Running to Extremes - Scott Ludwig - ebook

Running to Extremes ebook

Scott Ludwig



Running every day for 45 years (Mark Covert) Winning the Badwater Ultramarathon twice (Pam Reed) Running 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days (Dean Karnazes) Setting four world records for most marathons in a calendar year (Larry Macon) Finishing the Badwater Ultramarathon with a prosthetic leg (Amy Winters-Palmiero) These are just some of the incredible and inspiring achievements of the endurance athletes profiled in this book. Each one of them has pushed the limits of human endurance and is an inspiration for people around the world. Their achievements are profiled in individual chapters, each introduced by prominent ultrarunners and friends. In addition to the most prolific endurance athletes in the world today, one section is dedicated to the 'Father of American Ultrarunning,' Ted Corbitt. Including a foreword by his son, Gary Corbitt, and a special section on his life and achievements, the book serves to preserve his legacy. Whether you are an ultrarunner yourself or a casual runner, a fan, a historian, or a scholar, this book and the incredible people and their stories in it will inspire you and ignite your passion for living life to the fullest. Above all, this 'Who's Who' of ultrarunning proves one thing: The impossible is possible!

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Scott Ludwig

Running to Extremes

The Legendary Athletes of Ultrarunning

Meyer & Meyer Sport (UK) Ltd.


Here’s what others have to say about Running to ExtremesIntroductionThe Father of Long Distance RunningThree Things You Need to Know (before reading this book)Foreword by Gary CorbittChapter 1Chapter 2Chapter 3Chapter 4Chapter 5Chapter 6Chapter 7Chapter 8Chapter 9Chapter 10Chapter 11Chapter 12Chapter 13Chapter 14Chapter 15Authors and ContributorsEpilogueAcknowledgementsAppendicesCredits

Here’s what others have to say about Running to Extremes

“I believe all of us are born to be explorers, and those who discover this are the luckiest people of all. Distance runners certainly fall into this category. Those who truly love life and the world they live in chase after life with every bit of gusto they have, and that transforms them into extreme runners. I truly enjoyed reading 'Running to Extremes'.”

- Bill Rodgers, four-time winner of both the Boston Marathon and New York City Marathon

“Ted Corbitt always stood for me as a symbol of how through large efforts (such as his pioneering work in course certification and his selfless volunteering) and little gestures (he once surprised me with a cake at the end of a race), someone can advance a sport and touch people’s lives. I welcome this book that recognizes his achievements by highlighting Ted and some of those who followed in his footsteps.”

- Ann Trason, 14-time winner of the Western States Endurance Run

“I am honored to be included with such an amazing list of athletes and people in Scott Ludwig’s book. Through their passion for living life to the fullest, these are the people who inspire me; I hope they do the same for you.”

- Marshall Ulrich, extreme endurance athlete and author of Running on Empty: An Ultramarathoner’s Story of Love, Loss, and a Record-Setting Run Across America

“Scott and his team of writers have compiled an outstanding collection of the most prolific endurance athletes in the world. I’m excited to be included and hope this book proves to others that what appears to be impossible is indeed possible.”

- Ray Zahab, one of only three men to have run across the Sahara Desert

“This book does an excellent job of honoring Ted Corbitt and the other founding fathers of long-distance running. 'Running to Extremes' will be an important part of the running history continuum for generations of participants, fans, historians, and scholars.”

- Gary Corbitt, curator of the Ted Corbitt Archives

“I am so grateful I still love to run. I encourage people to step outside the box and do something different to mix things up; it keeps it exciting. Keep putting one foot in front of the other and never stop.”

- Pam Reed, two-time winner of the Badwater Ultramarathon

“Trail and ultrarunning have created a never-ending source of new challenges as well as friendships and experiences that road racing just can’t provide.”

– Mike Smith, trail and ultrarunner


Early in 2012, my friend and accomplished ultrarunner, Amy Costa, invited me to participate in a conference call. Ordinarily I make it a practice to stay as far away from conference calls as possible for a variety of reasons: poor connections, trying to listen to more than one person speak at the same time, not always knowing who is speaking, people speaking just to hear themselves talk, and wondering if someone is on the call who hasn’t been announced as being on the call. Man, I avoid conference calls like I do the bubonic plague and chick flicks.

