By Lisa Donchak
In Latin, Ultra means beyond that which is normal. Dean Karnazes qualifies.
Karnazes, who recently published an autobiography, Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner, is a runner in the same way that Lance Armstrong is a bicyclist. When Karnazes leaves his San Francisco home to go for a jog, there is no telling what city, county or state he might end up in.
Ultramarathons, simply speaking, are marathons that exceed the normal 26 miles. Karnazes has been known to run in excess of 100-miles at a time, often running for days and days.
Fresh off a 1,282-mile jaunt from New York to St. Louis, he took time out to speak to City on a Hill Press about his adventures in the world beyond normal.
*CHP*: Why did you start running?
*Karnazes*: I started to run when I was in kindergarten. My mom was struggling to deal with getting me home from kindergarten, so I just said to her one day, “You know mom, I’ll take care of it, I’ll get home myself. I’ll just run.” And I found that I really loved it. I just loved the exploration of running through the park and seeing the world through the eyes of a runner.
I basically hung up my shoes when I was 14 and stopped running. And then, you know, went through the typical life course of someone who is “successful.” I had a pretty cushy corporate job and was bored senseless. There was routine in my life and I hated routine. I hated going through the motions. So on the eve of my 30th birthday, I walked out of a bar and I decided that night I was going to run 30 miles to celebrate my 30th birthday.
*CHP*: A lot of people aren’t familiar with the world of ultrarunning and adventure running. How would you describe it to someone who doesn’t know anything about it?
*Karnzes*: In Latin, ultra means â€˜beyond’ – beyond that which is normal. An ultra marathon is anything that is beyond a marathon. It’s beyond a marathon both physically and mentally.
*CHP*: You’ve run a lot of unusual races. Which has been your favorite?
*Karnazes*: I recently ran 50 marathons in all 50 states in 50 days. I had my family with me and I invited other runners to come out and run with me during the various marathons. There were supposed to be 2,000 people who ran with me across the country, and I really enjoyed the experience of meeting so many terrific, positive people.
*CHP*: What’s the longest race you’ve ever run?
*Karnazes*: I ran back from the final marathon in New York to the place where the fist marathon started, in St. Louis, 1282 miles. That, I would say, is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
*CHP*: The motivation behind ultrarunning is mystifying for those who don’t do it. Why do you keep running?
*Karnazes*: Well, I don’t have a car (laughing). It broke down recently. But I think beyond that, for me, running is very liberating—the ultimate sense of freedom. You’re not encumbered by anything. I normally run in the trails, in the Bay Area, so you’re out in nature and it’s one of the rare times that you get to think—just not be bombarded with stimulus from everything, from the world. You’re just out there on your own and you know, for me, that’s very liberating, very refreshing and rejuvenating.
Sometimes people say, “Well, do you get bored? Do you listen to music?” Sometimes I listen to music, but a lot of the time I just go out to refresh myself.
*CHP*: Good nutrition is key for successful running. What are some of the more eccentric foods you’ve eaten along the way?
*Karnazes*: There’s a run that I do that I talk about in my book. It’s from Calistoga to Santa Cruz. That’s a 200 mile run that I do by myself. And, in that time, I consume 28,000 calories in 46 hours of running (I burned 34,000 calories). I consume a lot of highly processed foods, like pizza, which I normally never eat, because you just need calories. I carry my cell phone and a credit card. And if I find myself in a remote area with no access to food, I’ve been known to order pizza.
*CHP*: What was it like to run 135 miles across Death Valley in July for the Badwater 135?
*Karnazes*: I’m known for it because I’m the only one dumb enough to do it so many times. But every year I do it I say â€˜I’m never doing this again. I never say that I won. I say I â€˜survived the fastest.’ It’s more about survival, in so many ways, than actually running. You’re basically just running on pure adrenaline and emotion.
*CHP*: What’s next on your running agenda?
*Karnazes*: I’m going to Australia in March to run across the outback. That’s our idea of fun. It could be anywhere between 300-500 miles, depending on the route.
*CHP*: What advice do you have for new runners?
*Karnazes*: My advice is to go out and invest in a good pair of shoes. Running hurts. And you want to be as comfortable as you can. Also, try to enjoy running. That’s what I tell people. You know, just put a credit card in your pocket and go for a three or four hour run. If you go by a Starbucks and feel like a latte, duck in, grab a latte, walk for a little bit, and then run.