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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.