Sarah Lavender Smith April 24, 2012 TWEET COMMENTS 2

Behind Ultramarathon Man - Page 2

Our plan was to do an interview while running up some fire trails on the east side of Mount Tamalpais. He said he didn’t mind holding my voice recorder while we ran because he is accustomed to dictating into a recorder during long runs. That’s how he produced the first drafts of his 2005 blockbuster memoir—Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner—and his two follow-ups: 2008’s 50/50, about lessons learned while running 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 consecutive days; and his 2011 release, Run! 26.2 Stories of Blister and Bliss, a collection of humorous and reflective short stories that explore his relationship to running and to the people close to him.

It’s hard not to feel intimidated by the prospect of running with Dean Karnazes. The New York Times wrote that running with him is “like setting up one’s easel next to Monet or Picasso.” This is a guy who has over 66,000 Facebook fans, who in 2007 made Time magazine’s list of “Top 100 Most Influential People” and who once stayed awake for three days to run 350 miles nonstop.  A guy whose next big project is to run a marathon in all 204 countries around the world in a year.

But Karnazes set a comfortable, conversational pace, and his form looked relaxed and balanced as we ran up a sidewalk in the leafy neighborhood. In fact, his whole persona seemed easygoing and regular—not exactly ordinary, because most runners aren’t so fit and photogenic, but not particularly special, either.

Karnazes’ coach, Jason Koop of Carmichael Training Systems in Colorado Springs, says that Karnazes actually is a very “normal” athlete physiologically: “He doesn’t have superhuman genetic capabilities of taking in a lot of oxygen or anything like that,” and at the lower intensities he runs many of his adventures, “he’s able to go and go and go. … He’s a normal guy in every sense of the word and just happens to be able to do extraordinary things.”

Early in our run, the conversation turned to the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, and I asked what he thought about the 2011 performances. He expressed awe and respect for the lead runners who finished under 16 hours. (Karnazes didn’t run Western States last year, though he has 11 sub-24-hour finishes there, with a best of 17:43 in 2003 when he placed fourth.) “How about that Kilian” he said of the race winner, Spaniard Kilian Jornet [See “Just Kilian,” December 2011, Issue 76]. “That kid was insane! What a great ambassador. I love everything he stands for.”

We hit the Phoenix Lake trailhead, a regular destination for Karnazes, and he mentioned he often does this run solo on weekdays at 4 a.m. “I fit running in when I can,” he said. Recently, between traveling, writing, parenting, speaking engagements and sponsor commitments, he’s been averaging about 80 miles a week. “When I’m in between events, like now, and just maintaining my base, I like it to be free flow.”

Then he asked if I would mind tacking on a couple of extra miles on a trail that would take us to the neighboring town of San Anselmo, where he opened the “U-Top It” frozen yogurt shop in early 2011. “I just need to go by the shop to stick my head in and let the employees know I love them,” he said.

“Of course,” I said, wanting more time together to hear about what motivates Karnazes to test the limits of endurance in places as unforgiving as the South Pole, where he nearly froze running a marathon in 2002, or as hellishly hot as Death Valley, California, where he finished the 135-mile Badwater Ultramarathon eight times and won it once.


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