Running to Extremes by Steve Pitt, Ray Zahab

By Steve Pitt, Ray Zahab

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Ray extinguished his final cigarette. The year 2000 looked and felt exactly like 1999 to everyone around him, but there was a new road ahead for Ray. TWO FROM COLD TURKEY TO COLD TOOTSIES Quitting smoking was exactly what Ray had expected it to be—unpleasant at first, but no worse than getting over a bad flu or a case of measles. He’d never realized that he possessed the mental power to force his body to ignore its nicotine cravings. And Ray’s new lifestyle had other pleasant surprises. Food suddenly smelled and tasted better.

Many ultramarathons are held in extreme locations, like mountain ranges and deserts, the Arctic tundra and tropical rainforests. A few runners have even completed the ultramarathon grand slam, which means they have competed on all seven continents and at both poles. One of the most famous modern ultramarathons is the Yukon Arctic Ultra. This race was inspired by another endurance event—the Yukon Quest, which is the world’s longest, hardest dogsled race. For thousands of years, dogsleds were the traditional way for First Nations people to travel long distances in the North.

As the race date approached, Ray began to train in earnest. He ran five times a week, sometimes as far as 40 kilometres (25 miles) in one day with a full pack. He did speed sprints, where he would run five kilometres (three miles) as fast as he could and then drop back to a jogging speed. It was spring in the Ottawa Valley, and as Ray slogged along the side of the road, the passing cars spraying him with slushy grey snow, he dreamed of clear blue skies and the burning sands of the Sahara. Finally, it was time to leave.

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