Interview with Ultramarathon Man Dean Karnazes

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Dean Karnazes has been named by Time Magazine as one of the “Top 100 Most Influential People in the World.”

I first heard of Dean Karnazes when a non-running family member gave me a copy of his book Ultra-Marathon Man: Confessions of an All Night Runner. They had read the book with great delight and knew that that I would enjoy it too. Dean has managed to impact the lives of runners and non-runners alike in the last twenty years as he takes on feats that most of us can’t even imagine.

In this episode we talk with Dean about his latest book Run!: 26.2 Stories of Blisters and Bliss

He gives some great advice for runners of all levels. Here is an excerpt of our conversation . . .

In the book you talk about many of the amazing running adventures you’ve had. One of these involved competing in the Four Deserts Footrace. Can you briefly tell our listeners what this race entails?

It entails lots of misery and pain! (Laughs) But that’s why I love it. The Four Deserts Challenge is four of the most grueling footraces (Atacama, Gobi, Sahara, Antarctica) in the world and I tried to do them all in one year. These are six day self-supported events. No one had ever completed all four in one year.

I also like the fact that you write about some of your failures. Your first two attempts at the Leadville 100 aka “Dreadville” were unsuccessful. Why did you struggle so much at this race?

Leadville is a quaint little town in the Rockies that just happens to be about 10,400 feet above sea level. You end up climbing over Hope Pass which goes up above 12,000 feet. I had flown in from San Francisco the day before thinking that with my level of endurance I could just pop out of the plane and crush this race. Well, it was a good humbling experience -the race crushed me. I ended up almost getting what they call HACE (high altitude cerebral edema) at mile 80.

People may look at all you’ve accomplished and get discouraged because they don’t have a “bullet-proof” body. Do you have any advice to injury-prone runners who still want to accomplish big goals?

I am a big proponent of cross-training for injury prevention. I think too many runners just run . . . but its a recipe for injury. Toward the end of a marathon your form goes out the window and that’s when you injure yourself. But if you’ve got good muscle tone you can support all the micro muscles that keep your joints in alignment.

Do you have any tips for recovery? Do you do any daily “maintenance” to avoid injury, soreness and tightness? Has the amount of recovery you need changed in the last twenty years?

Listen to everyone follow no one. I never stretch. There are other guys I run with who are elite runners that do a whole lot of stretching. To me active recovery is better than passive recovery. So I always try to follow up a long run with some sort of activity. I’m also a big proponent of ice baths.

You’ve inspired many people to start running. What advice would you give the new runner on how to learn to embrace the discomfort and not dread it?

(Laughs) I think it’s a paradigm shift first of all. We in Western society thought that in the total absence of pain -if we have every comfort and convenience available to us – we would be happy. We’re so comfortable we’re miserable. I tell people, “Embrace the suffering . . . there is magic in misery”. I think any runner can relate to that. We have some of our most lively moments when we are in great pain.

Your books are all very entertaining and inspirational. What are your favorite running books?

One of my very favorites is a book called “To The Edge” written by a New York Times correspondent (Kirk Johnson) who lost his brother tragically to suicide. It caused him to reevaluate his whole life. His brother was an endurance athlete but the author wasn’t much of an athlete at all. So he took a one year sabbatical to try to run the world’s toughest footrace – The Badwater Ultramarathon, a 135 mile footrace across Death Valley.

What are some of your favorite or essential pieces of running gear?

One of my sponsors is a great company called The North Face. They have some new technical wear called FlashDry. Its lightweight, wicking, and dries so quickly if it gets wet. This new gear has really added to the level of comfort as far as not sweating and overheating but being warm and comfortable. Another piece I like is a head lamp from a company called Petzel. As ultra runners we spend a lot of our time running at night. They have a new headlamp that they call reactive technology . . . it adjusts the lighting based on what the terrain is like ahead. That’s really changed a lot of the dynamic of running at night.

How do you know if you’re ready to run an ultra? Is there a certain number of marathons that you should have under your belt first or a certain running base that is needed?

More than mileage is mindset. At the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run they say, “You run the first 50 miles with your legs and the next 50 miles with your mind.” One thing I always recommend is trying a 50k race as your first ultra and see how that goes.

You’re getting ready to run a marathon in every country in the world. How is that going?

It’s moving along. The plan now is to start in November of 2013. I’m working with the State Department and the UN to get passports and permits into all of these countries. My sponsor The North Face has been an integral partner in helping me get all this together. We are working with a firm that coordinated the Olympic torch run around the world for a lot of the logistics. I like the challenge of pulling this off equally to the running itself.

How do you decide which challenge to take on next? Do you have a bucket list or go with opportunities that come up?

It’s kinda this motto I have of “Never stop exploring.” One time I learned of this 50 marathon club (50 State Club) from talking to a guy at the Big Sur Marathon. It had taken him six and a half years. I thought “Whoa! I do not have six and a half years! I’ve got a job and family . . . I’ve got about 50 days. So I set out to run a marathon in every State in the country in 50 consecutive days. From there, taking on bigger challenges has just blossomed. So just dream big. Dreams can come true.

There are people in our audience that have run ultras and there are people who are working their way up to the 5k distance. We know the mind is so important to success in running. So, when your mind and body are saying STOP! What practical advice do you have to keep going and where do you dig that last bit of motivation from?

