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  • Writer's pictureMiriam Diaz-Gilbert

My Collection of Dean Karnazes's Books: A Review

Updated: Mar 13

Prior to running ultras, I ran nine marathons and a slew of half-marathons,10Ks, and 5Ks. To help me prepare, get tips, and get inspired to train and run those distances, I turned to Runner's World. A subscriber, I eagerly waited for the monthly issue to arrive.

To prepare for my first two fifty milers, I surfed the Internet, downloaded training plans, and devoured every thing I could find about how to mentally and physically prepare to train for and tackle the unfathomable distance. I also read Dean Karnazes's Ultramarathon: Confessions of an All-night Runner.


I love this memoir! Dean writes about personal loss, his mid-life crisis, and how running helped him to cope and heal. He writes affectionately about his supportive parents, wife, and children. Parts of this book had me chuckling because in some weird way I could relate. He writes that he hurled "partially digested chunks of cantaloupe" in his Lexus after finishing his first fifty-mile ultra and qualifying for Western States. I still get the giggles when I read this account. In Ultramarathon Man, Dean writes about the sacrifices one makes to train for ultras, the physical and mental toll the body endures, and the importance of family support and fellow runners.

Passages and quotes are underlined through out my copy of Ultrarmarathon Man. Post-its still stick to certain pages. For the first few years of my ultrarunning life, I'd take the book with me on the long drives to my ultras, with my husband and children, and read again Dean's motivational quotes, words of support, and all around inspiration to help calm my nerves before a race and visualize the finish. Some of my favorites include advice from his high school cross-country coach: "Run with your heart" and from Dean's father: "If you can't run, then walk. And if you can't walk, then crawl."

With Dean after a panel discussion on ultrarunnng at the NorthFace store in D.C., the night before the
2010 North Face 50 Mile Endurance Challenge
Photo credit: Jon Gilbert


After finishing five 50-mile ultras and DNFing (did not finish) at a 70 mile trail ultra, and a 50 mile trail ultra, I decided to take it up a notch and tackle my first 100-mile ultra. To help me along, I read Dean's second book, RUN!: 26.2 Stories of Blisters and Bliss. Like Ultramarathon Man, each chapter in RUN! begins with a quote, from Lily Tomlin's "Exercise is for people who can't handle drugs and alcohol" to an old African proverb - "When you pray, move your feet." Many chapters begin with a black and white photo of Dean, his family, and his running buddies at various ultras.

Dean shares how he trains, prepares for, and endures incredibly arduous ultras such as Leadville, Badwater, and the 4 Desert Ultras: Atacama in Chile, Gobi in China, the Sahara, and Antarctica. He writes about his experiences with and the camaraderie of fellow runners, the cultural experiences in these countries, and the support of his family.

Just as I devoured Ultramarathon Man, I devoured RUN!. Inspirational quotes, advice, and observations are underlined through out the book. The book is also adorned with post-its. Many of the universal experiences of ultrarunners resonate with me. Deans writes, "Only the person who experiences the pain can even come close to define it. Pain is in the neurons of the beholder."

My family is my crew and pacers. Dean writes,"There is an intimate bond between a hundred-mile runner and his crew. Crews are not merely spectators offering encouragement; they can be a key contributor to any ultra runner's success. They can lift even the most exhausted runner's spirits, providing nourishment for the soul at a time when many are too nauseated to take in any literal nourishment." Could not have said it better! I could never run ultras with out my crew and pacers, my family.

I was anxious going into my first 100-mile ultra. But Dean's experience and wisdom calmed my jitters and self-doubt through out my training and on race day. Sometimes things don't go as planned, but that's OK. The key is staying focused. He writes of a moment at Western States. "I couldn't eat or drink...I had fallen behind my pace...created a sense of urgency and desperation. In moments like these you need to dig deep, stay focused, and remind yourself to concentrate on small goals, and not letting the enormity of the miles still ahead consume your mind and negative thoughts...putting one foot in front of the other."

Signed copy of Ultramarathon Man the night before the North Face Endurance Challenge.
Signed copy of RUN! during Dean's Run Across America stop in Philadelphia.


The Road to Sparta is more than a memoir. I would say it's Dean's first academic and scholarly book, and includes an index. With the help of Greek scholars and historians, Dean weaves the history of the marathon, ultrarunning, his Greek heritage, his attempt to retrace Pheidippides's road to Sparta, and his 2014 run in one of the world's most grueling ultras - the Spartathlon 245km.

There is a lot going on in The Road to Sparta. And the print is a lot smaller. It's not a quick read. You'll need to pace yourself. Dean's journey in The Road to Sparta had him wondering: "to what extreme was I willing to push myself to reach Sparta." To recreate Pheidippides's marathon, Dean follows Pheidippides's diet of figs, olives, pasteli, (ground sesame and honey), fruit, and cured meats."

Dean's description of the heat, the terrain, the warm Greeks, the Greek culture, and the delicious Greek cuisine smothered in olive oil took me back to Greece, where my husband and I honeymooned during a heatwave, and when the dollar got us a lot of dracmas!

I thoroughly enjoyed reading the historical accounts. Being an ordinary ultrarunner, I was inspired by every grueling and daunting aspect of Dean's epic adventure on his road to Sparta and road to self-discovery. Dean writes, "I had set out to find Pheidippides, and in the process I found myself." If you're a history buff and love ultrarunning, pick up The Road to Sparta. Along the way, you will be enriched with running and Greek history, and you might even discover yourself.

50/50: Secrets I Learned Running 50 Marathons in 50 Days - And How You Can Achieve Super Endurance (2008)

At my high school reunion last year, one of my classmates gave me the CD version of Dean's (with Matt Fitzgerald) 50/50. I'm not a fan of audio books. I need to hold the book, turn the pages, underline, and stick post-its to pages.

But my husband andI listened to all five CDs over a few long drives. Dean recounts his experiences during his fifty marathons in fifty days. He will keep you entertained and engaged. as he shares with listeners nutrition, training tips, training plans, and much more.

Read the book version or listen to the CDs. If you want to be a marathoner, if you want to take up it a notch and go for your first ultra race, and even if you're not a runner, 50/50 will definitely inspire and get you pumped. What are the secrets? Read or listen to Dean's great story telling the next time you're on a long drive, perhaps to a running event of any distance. Whether you're a fast or a not so fast runner. popping in the CDs will make the ride go a lot faster and inspire you in the process.

Read and Run

Put these books on your reading list! Learn the secrets of running and ultrarunning, get inspired, and become an ultramarathon man or ultramarathon woman, blisters and all. Discover what you're made of as you put one foot in front of the other and run with your heart. And if you can't run, walk, if you can't walk, crawl! And READ!

Here's my review of his latest book A Runner's High: My Life in Motion.

Copyright 2018/2021

I am the author of Come What May, I Want to Run: A Memoir of the Saving Grace of Ultrarunning in Overwhelming Times. You can order the book here from from the publisher, Amazon, Bookshop, or Barnes & Noble.

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