You’re supposed to be a bit snobbish about Dean Karnazes. According to ‘Born to Run’ and sites such as LetsRun.com (other running forums are available), ‘real’ ultra-runners see him as too self-promoting, too keen to blow his own trumpet about his achievements, many of which are not unique.
His critics argue that he doesn’t even enter proper races anymore, taking on self-declared ‘challenges’ instead, such as running 50 marathons in 50 days across 50 states, or seeing how many miles he could run in 3 days non-stop (300). They suggest he’s not a proper racer, but instead is just very good at marketing himself, something the purists say is against the low-key ethos of the sport.
Well balls to that. I’d rather spend 300 pages in Dean’s wacky life than Scott ‘Eat and Run’ Jurek’s. And it certainly is a weird life. He didn’t start running properly as an adult until his 30th birthday, when he got tanked up on cervezas and decided to run 30 miles. In the middle of the night. In tennis shoes.
‘Ultramarathon Man’ describes his subsequent journey into running, his training for ultras such as the Western States 100, and the logistical problems of getting pizza delivered to you in the middle of a midnight run. Some of the best sections discuss his attempts at Badwater, a 135-mile race so hot that participants’ shoes can melt mid-run. When he first attempted it, Karnazes collapsed halfway through, and narrowly avoided being revived in a coffin of ice water. The following year he came back and won the event. After that he decided to become the first man to run to the South Pole. And so on.
All of this might sound like a nauseating list of one man’s superhuman achievements, but Karnazes is affable company and happy to talk about the times when things go wrong, such as the time he chundered all over his new company car following a 50-mile race. It’s quite refreshing to read a running book where the narrator doesn’t have much in the way of internal demons – he just really likes going for a run.
He might not compete much anymore, but then he is 50. There is also some evidence that he actually IS superhuman – as mentioned in a Guardian profile last year, tests have shown that he never reaches his lactate threshold, and therefore can run without ever getting muscle fatigue. Plus (full disclosure here) I met him at the NYC marathon last year and he was a very nice man indeed.