal meaning, or do it for health reasons. Having someone counting on you will help you push through the painful parts.

4. If it’s a big race, figure out how to make it happen. Break it down into lots of little goals to get from here to the finish. When Zahab wanted to race the Trans 333, the 333-kilometre non-stop race across Niger, he formulated a training regimen, planned the logistics and figured out how he could afford to go, all before he started training. Most races aren’t as involved, but having a plan and trying to stick to it will keep you focused.
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