But not this one.

This conference call was different. This call was being hosted by Gary Corbitt, son of the late Ted Corbitt. You may recognize Ted Corbitt as the father of long-distance running. Ted Corbitt was one of the first distance runners who inspired me to become a distance runner. He was among the inaugural class of inductees into the National Distance Running Hall of Fame (1998) as well as the inaugural class of inductees into the American Ultrarunning Hall of Fame (2006). The purpose of the call was to preserve the history of road running, and the call was going to be recorded. For the first time in my life I was actually excited about being on a conference call. Actually, giddy might be a better word.

The participants on the call included a veritable who’s who in the world of distance running:

Park Barner, former U.S. and world record holder in the 24-hour run

Fritz Mueller, who, at age 42, ran a 2:20:47 Boston Marathon and, in 1978, won the World Masters Marathon Championship in Berlin

Rob Deines and John Garlepp, former 50-mile U.S. record holders; Garlepp was a former running rival of Ted Corbitt and the current coach of the renowned Millrose Athletic Association

Rich Benyo, established ultrarunner and editor of Marathon & Beyond

Ray Krolewicz, former U.S. record holder in the 48-hour run and finisher of over 400 ultramarathons

Phil McCarthy, current U.S. record holder in the 48-hour run

Neil Weygandt, finisher of the last 45 Boston Marathons

Jacqueline Hansen, 1973 and 1975 Boston Marathon winner and two-time world record holder in the women’s marathon

John Chodes, author of a biography on Ted Corbitt

Gary started the call by reading a letter from Bruce Fordyce, nine-time winner of the Comrades Marathon. Gary then introduced a true ultrarunning legend, Bernard Gomersall, winner of the 1965 Comrades Marathon and four-time winner (1963-1966) of the London-to-Brighton road race.

Bernard reminisced about his battles on the road with the ultrarunners of the 1960s, including his thrilling one-minute victory over Ted Corbitt at London-to-Brighton in 1964. His stories were so vivid it was as if they had taken place yesterday. Asked if he continues to run, Bernard stated he has arthritis in both knees and at the advice (nay, insistence) of his doctor is not allowed to run anymore. He remains active in a variety of other non-contact sports but misses the days when running 75 to 80 miles a week (and up to 110 miles a week leading up to important competitions) was the norm. Soon Bernard, a widower, announced he would be leaving his native England and moving to Maryland so that he can be close to his daughter.

The call was then opened up to others, and the topics were many:

The first AAU National 50-Mile Championship (Staten Island, New York) in 1966 when the temperature reached an almost intolerable 85 degrees Fahrenheit. The winner was Jim McDonagh in 5:52:28.

Ted Corbitt’s goal in the 1966 60-Mile Championship race: to hit the marathon mark in a brisk 2:42, only to be disappointed when his 26.2-mile split was 2:49.

The days when running competitions of significant distance had drinking regulations; in other words, no drinking prior to the 10-kilometer mark. (One person commented they saw runners disqualified for breaking this rule.)

Competitions that included actor and accomplished (in his own right) ultrarunner, Bruce Dern.

Park Barner, in his humble and soft-spoken manner, noting he now runs an average of two miles a day as he has a shoulder that “doesn’t agree” with his running (while not mentioning he at one time held the U.S. record in the 24-hour run with 152-plus miles, which bettered the former record by over 16 miles and later held the world record with 161 miles). Note: He did mention, however, that he loves to bowl and manages to maintain a 200 average. (Note to this note: In my opinion, a 200 bowling average is bowling’s equivalent of running 152 miles in 24 hours.)

Amy and I were both as quiet as dormice during the call, content on intently listening to the legends relive a time that was essentially the birth of ultrarunning.

In our own way, we were able to relive history, and we were very grateful for every second—and every mile—of it.

