Dean Karnazes is one of the most recognisable and successful runners in the U.S. From getting scorched while running in Death Valley’s 120 degree heat, to getting frozen in the South Pole’s minus 40 degree cold, the man dubbed as ‘The Ultramarathon Man’ seems unstoppable.
Dean Karnazes proves that you’re never too old – or too drunk – to pursue your passions
He’s finished the Badwater Ultramarathon four times, finally winning it in 2004. He ran non-stop, without sleep, for 350 miles in 80 hours and 44 minutes, just to test the limits of what the human body can endure. He ran 50 marathons across 50 states in 50 days, a feat that ended with him running in the New York Marathon. He competed by himself as the only member of Team Dean in a 200 mile event called ‘The Relay’. He wakes up at 3.30am and runs a marathon before breakfast. He runs to raise awareness for charitable foundations.
To say that running is Dean Karnazes’ passion is the understatement of the decade. But what triggered this life of running? How did he find his passion?
We’re going streaking!
On the eve of his 30th birthday, Dean Karnazes got hammered on tequila – like many 29 year olds would – while celebrating with his friends in a San Francisco bar. After downing another shot of Jose Cuervo, he told them he was leaving and that he was going to run 30 miles to celebrate his birthday.
They told him he was too drunk.
They told him he wasn’t even a runner.
He told them “Yeah I am, I’m f*cked up, but I’m still going to do it.” So he left his own party, stripped down to his underwear, and just ran. He ran from San Francisco to the small coastal town of Half Moon Bay in a supposedly drunken stupor, but he made the 29.4 mile run in seven hours. This isn’t technically streaking ala Will Ferrell, but the fact that he was able to finish this run is amazing, considering he was drunk and hadn’t laced on a pair of running shoes in 15 years.
Chasing a Dream, but catching your Passion
Growing up, Dean Karnazes loved to run. In junior high school, Dean fell in love with long distance running, and won the California State Long-Distance Championship held on the MT Sac track. When his family moved to San Clemente in 1976, he joined the cross country team as a high school freshman and competed in his first ever endurance event, a fundraiser for underprivileged children, finishing it in just under six hours while raising a dollar per lap from his sponsors. But he quit after his first year due to coaching compatibility issues, and went on to pursue a life of surfing, windsurfing and drinking.
That tequila fueled sojourn Dean took to celebrate his 30th birthday was more of a “let’s go stick it to conventional wisdom” sort of thing. You see, Dean had a cushy job at a Fortune 500 company and was earning good money while working in PR. But he was fed up with it and miserable. It just wasn’t challenging enough, and he needed an outlet. Running was his calling and his passion, so he quit his day job to run full time.
A real life Superhuman
Dean was named one of Time Magazine’s “World’s Most Influential 100 People” and has won numerous awards and accolades. He may not be the fastest man on the planet, but he’s one of the most durable. His endurance levels are simply off the charts. How does he do it?
We all have our limits. From Olympians to professional athletes, once the lactate threshold is reached and the body starts to shut down, it usually means you’re done. When running, our bodies break down glucose for energy, producing lactate as a byproduct and added energy source. But when your body reaches its lactate threshold and can’t convert the lactate into energy anymore, your muscles get flooded with acid. This is where pain and fatigue set in as your body is telling you to stop hurting yourself.
Dean’s body is different. His body doesn’t get tired and his muscles don’t freeze up. He doesn’t ‘feel it’ like we humans do. He just gets sleepy. Dean is able to push on when the rest of us can’t because his brain doesn’t get the same signals we do when his lactate threshold is reached. He attributes this to his low bodyfat, genetics and a strict diet which enables his body to quickly use all sources of energy.
You can do it!
Dean Karnazes proves that it’s never too late to chase your dreams and pursue your passions. He started running competitively again at age 30, a full 15 years removed from his last endurance run.
What’s next for Dean after winning all the accolades and awards? Maybe when they send people to the moon again he can sign up and run a marathon there. I know I’d love to see him kick gravity’s ass.