The Ultramarathon Man: Q&A with Dean Karnazes

Posted On May 27, 2014 By Bowflex Insider Team

Dean Kernazes

Named by TIME magazine as one of the "Top 100 Most Influential People in the World," Dean Karnazes is an internationally renowned endurance athlete. Dean has pushed his body and mind to inconceivable limits with achievements such as running 350 continuous miles, running a marathon to the South Pole in negative 40 degrees and running 50 marathons in all 50 U.S. states in 50 consecutive days.

The Bowflex Insider team is really excited to share with you the inside scoop to Dean's success!

Q&A with Dean Karnazes

When did you start running and why?

I started running home from kindergarten when I was 6 years old. I was the oldest child in the family, and when we had my youngest sister my mom began having a tough time getting me home from school. So I started running.

I ran competitively through my freshman year of high school and then stopped running entirely. Flash-forward to the night of my 30th birthday where I found myself in a bar with some friends — doing what you do on your 30th birthday (i.e., drinking heavily) — when I suddenly felt this primitive urge to leave. "What?" they questioned, "It's only 11 o'clock; let's have another shot." I walked out of the place and ran 30 miles to celebrate my 30th birthday. I ran straight through the night and it was the first time I'd run in over a decade and it almost killed me. But I kept going. That run forever changed the course of my life.

Can you explain the concept of what you've called "sleep running"?

It first happened to me during the second night of nonstop running when I was attempting to complete a 200-mile 12-man relay race, solo. I'd run straight through the first night without many problems, but on the second night of nonstop running, I woke up in the middle of the road. I knew better than to be running down the middle of a highway at 2 a.m., so I meandered back to the shoulder and kept going. Then, it happened again, I awoke to find myself running down the middle of the road. That's when I realized that I was "sleep running."

I was so tired after running for nearly two days straight that my body shut down. However, I must have subconsciously willed myself to keep going, so I didn't fall over or stumble, I just kept running. Strange stuff, to say the least.

What was one of your favorite ultramarathon runs?

While I've had the great privilege of running and racing on all seven continents of the planet, twice over now, in some of the most extreme and exotic locations on earth — from a marathon to the South Pole to running across the Sahara Desert — my most cherished accomplishment is running a 10K race with my daughter, Alexandria, on her 10th birthday. Nothing will ever surpass that experience.

What was one of your least favorite ultramarathon runs?

There have been many difficult endeavors, including running 50 marathons, in all 50 states, in 50 consecutive days, perhaps the toughest was running across the Atacama Desert in South America. Atacama is the driest place on earth, and some of the areas we traversed had never seen a drop of rain for the entirety of recorded history. Not a single drop!

The Atacama Crossing is a self-supported race, so participants must carry all provisions and supplies needed to cover the 250 km course over six days of racing. At night the temperatures dropped below zero, and during the day it was over 100º Fahrenheit. We slept on the ground, and the rocks were brutal. The salt crust buildup on your body caused horrible chafing and the extreme heat led to blisters on your feet. I ended up winning the race, but I don't say that. What I say is that I "survived the fastest," because it was just as much about survival as it was about long-distance endurance racing.

Can you talk about other forms of exercises you enjoy to build strength and prevent injuries?

I cross-train like crazy. Too many runners just run, and that can be a recipe for disaster. I make it a point to keep my entire body well-conditioned and strong. I have a high strength-to-weight ratio due to cross-training and believe that this has helped with injury prevention and post-race recovery. Knock on wood (i.e., the side of my head), I've never had an injury.

How do you prepare yourself psychologically for an ultramarathon run?

By paying my dues. There are no shortcuts in running an ultramarathon, no "path of least resistance." Success comes only to those willing to commit, sacrifice and suffer. Knowing that you did all that was necessary to prepare yourself for the challenge before you is the best psychological preparation there is. It's money in the bank that has been earned through an investment in disciplined, hard work.

How do you motivate yourself to keep running?

I love what I do. It's not hard to motivate yourself to do what you naturally enjoy doing. There is a wonderful proverb I use all the time: "He who runs for pleasure never tires."

How many miles do you typically run in a week?

It varies wildly because of my travel schedule, anywhere from 60 up to 200. I like to run marathons as training runs and do so every weekend I can, sometimes running one on Saturday and then another on Sunday.

What does fitness mean to you?

To me, fitness is life, and life is fitness. I take my fitness and athleticism seriously and use a 360º approach to being the best animal I can possibly be. This encompasses everything from cardio, to strength training, to diet & nutrition, to mental preparation, to sleep and, finally, to commitment to family. Being in good physical shape is the most important element of life and I think more people are starting to realize this.

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