Ultra-marathoner Dean Karnazes claims "There is magic in misery." While it would be easy to write off his habit of running for 100 miles at a timeor longeras mere masochism, it's impossible to not admire his tenacity in pushing his body to reach one extreme goal after another. Sure, it's gory to read about how he lost one of his big toenails from shoe friction during the Western States Endurance Run. But what registers more is that here's a guy competing in an event that includes 38,000 feet of elevation change--the equivalent of scaling the Empire State Building 30 times.
Despite his considerable athleticism, "Karno" argues that the first half of any race is run with one's body, and the second half with the mind. Without delving into excessively touchy-feely territory, he explores "the possibilities of self" as he completes an ultra-marathon in 120-degree heat in Death Valley, and later the first-ever marathon at the South Pole. It's an odd combination: a California surfer dude contemplating how, as Socrates said, "Suffering leads to wisdom." But Karnazes's self-motivation is utterly intriguing, and it's impossible to read this memoir without wanting to go out and run a marathon yourself.--Erica Jorgensen
From Publishers Weekly
Many would see running a marathon as the pinnacle of their athletic career; thrill-seeker Karnazes didn't just run a marathon, he ran the first marathon held at the South Pole. The conditions were extreme—"breathing the superchilled air directly [without a mask] could freeze your trachea"—yet he craved more. Also on his résumé: completing the Western States 100-mile endurance run and the Badwater 135-mile ultramarathon through Death Valley (which he won), as well as a 199-mile relay race... with only himself on his team. This running memoir (written without a coauthor) paints the picture of an insanely dedicated—some may say just plain insane—athlete. In high school, Karnazes ran cross-country track, but when his favorite coach retired, he quit the sport. Fifteen years later, on his 30th birthday (in 1992), on the verge of an early midlife crisis, he threw on his old shoes and ran 30 miles on a whim. The invigorating feeling compelled him to pursue the world of ultramarathons (any run longer than 26.2 miles). "Never," Karnazes writes, "are my senses more engaged than when the pain sets in." Yet his masochism is a reader's pleasure, and Karnazes's book is intriguing. Casual runners will find inspiration in Karnazes's determination; nonathletes will have the evidence once and for all that runners are indeed a strange breed.
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