Those 105 minutes on that call inspired me to do my part in preserving the legacy of ultrarunning for generations to come. I couldn’t think of a better way than to write about those whose lives have been inspired by those who have run countless miles before them.

I hope you enjoy reading about them.

–Scott Ludwig

Marshall Ulrich and Scott Ludwig, Evergreen, Colorado, July 2015

The Father of Long Distance Running

I have my doubts as to whether or not I would have ever considered running an ultra if it weren’t for the influence, nay the legend, of Ted Corbitt.

Ted Corbitt is known not only in running circles but also around the globe as the father of American ultrarunning. Born in 1919, it would be 31 years before Corbitt would begin training to run marathons. He was virtually an instant success, earning a spot on the 1952 U.S. Olympic marathon team. Four years later he would miss qualifying for the team by only one spot.

Ted Corbitt and Ann Trason

Corbitt was born during a period when racial discrimination was prevalent. While his classmates would ride the bus to school, young Corbitt opted to walk; it was during these treks to and from school that he would discover how much he enjoyed running.

Competing as a track athlete in high school, Corbitt learned about the exploits of Tarzan Brown, a Narragansett Indian who won the Boston Marathon in 1936 and again in 1939. Corbitt was intrigued to discover that people could run 26.2 miles. At that time, four miles was considered a long distance to run; marathons did not have the national recognition they have today.

Corbitt attended the University of Cincinnati where he competed in distances ranging from sprints to the two-mile run. He excelled at every distance and would graduate with honors while earning a degree in physical education.

Corbitt took a brief hiatus from his diligent training program when he served in the army during World War II, got married, held a steady job, and earned a master’s degree in physical therapy from New York University (1950). It was then he remembered his high school promise to himself of one day running the Boston Marathon—just to see if he could.

In 1951, Corbitt proved to himself that he could, finishing 15th at the most prestigious marathon in the world with a time of 2:48:42. For an encore he ran two more marathons over the next two months in comparable times before qualifying for the Olympic marathon team the following year.

In 1959, Corbitt participated in one of the first modern American ultras, the New York Road Runner Club’s 30-miler. Fittingly, he won in a time of 3:04:13, and the event kick-started the sport in the United States. Over the next six years, Corbitt finished first in his first 17 ultramarathons in the U.S.

While maintaining a job as a physical therapist at the International Center for the Disabled, being a husband, raising a son, and working on running-related administrative duties during the night, Corbitt maintained a diligent and hard-to-fathom training regimen. He would run two, sometimes three, times a day. He would run around the entire island of Manhattan (31 miles) not once but oftentimes twice. His weekly mileage would fall in the range of 200 to 300 miles, his monthly mileage exceeding 800 miles—occasionally as much as 1,000 miles or more.

In 1962, Corbitt made his first appearance at the 52.7-mile London-to-Brighton road race in England. Corbitt was among the leaders in the first half of the race before ultimately finishing in fourth, a performance noted by Andy Milroy as signaling the rebirth of North American ultrarunning. Corbitt would return to England four more times to run the event, finishing second on three occasions, including a one-minute loss in 1964 to the number-one ranked ultrarunner in the world at the time, Bernard Gomersall. The race is considered one of the epic, classic duels in the history of the sport.

Ted Corbitt was not only a pioneer athlete in the world of running, but he was also at the forefront as an advocate in the world of running. He was the third president of the Road Runners Club of America (RRCA) and was elected to be the first president of the New York Road Runners Club in 1958. Corbitt helped launch the promotion of a national ultrarunning program by the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) and RRCA, resulting in the inaugural AAU National 50-Mile Championship in 1966. Corbitt finished second in the first edition of the event (Jim McDonagh was the winner), but he would return to win the championship in 1968, running 50 miles in 5:39:45. He authored and published the booklet, Measuring Road Running Courses, in August of 1964. This document initiated a program for accurate course measurement in the United States. This ensured the legitimacy of the sport of long-distance running with verifiable record keeping.

