Ray Zahab has run more than 14,000 kilometres across the world’s deserts, and completed multiple unsupported expeditions in some of the coldest places on the planet. He is about to head out again, this time to traverse Death Valley in California’s Mojave Desert, where some of the highest surface temperatures on Earth have been recorded.
How does he keep his cool? For the past two years, Zahab has had a virtual companion constantly feeding him a stream of critical data about everything from his heart rate to his calorie burn — and that companion is an Apple Watch.
Last month, Canadian Geographic Travel went to Whistler-Blackcomb to put the Apple Watch Series 4 through its paces, hitting the B.C. resort’s famous slopes and trails with Zahab. At the end of the trip, we slowed things down to find out how Zahab uses the Apple Watch to gain a technological edge in his training.
CGT: How does your Apple Watch give you an edge?
RZ: A huge thing for me is the safety aspect of having the device on my wrist; I can be out on a trail run and I can take a call or send a text. This is extremely helpful when I’m training and need pick-up on the other end. But the biggest thing is all the data I can collect day-to-day, which gives me feedback that helps me to better recover. I look for deviations in my heart rate, especially when I’m sleeping. I track my calories. I train on elevation, so I track my elevation gains. The better I recover, the stronger I can train.
I’m not getting any younger, so as an aging athlete, these insights are extremely helpful when training for an expedition. I am feeling stronger now than when I was racing 15 years ago. The data I am able to gather helps me sleep better, and therefore train harder and smarter.
CGT: Describe an average training day in the life of Ray Zahab.
RZ: On an average day in the summer, my wife and I get our kids ready for school, drop them at the bus and then I hit the trails. Where I live, near Chelsea, Que., you can do some very technical running with plenty of hills. My goal is to gain 400 metres in elevation over 10 kilometres, so I set an elevation goal for the day. Based on where I’m at in my training it could be 1,200 metres, it could be 1,400 — my training program ebbs and flows, and changes and cycles depending on the expedition I’m preparing for.
In the winter, I do a lot of strength training paired with more intense activities like fat biking. In the fall I do a ton of technical mountain biking to build strength in my legs. My training truly shifts with the seasons — and my Apple Watch is pretty much on me all the time, recording everything.
CGT: Any tips for readers new to Apple Watch?
RZ: Find someone half your age to show you how to use it! I’m not afraid to ask for help, so when I got an Apple Watch, the first thing I did was reach out to people who were familiar with the technology. There are tons of great blogs and YouTube videos available online. Some even list the top 10 things you didn’t know that you could do with an Apple Watch. Intuitively you’ll start thinking of new ways to use your watch. The Apple Watch is especially good for beginner runners. It can be highly motivating because it really shows you everything. Just the basic Workouts app that comes pre-installed on an Apple Watch can provide insane insights into your run.