After two years of preparation and two reconnaissance trips that covered only 20 percent of Kevin Lin’s (林義傑) daring route, the ultramarathon star is ready for a feat of ultimate endurance: he aims to be the first human to run across 6,500km of the Sahara desert, from coast to coast, in 80 days.
Scheduled to begin on Oct. 25, the unparalleled test of fitness and strength will see the ultra-marathon runner and two teammates, Charlie Engle and Ray Zahad, traverse six countries: Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Libya and Egypt. The Saharan run poses the ultimate challenge to body and mind as the runners’ will face extreme temperatures, life-threatening stand storms, disease and the dangers of lawless regions.
“It will be my biggest dream come true, but also the most excruciating experience I will ever have to endure,” Lin said.
Hollywood documentary filmmaker and Academy Award winner James Moll will direct a film chronicling the arduous journey, bringing the desert’s unique ecosystems, cultures and its peoples to the big screen. Matt Damon has been signed up to narrate the film.
Lin is placed first among the 15 people in the world to have completed the Four Deserts ultra-marathons, which were held in the Gobi, Chile’s Atacama, the Sahara in Egypt and Antarctica. His formidable reputation is one of invincible strength and willpower unlike any other.
In person, the 30-year-old athlete has a slight physique that hardly seems conducive to feats of derring-do and supreme stamina, or for maintaining a position at the top of a sport that requires participants to carry 10kg of water, food, gear and clothing on their backs while covering a grueling route across treacherous terrain in extreme weather conditions.
“Westerners are amazed how a petite Asian like me can do it… . I guess I have my own advantages. A health examination done in the US indicates that I have 82 percent VO2 max [the highest volume of oxygen a person can use per minute of exercise], a high figure that is rarely seen, and my body can also hold lots of water so I don’t dehydrate easily,” Lin said.
Years of training and the right genes may have enabled Lin to become an outstanding sportsman, but it is his extraordinary determination that has carried him to the apex of ultramarathon running. Aged 10, Lin knew his future lay on the running field. Despite opposition from his family, Lin entered Hsihu Vocational and Business School (西湖商工), famed for its track and field teams. At first the coach refused to accept him because of his slight stature, but was later moved by Lin’s stubborn resolve and relented.
In college, Lin worked odd jobs to fund his studies, sleeping three hours a day while maintaining a rigorous training routine and racing in national and international contests.
After graduating, Lin took a job as a junior high school physical education teacher, but soon quit.
“I just wanted to see and experience more of the world,” Lin said.
In 2002, he borrowed the US$2,600 registration fee to enter the 17th Sahara competition and finished 12th. Government funding followed but it hardly covered transport costs. Financial difficulties didn’t stop Lin, neither did encountering life-threatening situations in hazardous environments or severe leg pain (he broke his right leg in a car accident in 2003).