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You can call him superhuman or insane, but Dean Karnazes’ commitment to long distance running is a clarion call to couch potatoes everywhere.
Named one of Time Magazine’s Top 100 Most Influential People this year, Mr. Karnazes has run 350 miles nonstop, completed an ultramarathon through the world’s four great deserts and most recently ran 50 marathons in 50 days. His books, “Ultramarathon Man” and “50/50,” chronicle his adventures and challenges pounding the pavement. We caught up with him to get some insight into what keeps him going and what advice he has for novice and experienced racers.
Q: When did you start running and why?
A: “My earliest recollection is running home from kindergarten when I was 6 years old, and I ran competitively through my freshman year in high school. I loved to run, but I hung up my shoes at age 14. Then I found myself at a bar on my 30th birthday doing what we do on our 30th birthday, drinking with my buddies. at night I just said, ‘I am leaving. I am going running.’ They said, ‘You aren’t a runner. You are drunk.’ I said, ‘I know, but I am going to run 30 miles tonight to celebrate my 30th birthday,’ and I literally walked out of that bar and ran into the night. It wasn’t pretty. It was about eight hours of slogging, and that one night of gusto changed the course of my life.”
Q: Half marathons have become really popular in the last few years. Why do you think so many people are being drawn to long distance running?
A: “I think a full marathon is such a daunting undertaking and required such dedication and time commitment that a lot of people find it difficult to fit it into their routine. For a lot of people (a half marathon) is a steppingstone to an eventual marathon. The half marathon is so much more approachable.”
Q: It took you 81 hours and 56 minutes to complete your 350 mile run. What did you think about when you were running?
A: “During those really intense events there is a solidarity of focus. You really need to focus on one thing, and that is reaching the finish line. The task at hand really commands a 100 percent focus,
and if you can’t give it that you will not make it. During my training I listen to music, but during these events I just prefer to be in my own head. How often do you go through a day that you aren’t bombarded by information? My kids are yelling at me; my job; the television is barking commercials. I used to love to read, and with the advent of audio books I listen to a lot of books when I run and it really helps the time pass.”
Q: What is your favorite place to run and why?
A: “I have run on all seven continents twice over. I have run in just about every imaginable setting, from the blazing hot desert to the South Pole. I have to say that I am naturally drawn to extremes, and those are not just extremes with endurance but extremes with the elements. My favorite places to run are places that are really intense like Death Valley.”
Q: There is a debate about what shoes are best for running. What are your thoughts on footwear? What has helped you in your training?
A: “I always say, ‘Listen to everyone and follow no one.’ We all have different needs as runners, and people need to find the shoes that work best for them. Me personally, I am a minimalist so I really subscribe to the idea that less is more in a shoe. It is kind of emulating a naturally barefoot strike. Now, I have friends that are elite runners that run in those same shoes and can’t handle it. I think it really depends on your individual needs. How do you naturally run?”
Q: What do you think about when you want to quit?
A: “I use a technique I call baby steps. We tend to get ahead of ourselves especially in a marathon or half marathon. We look at the mile markers, and it can get to the point when you hit the proverbial wall that taking another 80 steps seems impossible, let along running another five to 10 mils. So I tell people put the blinders on. Don’t think about what is still left in front of you. Just be in the moment, and be really present. Think about your next footstep. Do your very best in your next footstep, your next footstep and your next footstep. Eventually you pull through the low and you come out stronger. It is the concept of breaking a seemingly impossible task into more managable bite sized pieces.”
What? The North Face and Rock/Creek are hosting ultramarathon man Dean Karnazes, who will speak to the public about going the extra mile and his life on the run.