Corbitt was one of the early proponents of the masters division for runners 40 years of age or older. One of his proudest accomplishments was the development of the standards for course measurement—standards that are now followed by the many USATF-certified races throughout the country. It was Corbitt’s desire to make running a truly legitimate sport. By providing runners with accurate courses to compete, they could establish verified times and records to establish standards recognized around the world.

Ted Corbitt was one of the five inductees in the inaugural class of the National Distance Running Hall of Fame in 1998. The other four inductees were Bill Rodgers, Frank Shorter, Joan Samuelson, and Kathrine Switzer. In 2006, Corbitt was inducted into the American Ultrarunning Hall of Fame.

Corbitt dropped out of serious competition in 1974 because of bronchial asthma. At the time he was training for an attempt at bettering the record for running across the United States. (Corbitt felt he was capable of running the 2,800 miles from Los Angeles to New York in 42 days.) In spite of his health problems, Corbitt continued to run simply because he loved it. Although running became more of a physical challenge in his later years, Corbitt continued to participate (primarily walking) in marathons, 100-milers, and several 24-hour races. At the age of 82, he completed 303 miles in a six-day event—just for fun, as well as to achieve a goal and as a personal challenge.

Ted Corbitt, at the age of 88, died on December 12, 2007, in Houston, Texas. Suffering from prostate and colon cancer, Corbitt ultimately died of respiratory failure.

Ted Corbitt’s philosophy on running was a simple one. He was quoted in First Marathons: Personal Encounters With the 26.2-Mile Monster as saying:

You don’t need a goal. You don’t need a race. You don’t need the hype of a so-called fitness craze. All you need is a cheap pair of shoes and some time. The rest will follow.

Ted Corbitt’s wife, Ruth, died in 1989. He is survived by his son, Gary Corbitt of Jacksonville, Florida.

Gary has launched a site on Facebook, Ted Corbitt – Pioneer, and a website dedicated to his father at His goal is to not only recognize his father, but also to pay tribute to the many pioneers in running and health rehabilitation fields. Please take some time to visit these websites.

I have grown to know Gary through email and telephone correspondence over the past couple of years. When I presented the idea for this book to him and asked if he would be willing to share his father’s story, he agreed. For that we can all be grateful because it’s highly doubtful that the people portrayed in this book would have ever accomplished the things they have without Ted Corbitt’s influence, efforts, and sacrifices. As you will soon find out, Gary also generously agreed to write the foreword to this book.

Gary, thank you for allowing me to share your father’s story. I’m certain runners everywhere join me in my sentiments.

Scott Ludwig – Senoia, Georgia

Three Things You Need to Know (before reading this book)

All of the information, quotes, and material for this book are based on personal communications—primarily telephone conversations and correspondence through electronic mail—between the authors and their respective subjects. The exception is the chapter on Helen Klein, written by her husband Norm.

The athletes portrayed in this book are what I refer to as ‘moving targets.’ As the majority of the book was written by mid-2015 to meet publishing deadlines, it is highly probable that by the time you are reading this these athletes will have added to their impressive resumes.

Don’t be intimidated by their accomplishments. Rather, be inspired.

- Scott Ludwig

Foreword by Gary Corbitt

Running to Extremes is a fitting tribute to my father, Ted Corbitt, and his legendary and pioneering work in long-distance running. Scott Ludwig has assembled a team of writers and contributors who tell some quite amazing stories about a number of history’s most prolific ultrarunners. Scott is an ambassador to the sport of running through his books and as president of the Darkside Running Club. His message as president of the club states “if you’re a runner looking for inspiration…motivation…that little something extra to keep you focused and connected to the greatest sport on the planet—RUNNING—you’ve come to the right place.” The same can be said about this, his latest book.

Growing up, I had a unique experience watching the sport of running being invented. I’d like to take this opportunity to review the early eras of ultrarunning and name some of the pioneers in this sport.

The sport has certainly evolved. During the 1960s and early 1970s Ted Corbitt had only one opportunity to run a 100-mile and 24-hour race. Both efforts resulted in American records, but each race turned out to be off days for what he was capable of doing, both in time and distance. I’m still amazed after reading this manuscript to learn about Iron Mike’s goal of competing in one hundred 100-mile races in his career, Ed Ettinghausen’s completion of 40 races of 100 miles or longer in a single calendar year, and Mark Covert’s incredible career longevity.

