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Book Review–Ultramarathon Man

Later this month, I’m hosting famed ultrarunner Dean Karnazes at Cisco where I work.  Cisco won the corporate challenge at the Silicon Valley Marathon in October.  Turns out the race director is also Dean’s agent, so with 37 people from Cisco running the marathon, we won a meet & greet and fun run with Dean.  Imagine that.  How do you prepare to meet someone who defies description?  I started by reading his first book, Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner.

ultramarathon-man3If you don’t know Dean, he’s an extreme among extremes.  In 2005, he ran 350 miles in 80 hours and 44 minutes without stopping.  He completed the North Face Endurance 50:  50 marathons in 50 states in 50 consecutive days; ran the inaugural South Pole Marathon in running shoes; ran 148 miles in 24 hours on a treadmill in 2004; completed the 199-mile Providian Saturn Relay solo six times; and has finished the Western States Endurance Run 11 times in less than 24 hours each.  The 6-stage, 113-mile Transrockies Run I’m doing later this year is just a warm-up for Dean.

More recently, Dean tackled five of the world’s most hostile deserts in one year by adding a desert (or dessert?) to the Four Desert Challenge.  Beginning in March 2008, he ran the Atacama Crossing in Chile, completed the Gobi March in China in June, and Death Valley in California in July.  Beginning in Oct., Dean embarked on the Sahara Race, and ran the final race in Antarctica in Nov. – Dec. where he had to take precautions to prevent his trachea from freezing shut.

Dean’s first book is largely an account of his first ultra endurance races–Western States 100, his bid to be the first person to run a marathon to the South Pole, Badwater, and his non-stop, 46-hr. running of The Relay, a 199-mile race designed for teams of 12 people.  I ran The Relay in 2007 the “correct” way with my running club and thoroughly enjoyed Dean’s account of his solo trip because I knew the course. 

I was impressed Dean wrote this book without a ghost writer or partner.  He dictated much of it into a digital voice recorder while he ran.  The book is an easy read and very well written.  He is just an “average guy” by his own assertion, and certainly comes across like someone you would want to sit down with and have a chat over coffee or a beer.

It’s strange how much inspiration I get from Dean simply because we are the same age.  Somehow, that simple fact lulls me into thinking if he can do it, I can do it.  Except that I don’t necessarily want to do what he has done.  Dean’s incredible threshold for pain and suffering is hard to comprehend.  Last year, I ran over 10 hours to complete the American River 50 and can’t imagine running 24 – 48- 80 hours.  Still, a man my age has set the bar so high I can’t help but reevaulate my own goals.

I’m guessing the issue even accomplished runners want to understand about Dean is why he does these incredible endurance events, continually seeking to go beyond what any human being has ever attempted.  I read the whole book looking for an answer and don’t think any of his explanations adequately answer the question.  But then I realize I have never been able to fully explain why I do what I do, and my athletic ambitions are just a fraction of what Dean pulls off on a regular basis.

In the end, I found myself oddly relating to Dean.  “I run because if I didn’t, I’d be sluggish and glum and spend too much time on the couch.  I run to breathe the fresh air.  I run to explore.  I run to escape the ordinary.  I run…to savor the trip along the way.  Life becomes a little more vibrant, a little more intense.  I like that.”


2 Responses

  1. I don’t know if I’ll take the time to read this book, but I’m inspired just reading a commentary about it!! I Dean Karnazes can do THAT, than I can keep working on getting this IT band healed, run/walk my 5KS, and pray that I can do a 10K someday.

  2. […] 2009 Transrockies Runrunrunrunrun on Product Review–YouB…Jody McRoberts on Book Review–Ultramaratho…astalos on 2009 Transrockies RunCarolyn Hutchins on 2009 […]

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