Running The Sahara Movie Review

If this 3-min. trailer doesn’t captivate you, read no further…  I watched this movie several times on a flight from San Francisco to Dubai on my way to Banaglore.  It made the 15-hr. flight somewhat bearable but it also kept me awake when I should have been sleeping as I was mesmerized by the story.  I had heard about these three nutcases who decided to do this on something of a whim in the winter of 2006. 

American Charlie Engle is well known in running circles for having completed some of the longest runs ever after a life of serious drug and alcohol addiction. Ray Zahab from Canada is a former smoker and drinker.  Kevin Lin from Taiwan was really the only real elite athlete, capable of running under 2:20 for a marthon.  The three of them had raced together before, but they decided to run the Sahara simply because nobody had ever done it.

Narrated and executive-produced by Matt Damon, the team called this an expedition, not  a run, and the original goal was just to get one of them to actually finish.  Starting on the coast of Senegal, the course took them 4,300 miles through Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Libya and Egypt, finally finishing at the Red Sea.

Running The Sahara, photo By Don Holtz

It’s impossible to chronicle a 111-day journey in a single documentary film.  But it does a great job of capturing the thoughts and emotions of three distinctly different men, their loved ones, and their support crew. I found myself sometimes wondering what happened in those 4 – 5 day stretches that weren’t covered in the movie.  Were they just mundane, uneventful days of running 2 marathons a day, day after day after day?  Sort of makes those guys who run a marathon a day for 50 days look like they’re just getting started, huh?  These guys actually got to a point where they were comfortable running 50 miles a day…after already completing 3,000 miles!  The mental fortitude it must take to continue under incredible circumstances and challenges is difficult to comprehend.  Sandstorms, death threats, baseball size blisters, sleep deprivation, significant weight loss, illness, exhaustion.  Good grief.

What takes the whole expedition to another level is the cause that was spawned as a result of the effort.  In partnership with Matt Damon, the Sahara runners started the H2O Africa Foundation to bring attention to the water crisis in Africa and gather support for clean water programs in critical areas, including communities along the Running the Sahara route. I love stories like this, where it’s not just about three madmen hoofing it across the biggest sandbox in the world.  This is real inspiration.


One Response

  1. Wow! This is a great review of the film!

    Lynn, I work for the distribution company in charge of Running the Sahara. We’re hosting a screening in San Francisco (which from my best guess is about an hour from you) I’d love to invite you to attend the premiere, it includes a Q&A session with the films’ director James Moll.

    If you’re interested send me an email –

    Hope you’ll join us!

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