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Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner Paperback – March 2, 2006
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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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Karnazes refers to himself as an ordinary person with no special talent, who has performed amazing feats simply by dint of high ambition and unwavering determination.
Karnazes' resolve is indisputable. But he underrates his inherent abilities. His book describes various endurance exploits accomplished as a child and youth, as well as the unusually quick progress he made when he seriously took up long distance running as an adult. These are signs of a person who has exceptional natural stamina. Determination (and even diligent training) alone would not be sufficient to produce his results as an endurance athlete.
Karnazes also has rare energy. He writes of frequently running much of the night during the weekends and then spending active days with his family. He says he often gets by on four hours of sleep per night for extended periods. He tells about running for almost 48 hours straight, covering 200 miles, and then devoting several hours to dash about an amusement park with his kids. Most people could not come close to matching his vitality, no matter how resolute they might be.
While Karnazes may consider himself an ordinary person, he asserts that he is accomplishing things that are extraordinary, even unprecedented. But his achievements, notable as they may be, are not always as great as some of the hype surrounding them might suggest.
Karnazes indicates in his book that he found it more and more difficult to find organized events that supplied the challenge he sought. Thus, he started creating his own extreme events. In that vein, Karnazes' next big endeavor is to run 50 marathons in the 50 states in 50 consecutive days, beginning on September 17, 2006. The website promoting this venture states that Karnazes "will transcend preconceived notions of human endurance." And Karnazes has declared, "To my knowledge, no one has ever attempted this before."
Nevertheless, a relatively unknown runner, Sam Thompson, raising money for Hurricane Katrina relief, is on course to complete the same feat on August 19, 2006, before Karnazes even begins his attempt. (Thompson is not charging anything for people to run with him, while Karnazes is charging $100 per person. Given Karnazes' star power, he very well may get more takers than Thompson has, notwithstanding the hefty participation fee.)
While presumably unaware of Thompson's plan, Karnazes certainly must have known that others have performed consecutive day running exploits that are even more impressive. A few examples:
* Participants in the 2002 and 2004 Runs Across America averaged over 43 miles per day for 71 days in running more than 3,080 miles.
* Finishers must complete the annual Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race in Queens, New York in 51 days or less, requiring an average of over 60 miles a day.
* In 2005, Andrew Thompson completed the rugged and mountainous 2,174-mile Appalachian Trail in 47-1/2 days, averaging over 45 miles a day.
* In 2005, 55-year old David Horton completed the equally difficult 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail (going from the U.S. border with Mexico to the U.S. border with Canada) in 66 days, averaging 40 miles a day.
In more standard competitive ultramarathon events, Karnazes' record, though quite respectable, is by no means unrivaled:
* His best time in the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run is more than two hours slower than the best time of seven-time winner Scott Jurek.
* His fastest performance in the Badwater Ultramarathon is two hours and forty-six minutes slower than that of Jurek.
* In the International Association of Ultrarunners 2005 24-Hour World Challenge, Karnazes finished 29th in the male division, running 136.2 miles in 24 hours, compared to 166.5 miles for the winner, Anatoliy Kruglikov of Russia. In addition, five women finished ahead of Karnazes.
A cyclist who finished 29th in the Tour de France or a runner who finished 29th in the Olympic Marathon would not be lionized as Karnazes has been. Indeed, Karnazes has received far more attention than the 28 men and the 5 women who finished ahead of him in the 24-Hour World Challenge put together. Why?
Karnazes has been very skillful in promoting himself. He has put his background as a marketing professional to good use. He clearly has a hunger for fame. He has written an entertaining book. He is a good-looking guy, with what he describes in his book as a "chiseled build." He has a lively sense of humor. He is media savvy. He has astute commercial instincts. And since the sphere of ultramarathoning is relatively obscure and not as tightly organized as most more established sports, it is easier to create an exaggerated impression of an ultramarathoner's ability with the general public through clever marketing.
