Dean Karnazes On Getting Slower, Getting the Job Done & Chicken Soup for the Soul - Running for Good
Updated: Nov 4
Going on Three Decades
In 1994 Dean Karnazes ran his first Western States. In 2003 he placed first male at Badwater. The next year at age 41, Dean won Badwater. Dean has finished many, many marathons and ultras at home and around the globe.
When he's not running, and even when he is, Dean is writing. He has authored four books. You can read my reviews of all four from his 2005 Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All Night Runner to his 2016 The Road to Sparta here.
I first learned about Dean while watching 60 Minutes on CBS in 2005. I first met Dean at the 2010 North Face 50 Endurance Challenge panel discussion the night before race day, which takes place in Algonkian Regional Park in Sterling, VA.
Dean has been running a long time. "Going on three decades," he reminds me. We chatted about the toll of running on his aging body, his supportive family, running, writing, the changing world of ultrarunning, advice for aspiring ultrarunners, and Chicken Soup for the Soul - Running for Good.
Slower But Tougher
At age 55, Dean's body isn't running as fast as it used to. "I've gotten slower. My speed has decreased markedly. For me to run at the same pace that I used to as a younger man, I have to work a lot harder."
Dean adds, "I'm just not able to run as fast. I simply can't do it. But I've gotten tougher. My pain threshold has increased a lot. I can deal with a lot more suffering." Endurance, patience, and tolerating sleep deprivation seem to be the benefits of getting older.
"My endurance is improving a bit. I'm better at dealing with pain. I'm better at dealing with discomfort. When you're running a hundred miles or further there's a lot of things that can take a toll...chafing, everything that wears you down...the sun, all these sort of things."
Recovery has also improved with aging. "My recovery is mind blowing. I can run a 50 mile race and the next day feel pretty good, not bad at all, and go running again the next day. I remember being paralyzed for weeks after running a long race and that doesn't seem to happen any more."
Photo credit: Keeler Photography
Running and Writing
While Dean considers himself "an accidental New York Times best selling author," his books, translated in several languages, continue to inspire runners all over the world. His motivation for writing Ultramarathon Man, which he wrote in 7 - 8 months, was simple. "It was on my life list. I just wanted to write a book. If not now, when. So, I wrote a book. I had no expectations."
"I wrote a lot of it while I was running. This is before we had iPhones we could dictate it to. I had a Motorola digital recorder and I would dictate it to the recorder as I ran."
Writing and running are similar. Dean chuckles, "They both require 99% frustration and 1% inspiration. The act of writing can be excruciating."
For those thinking about writing a memoir or a book of any kind Dean advices, "I think they need to ask themselves why they want to write a book. [Do] they just want to write a book because it's something they want to do or, do they think they can make money. Be realistic about what your intentions are. If your desire is to get published, it's a tough road."
With each of Dean's books, readers will see the important role that family has played as he runs around the globe. "They've been all over the world. I've taken my wife. I've taken my kids." His kids are young adults now. His daughter is a college graduate and his son will soon be out of college.
His parents globe trot with him from one running event to the other. "Every single person has said, really, you want to bring your mom and dad. That's amazing."
"We travel together. We have so much fun together. Too many people have said to me that their biggest regret is that they didn't spend more time with their parents."
North Face Peru
The Ultrarunning World
I began running ultras as an ordinary runner in 2005. I'm still an ordinary runner. Today I see that ultra events are crowded. Dean agrees, "You're absolutely right. The sport itself has boomed so the year-to-year growth has been phenomenal. But the number in ultramarathoning is still really little."
Dean continues, "I think there were 110, 000 finishers of ultramarathons last year in the US, where there were ten million running race finishers. But for people like me and you, we're like, we use to come into a race where there were 40 - 50 people, now there are hundreds of people." In some ultras, there is a lottery to get in.
He adds, "...there are guys that are competing even though there is no prize money. They are competing for their sponsors. The biggest change now is that there is an element of professionalism. There's a lot of people, especially younger people, men and women that are professional marathoners and that never really existed when I first started."
Advice for Aspiring Ultrarunners and Running a 24-Hour Track Ultra
"Know thy self," says Dean. "Some people are very competitive by nature and going for their own PR. Other people are in it just for the experience. Understand why you want to do an ultra and go in with fresh eyes and try to enjoy the overall experience."
"The track thing is completely different because you can set up a crew stop along the way. If you know there is food there and a comfortable seat, it's easy to spend too much time on the sidelines. Beware of the chair," Dean warns.
"Very few people are running the last couple of hours. They either drop out or they are walking. If you can, go slower in the beginning. It's just relentless forward progress. In the middle of the night when you are tired, just walk. Keep going. The more time you spend moving forward, even slowly, the more miles you'll cover."
Getting the Job Done
As Dean puts it, "I have the luxury of working for myself." A typical Dean day consists of letting his body wake up naturally, followed by a short 7 - 8 mile run, some HIIT training, and then working standing up.
"I never sit down. I'm standing up right now during this interview and then I'll go out for a run in the afternoon." When he's not working upright at home, he's traveling to running events.
Dean laughs, "It's almost every weekend. I get invitations. I'm pretty bad at saying no. I'll do it. In reality, I gotta plan to fly half around the world for the race, get back on the plane, fly back, and do another event."
At 2019 Lake Sonoma 50
From Instagram @ultramarathon
He recently finished a 50 miler closer to home. "I ran the Lake Sonoma 50 as a training run and I said to myself, "You're going to do the best you can and you're going to reach the finish line. I got the job done." Dean placed 186 out of 280 finishers. Sixty-five runners did not finish.
Chicken Soup for the Soul - Running For Good
Dean has managed another book, this time a collaboration with Chicken Soup for the Soul. He wrote the introduction to Chicken Soup for the Soul - Running for Good.
"Amy Newmark, the president of Chicken Soup for the Soul, reached out to me. Her son is a big Ironman. She wanted to do a book on running. Her son read Ultramarathon Man, loved it and told her about me. I like the Chicken Soup for the Soul philosophy. It's very positive."
Over 1,400 people submitted their running and walking stories. One hundred and one stories, including my story - Running in Sickness and in Health - were selected for publication in the book.
What's a better way to celebrate running than with a run and a copy of Chicken Soup for the Soul - Running for Good. and inspirational running stories for yourself and the runner in your life.
You might also be interested in reading my memoir. Read excerpts and more.