5 Questions With: Dean Karnazes

Matt Orlando
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It is Thursday which means it is time for another 5 Questions interview! Last week I had the pleasure of sharing with you insights from professional runner and businesswoman Lauren Fleshman. She shared her thoughts on being a mom, athletes rights, and her plans for 2015 and 2016.

Today I am happy to share with you my interview with Dean Karnazes. For those of you who are unfamiliar, Dean Karnazes, aka the Ultramarathon Man, is an ultra running legend. He has an incredible resume of running achievements, including running 350 miles in 80 plus hours without sleep, running 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 consecutive days, and winning such ultra running events such as Badwater (135 miles across Death Valley), the Vermont Trail 100, and the 4 Deserts Race Series. He is also an 11 time 100-Mile/1 Day Silver Buckleholder at the Western States Endurance Run.

In addition to his achievements out on the road, Dean has written several books, including Run, where Dean “chronicles his unbelievable exploits and explorations in gripping detail; Karnazes runs for days on end without rest, across some of the most exotic and inhospitable places on earth, including the Australian Outback, Antarctica, and the back alleys of New Jersey.” He has appeared on shows such as The Today Show, Letterman, Conan O’Brien; been on the cover of Runner’s World magazine; and been featured in countless newspapers and publications.

5 Questions With: Dean Karnazes

You have had some impressive wins including Badwater in 2004, Vermont in 2006, and the 4 Deserts Race Series in 2008. Of all your wins and achievements, which one has meant the most to you?

When it comes to my greatest achievement so far, the answer might surprise you. While I’ve had the great privilege of running and racing on all 7-continents of the planet, twice over now, in some of the most remote and exotic locations on earth—from a marathon to the South Pole to running across the Sahara Desert—my most cherished accomplishment is running a 10 km race with my daughter, Alexandria, on her 10th birthday. Nothing will ever surpass that experience.

Ultrarunning gives you a lot of time to explore your mind. Over the years, what have been some of your most important self-discoveries while out on the road?

To borrow the words from the Race Director of the Leadville Trail 100-Mile Endurance Run, ultrarunning teaches us that we are better than we think we are and that we are capable of going further than we thought we could. I like to say: “A man has got to know his limitations, so that he can move beyond them.” Running great distances helps to break down preconceived physical and mental limitations and allows us to live bolder, more adventurous lives. I highly recommend it for everyone!

Having just had my second child, I know how challenging it can be to raise two children and still find time for things like running. What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as a parent and how have you managed?

Although I’ve run plenty of tough ultramarathons, no challenge has been greater than raising two kids. Being a good father is my top priority and it hasn’t always been easy. I think Jacqueline Onassis said it best: “If you mess up your children, nothing else you do really matters.”

In school, you get the lesson and then you take the test. With children, you take the test and then you get the lesson. Being a runner means being gone from the house a lot. To overcome that obstacle I’ve incorporated running with my family. For instance, when the kids were younger I used to read to them on Friday nights and then tuck them in bed. Then, I’d take off from our house in San Francisco and run up to the Napa Valley. There is this quaint little hot springs at the upper reaches of the Valley in a town called Calistoga. It’s about a 75-mile run from the house and I’d run all-night to get there. My wife would then get the kids up on Saturday morning and drive up to Calistoga to meet me for breakfast. After that, we’d spend all weekend together as a family having a great time!

You are an inspiration to runners world-wide, reaching people through your books, website, and speaking engagements. Can you share any particular story that has, in turn, inspired you?

There have been hundreds of such stories. I’ve got boxes of letters in my garage (I cherish them all too much to ever throw them away) and I’ve got a message folder in my email box that has more than 10,000 similar correspondences. Many of them start with the same introduction: “You changed my life.” When I read something like that it infuses me with infinite amounts of gratitude. To me, this is the greatest gift on earth and I wouldn’t trade it for a billion dollars because it’s something money could never buy, priceless, really.

People used to tell my mom I was going to be a priest. Instead, I became an ultramarathoner. Go figure…

According to an analysis of ultras run between 1969 and 2012 published in Springerplus (and as reported on by Runner’s World in December), “The shortest standard ultramarathon distance, 50 kilometers, is increasingly dominated by younger, faster runners, while much older runners continue to reign supreme at extreme distances such as 1,000 kilometers.” What are your thoughts on this and what is your outlook on the future of the sport (ultrarunning)?

To me, this is a very healthy trend. It shows that the future of the sport is in capable hands. Not only are some of these younger runners wicked fast, they’re terrific ambassadors and genuinely good people. Some of my biggest running heroes are in their mid-20’s, both men and women.

(Bonus) When people look at your life and career, what message do you hope they come away with?

That he was a man who had the courage to be true to the person he really was. That’s all. Simple message, be true to yourself. I want my example to give permission to others that they can do the exact same.

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