Some admire Karnazes for his marketing prowess. Others find him self-absorbed and overly concerned with image.
To his credit, Karnazes has used his renown to raise money for worthy charitable causes. He also has inspired people to stretch their limits beyond what they thought possible. He no doubt has more challenges in store.
David C. Burgess
As a former runner (never more than marathons myself though) I find the ultramarathon and any ultra endurance event fascinating. I marvel at Dean's stories of preparation and the play by play for a few major races (his first Western States 100, Badwater, and a 199 mile relay he ran solo). Those play by play accounts of races plus an excursion to the South Pole compise about 3/4 of this lightweight little book. Dean isn't much of a writer and apparently he didn't use a ghost like Lance did for "It's Not About the Bike" so the writing quality is unfortunately what you'd expect from a professional software marketer. However, few athletes or anyone interesting for that matter outside of the creative arts writes all that well in an autobio anyway, so we'll cut him some slack for that.
What is hard to cut him any slack for though are the terrible cliches in the writing. Maybe he really remembers his running coaches the way he describes them but it stretches credibility to believe that any of them could have been as cliche as he describes. And, as a recreational runner, I'd always had this romantic notion of the thoughts that inspire ultramarathoners being more weighty than "Pain is weakness leaving the body" which I see on every high school team atheletic t-shirt. An ultramarathon finisher really said that to him during a race? again, just hard to believe.
Is Dean worth reading about? Sure, if you are a junkie for endurance events or human limits, this book is a quick easy and worthwhile read.
But, there are also so many things about the book that made it painful to read. I can't guess the number of times he proclaimed his own humility, that he's essentially anonymous and very few people know of his running obsession. Maybe at one time both of these statements were true but in reading the book, we get a picture of someone who's anything but humble. He clearly wants the world to see him as the greatest endurance runner ever. The types of goals he sets for himself and the publicity he's generated around the book speak to anything but humility.
Some of that is offset by the great work he does turning his running passion into charity for children needing organ transplants and other causes. That's admirable, but in his retelling of the story of the first time he did the 199 mile relay solo to raise money for a transplant recipient could easily give one the inpression that he was using the notariety for that charity as much for himself as for her, with the TV cameras following him on the course and the made for TV sound bites he recounted.
Dean also claims to be a model father and husband and maybe he is. Maybe his wife and children are perfectly happy making the sacrifices they do for him and they wouldn't have it any other way. But it's hard to reconcile his self-description as the close to perfect spouse and father with the story of the recklessness of taking a 6 month old child to Death Valley for badwater, or of spending more than 3 weeks in Antartica to "run" the world's first marathon at the South Pole while wife and 2 young children waited home without daddy not know if he was alive, or of training for his first Western States 100 while his wife was studying for dental licensuing exams. Some men are cut out to be adventurers and explorers and to test the limits of the human body and spirit and clearly Dean is one of these. But he shouldn't try to bowl us over with how humble he is too. He's clearly one of the most self-centered people I've ever read about.
But of all the annoying things that come through about his personality, the best comes with a large dose of irony. On page 212 he retells with great pride in his sense of humor and wit the story of him sending a tampon to a first time male finisher of a shorter ultramarathon and how once this other guy finished his 4th Western States, he could finally live that down. And 2 pages later he gives the only mention in the whole book to the fact that there are some incredible female ultrarunners.
So what's the irony? How about a guy who sent a tampon to a male friend getting BEAT BY FEMALE ultramarathoner Pam Reed not once but TWICE at the Badwater Ultramarathon. How about her beating him to his much publicized goal of being the first person to run 300 miles non-stop. I wonder if anyone sent Dean a congratulatory tampon after that?
Lastly, sadly, Dean talks repeatedly about the inspiration he takes from running for his dead younger sister who was tragically killed too young in a car accident. I lost a younger sibling way too young too and I know the emptiness it leaves but I feel sorry for Dean, still running for the dead instead of living life for the living.
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