Review of Dean Karnazes's A Runner's High: My Life in Motion
Updated: Feb 8
In his new memoir, we learn that Dean Karnazes is an introvert who does not like to be called ‘ultramarathon man.’ These are not the only revelations in A Runner’s High: My Life in Motion, his fifth book. While Dean’s previous memoirs, such as Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-night Runner and RUN!,: 26.2 Stories of Blisters and Bliss, are filled with inspiration and mantras to “never quit” and "if you can't run, walk; if you can't walk, crawl" attitude, A Runner’s High is heavy with introspection and reflection about his running life over the years, and now as an aging runner.
A Runner’s High begins with Dean’s arduous run at the 2018 Bishop High Sierra 100K ultra, a training run for his 13th Western States 100 miler a couple of weeks later. Already questioning his relevancy in the ultrarunning world when he’s put on the Western States waitlist for having DNF'd his last Western States, thoughts of losing his relevancy exacerbate and race through his mind when a much younger runner passes him at Bishop. Dean writes that he is vulnerable to “postrace bouts of self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy.” He’s haunted by an inner voice whispering in his ear that he is a “pathetic failure, a fraud.”
Family is an important theme in Runners’ High. Dean's parents, in their 80s, still crew and pace him at every ultra. His wife Julie, along with his children, Alexandria and Nicholas, when they were younger, helped their grandparents crew Dean. As important as family is, regret is another theme in Runner’s High. Dean laments putting running first, not having the patience required of a parent, and not being more present in his children’s lives when they were younger. He writes, “…I remember secretly longing for the day when the kids were no longer at the house so I could focus more on training. Now I look back on myself with disgust.”
A Runner's High is also about fathers and sons. Two central characters in the book are Dean’s father and 20 year-old Nicholas. Dean's introduction to long distance running took place when Dean's dad ran the 1986 LA Marathon to cope with the death of Dean's sister Parry when she was 18. While Dean has a strong relationship with his father, his relationship with Nicholas is challenging and a constant struggle.
In A Runner’s High, we see an older Dean, now approaching 60, reflect on his three decades of running and on his life of international fame, a life that has inspired so many worldwide to put one foot in front of the other, to take on the challenge of running grueling ultramarathons, and to "never stop exploring." We see Dean contemplate the changing world of running, a sport he describes as “the most democratic of sports, and ultrarunning even the more so.” Dean also reveals the challenges of getting, maintaining, and making sponsors happy, and making a living to provide for his family.
In A Runner’s High, you see a world-famous ultrarunner disclose his personal journey of universal themes in the human experience - doubt, guilt, regret, relevancy, purpose, family, and aging. You do not have to be a runner or an athlete to enjoy a Runner’s High. If you are an aging runner, the book will resonate. If you are a parent and have a strong relationship with your child, you will relate. If you’re in search of a relationship with a parent or a child, never stop searching; you might find it during a run.
What makes A Runner’s High: My Life in Motion relevant and a page-turner is ultramarathon man’s vulnerability, an admirable quality to have and to share, as an aging ultrarunner on his way to Western States for another buckle. If you read books about running, add this one to your your reading list.
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