One of the first extraordinary tests of endurance occurred in 1809 when Captain Robert Barclay, a Scottish aristocrat, walked 1,000 miles in 1,000 successive hours (nearly six weeks) at Newmarket in the United Kingdom. Barclay is also credited with competing in the first 24-hour race in October 1806.

My father would talk about his desire to run 600 miles in six days and walk 100 miles in less than 24 hours. I didn’t understand the significance of these pedestrian-era performances until after his passing. The pedestrian era (1870s) was when the sport of ultrarunning and walking began to flourish. At the time this was America’s favorite spectator sport until interest started to grow in baseball, boxing, and cycling in the 1890s. The events were held in big arenas—like New York’s Madison Square Garden—and included big prize purses, huge crowds, circus-like sideshows, lots of betting, and alcohol. Bands and even orchestras were employed by the promoters to entertain both the crowd and the men on the track. The prize money made these athletes wealthy. Frank Hart, the first African American running world record holder earned $21,567, or the equivalent of $480,000 today, in a six-day race. Edward Payson Weston was responsible for the birth of the professional pedestrian era. He was the first to cover 500 miles by foot in six days in 1874. A pedestrian rule change in the late 1870s took the go-as-you-please, or walking, matches into both walking and running. As the sport grew in popularity with the public, it naturally also grew in popularity with the gamblers. This led to its downfall as rumors of fixing matches became widespread.

I was moved in reading the chapter on Mark Covert. His 45-year streak of consecutive days of running started on July 22, 1968. The date was within days of when my father’s 13 years of consecutive two runs per day ended. On July 24, 1968, Ted Corbitt ran his signature morning 20-mile workout to work. He ran 3 miles at lunch and another 13 miles home. He was within three miles of home on his evening run when he was injured from an encounter with a dog. All endeavors, occupations, and sports have a history and lineage. Records are set and broken; streaks are started and ended. The ultrarunning streak baton was passed from Ted to Mark in July 1968.

The sport of ultrarunning was reborn with the Bunion Derby in 1928 (199 starters) and 1929 (89 starters). It was the very first footrace across America. The races offered significant prize money. Johnny Salo, a shipyard worker from Passaic, New Jersey, distinguished himself in both races with a second- and first-place finish, respectively, in the two events. My father had plans of running across America, but this dream ended when he developed asthma in 1975. Two hundred fifty-two people have journeyed by foot across the United States over the years, starting with Edward Weston in 1909 at age 70. At age 13, I saw Don Shepard in New York finish his solo run across the country without a support crew or vehicle. He set a record of 73 days that lasted 16 years until Jacksonville, Florida, schoolteacher and coach, Jay Birmingham, completed the trek in 71 days. Jay’s solo record still stands today.

One of the first annual ultrarunning races in the United States was the Providence to Boston 44- mile race held in March. The great Clarence DeMar used this race as a tune-up for the Boston Marathon. In 1928, DeMar would win both of these races. DeMar won the Boston Marathon seven times between 1911 and 1930.

The modern era of ultrarunning began in 1958 with the formation of the Road Runners Club of America (RRCA) by Browning Ross. The New York City metropolitan area and the New York Road Runners Club led the way in the revival of ultramarathon running by conducting the first series of ultrarunning races. Aldo Scandurra, a runner and leading administrator of the sport, organized these races in the early 1960s. The RRCA began the process of working with the sport’s governing body, the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), in which Aldo was the chair of the long-distance running committee. These efforts led to the first U. S. National 50-Mile Championship race in 1966 at Staten Island, New York.

