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Open Mic Friday: Dean Karnazes

Open_mic_friday_2 Runners’ Lounge is privileged to present an interview with Dean Karnazes, Ultramarathon Man. 

Dean's achievements include top honors in ultra marathon competitions, including a 135-mile run across Death Valley in 120-degree heat.  He has completed a 200-mile run, competing against relay teams, and has run a non-stop distance of 350 miles.  A runner who knows no boundaries, in 2006 Dean completed 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 consecutive days, and his story has been made into a movie being released this summer.  A best-selling author and speaker on fitness, Dean Karnazes has been ranked by Time magazine’s poll as 27th of "The World’s 100 Most Influential People."

Welcome to Runners’ Lounge, Dean!

Dean_karnazes_10 Who were your running heroes as young runner?  Who are some influential figures for you today in the world of running?

Dean: My biggest hero as a young runner was my father.  I remember him running the inaugural LA Marathon and his grit and determination left a lasting impression on me.  Ryan Hall stands out as a modern day hero of mine.  He is one of the few marathon runners who makes it look effortless, even while running at a blistering pace.

You've accomplished the most in the field of ultra distance running—consecutive miles run, 50 marathons in 50 days, victories in the major ultra events.  What future challenges are you interested in taking on?

Dean: This year, I am endeavoring to run the great deserts of the world: Atacama in South America, the Gobi in Asia, Death Valley in North America, the Sahara in Africa, and Antarctica.  No one has ever done all of these races in a single year.  I was lucky at the first race and survived the fastest (i.e., I won).  We’ll see how the rest go.

I’m also planning a major event in 2009, similar to the 50 marathons.  I could tell you about it, but I’d have to kill you (hee! hee!).

50_50_5 Your next book, 50/50 is due out August 18th.  What is its focus?

Dean: 50/50 is what they call in the publishing world, a “prescriptive” book.  It offers lessons I learned while running 50 marathons, in all 50 US states, in 50 consecutive days.  Some of these lessons are practical running tips, like how to deal with running at altitude and how to recover more quickly, and others are more about life.

When it gets tough on your runs, what do you tell yourself?  What are your best mental techniques for combating fatigue on during bad patches in your run?

Dean:  I use a technique I simply call, “baby steps.”  Instead of thinking about the distances still left to cover, which can be daunting and overwhelming, I just focus on taking one step at a time.  Even if there are hundreds of miles still left in front of me, I don’t think about that.  I stay in the moment and just put one foot in front of the other, taking baby steps to the best of my ability.  You either keep going, or pass out.  Either way, it’s pretty good adventure.

Dean_karnazes_portrait_4 You are very experienced with endurance and desert running.  What are you most concerned about for those runs/what will be your biggest challenge?

Dean:  These events require you to carry all of your gear, equipment and food with you, so running with a heavy pack is something I needed to train for.  I like this element of self-reliance and my body is well adapted to the demands of multi-day running.  The other competitors in these events are extremely tough and have remarkable overall body strength.

Through your ultra accomplishments, you've defied a great deal of conventional thought and practices related to running.  What have you learned that points to new breakthroughs in endurance running?

Dean: You can’t be afraid to fail.  You’ll never learn how far you can go unless you push to failure.  I think many people are so afraid of failure they don’t take risks. This could limit your potential, both in running and in life.  Celebrate failure, and learn from it.

The_karno_family_2 Finally, looking at your heavy event and speaking schedule, what is the most frequently asked question you receive by the event participants—and what is the answer?

Dean:  I get asked a lot about how I balance it all.  My response, I don’t.  My life is frenetic, fast-paced, sometime chaotic, really fun and exciting, but never balanced.  If I wanted balance, I’d still be sitting in a cube all day.  I like things the way they are now much better.

For more conversation with Dean, enjoy his blog, Life on the Run.

All photos used with permission.


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This was awesome. Thanks Tom and Amy!


Wicked awesome! Great interview. I haven't looked to see if he joined the Lounge, but he totally should so we can all say we're "friends" with Dean Karnazes.

T. Root

Hey Tom, you weren't kidding when you said today's guest is a special one!! WOW! Great job guys.

Database Diva

Wow indeed! Thanks for the great interview! Dean was at the Whidbey Island Marathon in April, but I was so tired all I could think about was getting into the bleachers to stretch. I passed right by him without noticing. I saw him from the bleachers later, when my brain was working again ;) I have a great picture of him posing with someone I don't know. I faintly recall that getting to meet him was a motivator for signing up. At least I wasn't too tired to read the interview ;)


Tom nice catch, he is a facinating study and his achievements can only be marvelled at. He seems off to a good start in his AR adventures with the RTP Atacama Crossing!


It is refreshing to read that there is someone who thrives on living a somewhat chaotic life - and is okay not having balance. Though I personally like having some balance in my life, Dean's approach of embracing the fast-paced nature of his life would be good for me to try when life gets really crazy. Maybe holding on tight and enjoying the ride is the key to keeping the stress levels down! Thanks for that insight - and congrats on the new book, I'm looking forward to reading it!

Bob Gentile

Great Interview! Dean has done some amazing events, I look forward to reading his new book as well.

Thanks Runners Lounge

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