Dean Karnazes has long been a legend in the running world, but his continued passion and dedication to the sport, as well as his drive to commit super-human feats, has carried his name into running and non-running households around the world. Karnazes’ first book, Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner was the number seven best-selling sports book worldwide in 2005 and is published in eleven languages. Karnazes has run marathons on every continent in the world and just completed a 75-day trek across the United States with the show “Live with Regis and Kelly,” which brought him onto televisions sets across the nation.
So, what does an internationally recognized runner do with such fame and notoriety? Why, he works to spread his love for the sport and give back to the community, of course!
In his second year as an ambassador for the Dick’s Sporting Goods National Runner’s Month campaign, Karnazes says that it is his goal to inspire people to be active and to get outside. He is working with Dick’s, which is offering specials for runners such as discounts on footwear and shipping, to lower the barriers and make it easier for people to get outside. It was the people with the Dick’s Sporting Goods National Runner’s Month campaign that gave me the amazing opportunity to speak with Karnazes. I certainly appreciated the opportunity to hear what this inspirational runner had to say, and I hope you will, too.
Turning Failures into Setbacks
If you read my post last week, you know that Karnazes has accomplished some amazing things, including running 350 miles at one time, completing 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 consecutive days, and, most recently, running almost 3,000 miles across the United States in 75 days.
What drives a person to constantly push his physical and mental limits? According to Karnazes, “It’s a sense of exploration. How far can the human body go? What is the limit of human endurance and human potential? And that’s just kind of my thing, you know? I don’t endeavor to be an intellect or anything else beside endurance sports and it’s what I love and who I am, so I just push it to the limit.”
Karnazes has not found his limits–not yet, anyway. Sure, there have been setbacks, but Karnazes just looks at them as learning opportunities. “I think that we’re so programmed to avoid failure and to fear failure, and you know–I welcome failure. I say, unless you have failed, you’re not trying hard enough! So I’ve taken on things where I have failed, and I’ve learned more from my failures than my successes, so I encourage people to embrace failure as a learning experience and welcome it.”
Some might call the first time Karnazes took on the Badwater Ultramarathon, in 1995, a failure. Badwater, which is known as “The World’s Toughest Footrace,” is a 135-mile race across Death Valley in temperatures that can exceed 130 degrees Fahrenheit (and the asphalt temperature can exceed 200 degrees). Not only did Karnazes not finish his first Badwater attempt, but after accidentally drinking some non-potable water during the race, he spent the next several hours vomiting, cramping, and hallucinating, and eventually woke up in a hotel room after having passed out somewhere around the half-way mark of the race.
“Boy, did I know defeat. There was really no defeat more devastating than running oneself into the ground short of the finish line. I’d gone head to head with the world’s toughest footrace, and lost. Despite my greatest efforts, Badwater had pounded me into submission. It was pure, unadulterated defeat. But what I came to realize on the drive home was that I’d loved every second of it.” (Excerpt from Ultramarathon Man.)
Sure enough, Karnazes took his initial failure at Badwater as a learning experience. He tackled the race again in 2000 and finished, and has since completed Badwater seven times, winning the race (or as Karnazes says, “survived the fastest”) in 2004.
Seventy-Five Days and Three-Thousand Miles
On May 10, 2011, Karnazes ran through the streets of New York and into the studio at Live with Regis and Kelly to complete his 75-day and almost three-thousand mile journey from California to New York. Over the course of the 75 days Karnazes crossed 16 states and the District of Columbia and ran through almost 50 pairs of shoes.
In order to prepare for his amazing 75-day journey, Karnazes trained for seven months, focusing not just on long runs but also on cross training and strengthening his quads and upper-body. Karnazes says he went into the journey in the best shape of his life, and it was that endurance and strength that got him through 75 long days on the road.
“I was doing ice baths now and then, which can help, but there’s really no way to recover. The secret to me, and I’ve worked pretty closely with Chris Carmichael, who is Lance Armstrong’s personal coach and trainer, and he said the best way to recover is just not to dig a whole too deep the previous day. Which means being in really good shape, so that you can click off 40 to 50 miles a day without being completely destroyed, and that’s kind of where I wanted to be.”
And in really good shape he was. Karnazes recalls that while running in New Jersey he noted his split for his first 13.1 miles of the day–1:46. Although a 1:46 half marathon split in the end stretch of a 75-day trip of 40 to 50 miles a day is impressive, it wasn’t so much the time itself that Karnazes had noted, it was his heart rate during that split, which had not gone above 100 bpm.
“I mean, my body became so efficient, that I can easily run a sub-2 hour half marathon, and right around a 4-hour marathon, without even sweating. The recovery the next day wasn’t that tough, because I wasn’t completely destroying myself.”
Do not be mislead by Karnazes’ amazing physical condition, however. Running across the country in 75 days is a grueling task, even for one of the world’s best endurance athletes. Karnazes faced physical, mental, and natural hardships. When asked to pick a low point from the journey, Karnazes easily recalled a five-day stretch in Kansas that he spent running into 15 mph headwinds and freezing rain. “It was hard to roll out of bed in the morning and say ‘oh I gotta run 50 miles in this, yahoo!’” says Karnazes.
In order to get through the tough mental and physical challenges that any endurance sport presents, Karnazes says that he recommends focusing and being present in the moment.