Ted Corbitt was the face of the sport during those years. His duels with Jim McDonagh in the U.S. and Bernard Gomersall in England are legendary. He represented the U.S. on five occasions at the London-to-Brighton 52-mile road race. The London-to-Brighton was the de facto world championship race and dates back to 1951. South Africa’s apartheid policy prevented my father from competing at the 54-mile Comrades Marathon, which dates back to 1921. Ted Corbitt also participated overseas in world record track races of 50 miles, 100 miles, and 24 hours from 1966 to 1973 when he set American records each time. The Millrose AA team of Gary Muhrcke, John Garlepp, and Norbert Sander won the London-to-Brighton team title in 1976. My father raced these gentlemen at all distances for many years. This team victory was certainly inspired by my father. The ultrarunning baton was passed from Ted Corbitt to these Millrose runners. In the 1970s, the baton was passed to Park Barner and Allan Kirik.

The first generation of women in ultrarunning occurred during the 1970s and included the following: Ruth Anderson, Natalie Cullimore, Donna Gookin, Miki Gorman, Judy Ikenberry, Sandra Kiddy, Sue Krenn, Nina Kuscsik, Marcy Schwam, Sue Ellen Trapp, and Eileen Waters. These women pioneers should never be forgotten. They passed the baton to Ann Trason and others.

This book does an excellent job of honoring Ted Corbitt and the other founding fathers of long-distance running. Running to Extremes will be an important part of the running history continuum for generations of participants, fans, historians, and scholars. Learn and be inspired by these great stories you’re about to read. Take the baton and keep moving. The body and mind always get stronger by staying consistent and committed to a goal in running and in life.

Gary Corbitt, Curator – Ted Corbitt Archives

Chapter 1

Ray Zahab

Ray Zahab, © Jon Golden

When we think of Ray Zahab, a very distinct, defining image comes to mind. Close your eyes and imagine the finish line of the 2012 Badwater Ultramarathon. If you have been there, you know the magic of this final, epic climb. You have felt the tingles and the tears and experienced that greatly anticipated exhalation of breath (that you have unknowingly been holding since Lone Pine). The sheer magnitude of completing this journey paired with the pride experienced by both runner and crew—it is a moment in time that becomes seared into our consciousness. For the two of us, the image is of Chris, standing in front of the iconic Badwater backdrop, flanked by Ray on his left side. Arm in arm they stood there, Ray with pride in his eyes, Chris with well-earned tears of joy. When the race photographer went to snap the photo, Chris beamed from ear to ear, and Ray, well, Ray just pointed his finger at Chris and smiled. It was a powerful gesture. It said, “This is not about me.” It said, “This is what IT is all about.” It said, “Together we can accomplish great things.” This is who Ray is. He has committed his life to creating greatness in others.

Ray is one of the busiest people we know. He actually has to schedule his 10-minute “check-in” phone calls. He’s kind of busy, you see, because he is changing the planet. His reach is limitless, not only through his incredible adventure racing, but also in his example as both father and husband. He inspires people to become better versions of themselves. Have you ever heard the C.S Lewis quote that goes something like, “Ray does the right thing, even when no one is watching.” Well, maybe not exactly just like that, but you get the picture. With Ray it really is that simple. Ray walks the walk. He has had his share of challenges, just like we all do. We truly believe that it is through his humanity and in his humility that people are drawn to him. What we know for sure is that he is an integral part of our lives, and for that we are forever changed. Not only are we changed, we are blessed and committed to furthering his mission: To educate, to inspire, and to empower…and that fire starts anew each day that we are lucky enough to awaken, rise, and be the change.

– Erin and Chris Roman


By Scott Ludwig

I know a few people who gave up cigarettes when they started running. I know a couple of people who run yet still smoke cigarettes. I even know one runner who smokes cigars.

But it wasn’t until I met Ray Zahab that I knew a person who stopped smoking a pack a day and went on to become one of the most recognizable ultrarunners in the world.

Ray Zahab was heading down the path toward a sedentary lifestyle when he decided at the age of 27 to change his lifestyle and become more like his brother—to do the things his brother, who was always quite the athlete—did to keep fit. Ice climbing. Rock climbing. Adventure racing. Mountain biking. Ray was trying it all, but nothing would ever stick. But that didn’t stop Ray from deciding that the year he turned the big three-oh would be, as he refers to it, his year. The exact date for the launch of Ray Zahab 2.0 was January 1, 2000.

