The Ultramarathon Man Karnazes thrives in new challenges
LONDON, July 19 (Reuters) – As one of the most accomplished endurance athletes of all time, a man who has completed 50 marathons in 50 U.S. states in 50 days, he is somewhat reassuring to the simple mortal to see that Dean Karnazes can still make the most basic of rookie mistakes.
Karnazes is widely recognized for having helped fuel the rise of ultra-distance through his book “Ultramarathon Man” sold to a million people in 2006.
He has since published several other books and has an extraordinary record that includes 350 miles in 80 sleepless hours, 3,000 miles across the United States, 148 miles in 24 hours on a treadmill, and countless race wins, including twice the 135-mile Badwater Marathon through Death Valley.
How he learned to embrace this remarkable career milestone when he turns 59 next month is described in forensic and moving detail in his latest book, “A Runner’s High – Older, Wiser, Slower, Stronger”.
Apparently, this is the story of his return to the Western States 100 miles over rugged California terrain, one of the toughest events on the calendar.
It’s much more than a dry running diary, however, as it delves into his inner motivations and how the remarkable support of his friends and family has been so essential to his continued success.
“I really put the emphasis on trying to capture the emotions that my family and I have experienced for almost three decades doing this together,” Karnazes told Reuters in an interview.
“This support has been the foundation of my running career. They have been with me from the start and we shared so many memories that I couldn’t imagine doing what I did without them.”
The book has a large section on how Karnazes doubted his seemingly indifferent 18-year-old son’s ability to fill a vital support role in the United States, but then found himself amazed at how much he was. competent on race day.
“I had never seen this side of him before and it was quite beautiful,” Karnazes said after his son dismissed concerns that he was no longer able to challenge at the pointe by saying : “Daddy, you run 100 miles is enough.”
Despite all these years of wisdom, Karnazes shows in the book that he can still make inexplicably silly and potentially dangerous decisions, evidenced by his inability to carry enough water for a 100km warm-up run.
“In the many years of doing this, I think there is something deeper than my conscious mind at play,” he said, trying to explain a fundamental mistake that even a beginner would be embarrassed about.
“Sure, I know what to do, but I just went into this challenge without any preparation and wanted to see how it would go and I think that makes it mysterious and intriguing.
“Everything in this world is so measured and calculated and quantified and going and doing something random like that and seeing how it goes in the race is just something refreshing.”
Running out of water, boiled by the sun and bruised by a fall, Karnazes explained that he found solace in the endurance athlete’s internal mantra of “keeping moving” to finish the race.
“You just don’t think about how far you have to go because it’s very demoralizing, you just don’t think about anything other than taking your next step,” he said.
“It’s crazy to do that when you’re running a 100 mile race, but I really have to break it down to that level of granularity. If you think about how long you have to go, it’ll crush you.”
When he did his 50 consecutive marathons in 2006, he said his goals got even smaller.
“I remember after the 19 marathon I could barely get out of bed in the morning, let alone think about running another marathon,” he said.
“So I thought, ‘Just go to the hotel room sink, just put on one shoe, then the other, then somehow get to the start line. They are small steps but each one moves you towards your target, even if it is impossible to see that. ‘”
Back in the wilderness at the Western States 100 event, Karnazes faced the double challenge of a surprisingly grueling journey and, 24 years after tearing up the race for the first time, learning to park his ego.
“I can’t compete at the level that I have already reached and it can be frustrating at times when the people that I have passed for years now pass me,” he said.
“But one of the things I love about ultrarunning is that while the winners are recognized and praised, we also celebrate the people at the back.
“Watch the video for this year’s finalist at Western States as this crazed poor guy crossed the finish line after 30 hours with seconds to spare – wow, what a moment of human triumph.
“The front-end is getting more and more elitist and it’s exciting, but I also hope that kind of funky grassroots magic doesn’t go away.”
Reporting by Mitch Phillips; Editing by Ken Ferris
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