“What we tend to do is to get ahead of ourselves. So, especially when you’re doing an organized event, you finished the bike and now you’re on the run, and you pump in on that half marathon and you’re looking at the mile markers like, ‘oh man there’s mile 7, there’s 8’–you’re just looking for these things, and you might get to 8 and think, ‘I can barely take another step, how am I going to make it another 5.1 miles?’ I always tell people, don’t do that. When you start to hurt, just be in the moment, be present, just focus on putting your foot in front of your last foot as best as you can. Take your next footstep to the best of your ability. Really really be present, and don’t think of anything besides the immediate.”
Another practice that helped Karnazes get through the journey was using his upper body strength to compliment the work being done by his lower body. “I was really trying to take as much of the load off my legs by using my upper body strength to propel me forward. So, my deltoids and certain upper body muscles were really sore after running, because I was still relying on those to help me.”
His journey did have its high points, too, including running into the White House and meeting First Lady Michelle Obama. “That was something I never in my wildest dreams imagined,” says Karnazes.
All for Charity
Karnazes is very involved with children’s charities, and has raised over $1.5 million for children’s charities to date. His 75-day trip across America helped Karnazes raise another almost $200,000 for Action for Healthy Kids.
Action for Healthy Kids works to address the epidemic of overweight, sedentary, and undernourished youth by focusing on changes in schools to improve nutrition and increase physical activity. As a father of two kids, Karnazes says he realizes first-hand the challenges that parents face in getting their children outside and active.
“We’ve got such an epidemic of childhood obesity in this country—25 million kids are overweight or obese, and that’s the future of this nation. And I sincerely believe that we would be a better society if people and kids were more healthy and active,” says Karnazes.
His charitable involvement is another reason why Karanzes has partnered with Dick’s Sporting Goods. According to Karnazes, “with Dick’s, they made nearly a $30,000 contribution to that organization, which really makes me proud. That’s going to allow a lot more kids whose schools have eliminated physical education from the curriculum to actually have a PE teacher brought back in.”
What’s Next for Karnazes?
After running almost three-thousand miles, you might think you would have earned some post-race junk food as a reward–but not Karnazes. His idea of a post-running-across-the-country indulgence? Wild Pacific Salmon. In fact the closest thing to junk food Karnazes says he eats is chocolate-covered espresso beans, which he uses as a pick-me-up during some of his runs.
“I’ll admit, my diet has come full circle and I’ve refined things over the course of the last decade. I mean, I used to just mow junk food, and I used to get by on it, but I found that my performance is better when I’m more disciplined,” says Karnazes.
Karnazes did joke, however, when asked what was next on his bucket list that his next goal was to do “50 states, 50 days, 50 couches, and 50 beers!” In reality, though, Karnazes says the more he achieves the longer his life list gets. His next goal is to set out on what he calls “a global expedition”–to run a marathon in every country in the world in one year.
Karnazes sure knows how to set his goals high! But I suppose he did not get to where he is today by reaching for mediocrity, but instead by setting impossibly high goals for himself–and meeting them (even if it sometimes took a couple tries and a few blackouts before he did).
“My message is that you don’t have to run three-thousand miles across the country,” says Karnazes. “Just be the best you that you can be and live up to your own expectations–it’s fulfilling.”
Karnazes has wonderfully offered to provide one of my lucky readers a copy of his new book, Run! 26.2 Stories of Blisters and Bliss.
Run!, just like Karnazes’ other books, is amazing. Karnazes has an emotion-evoking way with words, and his stories are truly inspirational. Here is an excerpt from Run! that speaks to my soul, and I think it will speak to my fellow runners/athletes, as well.
“Runners have some of their most profound revelations in the darkest grips of pain. What if we were to shift our mind-set and invite pain into our lives, welcome it and meet it head to head on our own terms rather than pop a pill to try and avoid it? After all, pain is inevitable. Suffering, however, is optional.
Instead of seeking comfort, runners approach the very edge of chaos. As the ravages of potentially debilitating pain take hold, the runner fights to overcome and command the very force that threatens to bring him to his knees. “The obsession with running is really an obsession with the potential for more and more life,” the great runner-philosopher George Sheehan once wrote.
As the runner fights the urge to stop, she masters her very mind. In overcoming adversity, she better understands the inner workings of her psyche. Life becomes bigger, bolder, filled with greater potential. “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity for growth,” Einstein wrote.
I’ve said it before: There’s magic in misery. We runners lust for more. Our emotional discord heightens as we approach the fringes. Nothing seems to quell the insatiable appetite for more and more life. We are never thoroughly satisfied. Addiction? Perhaps. Is this a bad thing? You be the judge.” (Excerpt from Run! 26.2 Stories of Blisters and Bliss)
How to Win!
So, you ask, how do I win this amazing book from this inspirational man? Well, I tell you, this is how:
You can do any or all of the following to enter. Each item counts as one entry. Please leave a comment for each.
***You must be a follower of this blog to win. You can subscribe through WordPress if you have a WordPress account, or by email if you do not. (1 comment)
1. Visit the Dick’s Sporting Good’s National Runner’s Month web site and leave a comment with one thing you like about it (1 comment)
2. Follow me on Twitter (1 comment)
3. Tweet/Facebook/Blog about this contest with a link to this post (1 comment for each social media outlet used)
The contest will close on Sunday, May 29 at midnight EST, and the winner will be picked using random.org.
(Please note, if you participated in the pre-giveaway entries you will be given credit! In fact, because my interview with Dean lasted 25 minutes when the lady told me it would only be 10, I used a LOT of your questions, so most of you will be getting five extra entries already. You rock!)