I tell people, “Be in the moment. Be present.” Don’t think about the next mile marker just think about putting one foot in front of the next to the best of your ability. Don’t think about how much is left to go. Think about the pain . . . sense everything and it’s amazing how that will get you through low points. That works whether it’s a 5k, a marathon, or an ultramarathon.

Also Mentioned in This Episode

Quick Tip: The Best Time for Post Run Refueling
What you do in the 30-60 minute period after a hard workout or long run can make or break your recovery. It is a priority that you get a combination of hydration, carbohydrates, protein, and electrolytes back into your body.

If you’re doing a run of 60 minutes or less you probably don’t need a recovery drink. However I’d definitely recommend it for hard speed workouts, long hill sessions, weight training workouts like P90X, and long runs.

Research has found that low-fat chocolate milk works well as a recovery drink, although some people don’t digest dairy well or are put off by the high fructose corn syrup that it can contain. Trevor and I use Hammer Recoverite and I’ve noticed significantly less muscle soreness when I use it after a long run or hard workout. A good vegan option is called Vega Sport Recovery Accelerator.

11 Responses to Interview with Ultramarathon Man Dean Karnazes

  1. Angie September 14, 2012 at 8:50 pm #

    I’d love to hear how Dean Karnazes has inspired you!

  2. Daisy September 17, 2012 at 11:53 am #

    I started following Dean when I heard about his run across the US. It inspired me to take up running again, but this time with a clear intention of doing it with a purpose and staying in tune with my body. I am addicted. The high I get from even the short run is phenomenal. I’ve never felt better or stronger, both physically and mentally. As I continue to run, I get this amazing image of going farther and setting new goals. Thanks Dean! Someday I hope to meet you and run with you.

    • Angie September 18, 2012 at 2:11 pm #

      Hi Daisy. Thanks for sharing how Dean has inspired you. Keep up the awesome work and your goals will continue to be realized!

  3. Jonas Kruckeberg September 17, 2012 at 4:27 pm #

    A friend gave me his book – The Ultra-Marathon Man – in February of this year. I had recently returned to running after taking 9 years off (death of my mom and a whirlwind marriage/divorce). I was on a hike near my home, thinking about all the incredible feats Dean had conquered. My mom’s presence was strong that day – she passed away in 2003 at the age of 57 from Ovarian Cancer. I decided right then and there that I was going to run 57 miles in one day, 1 mile for every year of my mom’s life. You see, this coming February 2013 will mark the 10th year since her passing. So I’m creating a 57 mile endurance event not only for myself but for others that want to join. I anticipate running a 1 mile loop, 57 times, so others can join me for portions of the run.

    The coolest part is, I met and ran with Dean a few weeks ago at the Kauai Marathon. It definitely was the highlight of my trip and he even provided me a 30-second video talking about my event with some stellar advice about running 50+ miles – “low and slow, eat lots of pizzas” Great advice from an incredible person.

    • Angie September 18, 2012 at 2:24 pm #

      Hi Jonas. It’s awesome to hear how Dean has been instrumental in helping you change your life. I’m sure it was very exciting to meet and run with him at the Kauai Marathon. All the best as you organize and prepare for the ultra in memory of your mom. I know that she’s proud of you!

  4. Jeff September 26, 2012 at 6:40 am #

    Really enjoyed the Dean interview. Watching Dean’s documentary and reading Ultra Marathon Man (and Matt Long’s The Long Run) helped me believe that I could run a Marathon at 40 and I did (Baltimore) and then another a month later (Richmond). I will be running Marine Corps in a few weeks! Tamara and I are a running couple and blog at Thanks again for the interview and podcast – appreciate the advice and tips!


    • Angie September 27, 2012 at 12:52 pm #

      Hi Jeff. I’m glad that you enjoyed the interview with Dean. It’s awesome to hear how you ran your first marathon at 40 and have continued your running journey. All the best at the MCM. Thanks for sharing the link to your blog!

  5. Emily November 15, 2012 at 1:53 pm #

    Just saw this news article:

    I ran the inaugural marathon this year with a friend (first for both of us), and we are already signed up for the 2013 marathon. My inspiration before was getting through my first 2 marathons at age 42. But having Dean Karnazes in the pack certainly adds some extra motivation!

    Thanks for your awesome podcast which is also very inspiring! Maybe we’ll see you and Trevor at the SLO Marathon someday!

    • Angie November 16, 2012 at 6:37 pm #

      Hi Emily,

      Thanks for your kind words about the podcast. I’m so glad to hear that you had a good experience at the SLO Marathon and are signed up for next year. Dean is definitely an inspiration and has brought so much good publicity to the world of running.

      All the best as you continue to pursue your running goals!


  1. Race Recap - City of Roses Half Marathon | Marathon Training Academy - September 18, 2012

    […] must be a boost in mental power after interviewing Dean Karnazes (episode 66) and Eric Strand (soon to be released episode 67). Amazing […]

  2. Dean Karnazes Daily Training – Ultra Marathon Man - May 12, 2013

    […] Recovery: Listen to everyone follow no one. I never stretch. There are other guys I run with who are elite runners that do a whole lot of stretching. To me active recovery is better than passive recovery. So I always try to follow up a long run with some sort of activity. I’m also a big proponent of ice baths. [source:] […]

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