________________ CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 17. . . .January 6, 2012


Running to Extremes: Ray Zahab's Ultramarathon Journey.

Steve Pitt with Ray Zahab.
Toronto, ON: Puffin Canada, 2011.
119 pp., pbk., $12.99.
ISBN 978-0-14-317967-2.

Subject Headings:
Zahab, Ray, 1969- -Juvenile literature.
Marathon Running-Juvenile literature.
Runners (Sports)-Canada-Biography-Juvenile literature.

Grades 6-9 / Ages 11-14.

Review by Amy Dawley.

** /4

Reviewed from Uncorrected and Unpublished Proofs.



Ray's running slowed down to a walk and then his walk slowed to a complete halt. He sat down on his sled and took stock of his situation. "I hate this," he admitted. He thought of his friends and family back home. He'd promised all those people he would do his very best. He heard a voice say, "How do I get out of this?" It was the Old Ray talking again. The Old Ray began finding lots of excuses he could give his friends and family for not finishing the race. "It was just too cold. Too long. Too rough. My water froze. That other guy slowed me down." The people back home would believe him, Ray knew. They had no idea what it was like out her.

But Ray knew there was no fooling himself. Every day for the rest of his life, he would have to face himself and ask, "Did you really do your very best?" Every day for the rest of his life, he knew the answer would be no. "You could have kept going, but you didn't. When the going got tough, you quit." He took a deep breath. He knew he had to keep running until he either finished the race or was found frozen in the snow from trying.


With the help of author Steve Pitt, ultramarathon runner Ray Zahab has collected stories of his amazing journeys and gruelling races located in some of the world's most inhospitable climates. Divided into 10 chapters, Running to Extremes gives readers a chronological account of Ray's quest to become an ultramarathon runner. Less of a travelogue and more an inspirational story, the book begins with Ray's sad and unhealthy lifestyle as a regular drinker and smoker. Dissatisfied with the route his damaging life choices were taking him, Ray made the decision to quit smoking and turn his life around, beginning with the new millenium at 12:00 am on January 1, 2000. Labelling his old self and old lifestyle as the "Old Ray," new Ray was determined to live life to the fullest, leave behind everything negative and unhealthy, and instead choose physical fitness and marathon running as his new lifestyle. Running to Extremes chronicles Ray's journey from beginner marathoner to expert athlete and all the challenges he had to overcome to realize his ultimate goal: running an incredible 111 day, 7,500 kilometer trek from one side of the Sahara Desert to the other to raise money for charity.

      Although Running to Extremes takes place in such exotic locations as the Sahara and Gobi deserts, Canadian Arctic, and Amazon jungle, this book is unfortunately not a strong travel nor adventure story. More a tale about overcoming obstacles and taking control of your own life, Running to Extremes has a very clear, repeated message that uses Ray's own experience becoming an ultramarathon runner as a concrete example: if you put your mind to it, you are capable of accomplishing anything. Ray has faced and overcome various dilemmas and challenges, from having to conquer self-doubt as to whether he could compete in a race to chiding himself for not packing appropriate Arctic survival gear. Ray faced all these challenges with a positive attitude, and he was able to push himself through the negativity and doubt to reach his goals. The descriptions of Ray's determination and perseverance are a testament to the power of the human will.

      Although Ray travels all over the world to exotic and exciting locations, the story lacks the detail and description that characterize truly well done travel stories. While the book does provide some information about Ray's training and experience as an ultramarathon runner, it is not enough to make this book useful to students who are interested in learning more about these elite athletes and what they actually do to compete in their sport. Although not all of Ray's marathon adventures are covered, an appendix at the end of the book details dates and locations of Ray's races and expeditions at the time of publication for those who are curious. The book would have been better if the authors had included photos of Ray's races and travels, but no such images are included. Despite these flaws, Running to Extremes would provide an excellent starting off point for a discussion about setting and achieving life goals, healthy lifestyle choices, and self-esteem for older elementary school / younger high school students.


Amy Dawley is the teen librarian at the Prince George Public Library in Prince George, BC.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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