Learning on the Run
Changing education, one mile at a time
Photo courtesy of i2p
When struggling with complex questions, we runners often find that getting out for a run allows us to see things more clearly. But is there an educational opportunity to connect exercise with our ability to learn? This is the question that ultrarunner Ray Zahab, 44, of Chelsea, California, contemplated during his 111-day, 7,500-kilometer run across the Sahara Desert in 2007.
After barely finishing high school, Zahab dropped out of college and never thought much of academia until his run in the Sahara, when he found himself curious about the history and geography of the vast desert. Engaging with the land through a tactile adventure made these textbook subjects come alive. “This whole new world unfolded right before my eyes,” says Zahab.
He wanted to share this newfound enthusiasm with kids who, much like himself when he was growing up, were left uninspired by traditional teaching methods. Zahab and co-founder Bob Cox, a fellow runner who shared his vision, started impossible2Possible (i2P), an adventure-based educational nonprofit.
The idea was to take small groups of young adults—“Youth Ambassadors”—on multi-day running adventures merged with a specific course study designed by field experts and educators in partnership with Simon Frasier University. Throughout the expedition, the Youth Ambassadors would be tasked with relaying the day’s adventures to schools across the country via live webcasts. Free for those accepted into it, the program is funded by donations from Zahab’s own athletic sponsorships and partnerships.
Last May, I joined the i2P team for their “Utah: Running Through Time” expedition traveling through the majestic Grand Escalante Staircase, a treasure chest of geological history. Using nature as a virtual time machine, the eight-day, 158-mile run would cover 255 million years of paleontology and geology in the region.