Ray quickly embraced the outdoor lifestyle, discovering he had the same engine as his brother—an engine that allowed him to do really long things. Always the kid picked last in gym class, Ray had no concept of his athletic potential. He couldn’t throw a ball or ice skate, the latter keeping him from participating in the most popular sport in his native Canada, hockey. (Ray still can’t skate.)

Everything changed in 2003 after Ray read an article about ultrarunning. Ironically, running was one of the few sports he didn’t try. Although he could ride a bicycle 100 miles at the drop of a hat, Ray was intimidated by running anything much farther than 5 kilometers. He couldn’t believe people could run distances of 31 miles… 50 miles… ONE HUNDRED MILES! Once he realized many ultrarunners were simply ordinary, average people wanting to try something completely different by challenging themselves to test their limits, Ray decided to give it a try.

Ray redefined the word try as he literally became one of the most prominent adventure runners in the world. His exploits have taken him to the most extreme environments on the planet, including the Amazon rainforest, the Sahara Desert, and the South Pole.

The short version: Ray found his true calling in life. Now prepare yourself for the long version.

After all, Ray’s been doing some really long things for the last decade, including his epic 1,200-kilometer (744 miles) run along the length of the driest desert on earth, the Atacama Desert in northern Chile in 2011. Ray’s run, done completely on foot with limited daily resupplies and his camping and survival gear on his back, was completed in 20 days.

Ray’s Atacama adventure will be told here, interspersed with a variety of additional information that will paint a clearer picture of the man who made the very most of life’s wake-up call.

Dodging Land Mines (Day 1)

Ray began his Atacama run on the border of Peru and Chile. Forced to stay on the road for the first 5 kilometers to avoid stepping on a land mine, he managed to complete 78.5 kilometers (almost 49 miles) on the first day of his run, starting his run on the right foot.

Ray decided to stop dodging the land mines of everyday life 11 years earlier when he realized that feeling sorry for himself was the most unproductive thing he could do. Understanding there were a billion people in the world having it worse than him, he decided he wanted to celebrate life. Ray wasn’t looking to become a great athlete, necessarily; he just wanted to do something in his life he could feel really good about. Participating in outdoor activities seemed to be just what Ray needed, as he began feeling healthier and happier about himself.

Fast forward to February of 2004. Ray decided to test his limits like those other average people doing ultras were doing. He entered the Yukon Arctic Ultra, a brisk little 100-mile jaunt through the snow while pulling a sled. Not only did he complete the entire 100 miles, but he won the race!

Ray’s immediate and newfound success triggered his philosophy that people underestimate themselves physically, mentally, and emotionally as human beings. “It was very clear to me that day,” he says. He adds that had his life not followed the path it did, he would have never experienced “that amazing day in the snow in February in the Yukon.”

However, by no means was the 100 miles in the Yukon a walk in the park. In fact, Ray was actually “ready to throw in the towel” about halfway through the race when he remembered his commitment to do the best he could, so he decided to walk until he couldn’t walk anymore. The plan was working up until the point he saw the finish line, at which time he decided to run. It dawned on him at that moment that he was a runner, and that’s what runners do—they run.

The Heat Is On (Days 2 Through 5)

Ray covered 244.2 kilometers (151 miles) over the next four days. He was getting very little sleep at night, forced to take a detour that added 35 kilometers to his journey, battling huge headwinds, and running on two legs scorched by the heat reflecting off of the road. This was quickly becoming one of his toughest expeditions mentally. Military operations in the desert trumped Ray’s original route; thus the additional distance run on a trail following the power lines. To combat the desert sun, he wore long sleeves to protect his arms and hands. Ray couldn’t help but notice the scenery being eerily similar to that in the Sahara. He recommends the always-changing terrain (desert, then forest) as a “must see place.”

In the fall of 2006, Ray, along with Charlie Engle and Kevin Lin, crossed the Sahara Desert on foot. Seven thousand five hundred kilometers (4,650 miles) in 111 days from the coast of Senegal Africa to their “finish line” in the Red Sea.

The three of them would pile up some incredible statistics during their epic run through the desert: 70 kilometers a day (just over 43 miles), ZERO days off, six countries, and (get upwind for this one) only TWO SHOWERS!

National Geographic tracked their expedition on the web, and Matt Damon produced the film Running the Sahara in an effort to raise awareness for the drinking water crisis in North Africa. After witnessing this crisis firsthand, Ray decided he would utilize his future endeavors and adventures to raise awareness and funding for causes he believed in.

On another note, the run emphasized what Ray had thought several years prior:

We totally underestimate what we’re capable of.

We have no limits to what we’re capable of.

After his desert odyssey, Ray and his wife, Kathy, wanted to replicate the Sahara experience for others, so they created the i2P Foundation, a clever abbreviation for “impossible to possible.” The goals were short, to the point, and ever so powerful:




Ray and Kathy wanted to show 15-, 16-, and 17-year-olds what had taken Ray almost 40 years to learn: Don’t underestimate yourself; you can do amazing things when you’re younger; and the world is an incredible place, and you should want to learn more about it.

Ray and Kathy were definitely on to something big, and it was about to get even bigger.

Stoked (Day 6)

Ray covered 69 kilometers (about 43 miles) as he ran through an active salt lake as well as along an abandoned railroad while taking a timeout to wait for his support crew. As luck would have it, the support crew’s car bore a resemblance to a car used in a robbery, and the police wanted to investigate both the car and its suspicious-looking occupants. While this was transpiring, Ray ran out of fluids, so he used the idle time to videoconference with schools that were following the live feed of the expedition. The communication with the students left Ray feeling reinvigorated, or, as he put it, “stoked.”

Ray, Kathy, and Ray’s best friend, Bob Cox, launched the i2P Foundation in 2008 as an organization directed towards inspiring and educating young adults between the ages of 17 and 21 through “adventure learning,” a softer way of telling parents their loved ones were about to participate in a real-live expedition.

Youth ambassadors are selected from all over the world to participate in every aspect of the expedition. They plan the logistics and run and traverse the course while creating educational content and team support. Here’s the punch line: All of this at no cost to the youth ambassador!

All of the i2P Youth Expeditions include challenge-based initiatives through an elaborate Experiential Learning program, involving thousands of students from classrooms all over the world. These students participate as active team members during the expeditions and learn through the adventure about specific subjects. This entire program—and all of the technology utilized to support it—is provided at no cost to the schools participating, as well.

If you’re wondering how i2P manages to conduct these expeditions (Baffin Island, Tunisia, the Amazon, Bolivia, India, Botswana/Africa, and phenomenal Utah) at no cost, wonder no more. You’ve been reading how for the last several pages. To challenge himself and do things that are really extreme, Ray does one “ridiculous” expedition a year. Like being the first person to run the length of the Atacama Desert. Or running to the South Pole without any support. Or crossing Siberia, also unsupported, in the winter. Any and all endorsement deal revenue generated from these expeditions is donated to i2P. On a personal level, Ray earns his living through speaking engagements. (Ray is an exceptional and exceptionally motivating speaker, by the way). A most appropriate vocation for a man whose office is Planet Earth.

The Going Gets Tough (Days 7 Through 14)

The low point of the run occurred on day 7: A severely bad blister on the instep of his left foot limited Ray to less than 8 kilometers (less than 5 miles). His team asked him to sit for the day to avoid the possibility of a severe infection. Capitalizing on his own advice to “pack something in your bag to look forward to,” Ray took out his razor and shaved.

Nursing his foot for the next three days—but still managing to cover 164 kilometers (about 102 miles)—Ray encountered a meteor impact site and was chased by a pack of dogs while running through a small community.

The following four days resulted in another 233 kilometers (144 miles) and running with a Chilean running legend from Santiago, a long train passing by on a live rail system (Ray’s daughter, Mia, loves trains), and temperatures in the low 120s…with heavy winds tossed in for good measure. On day 14, Ray did a lot of walking, making for a “bad day.” Ever the optimist, he mentioned that bad days made the good days even better.