Tuesday, August 10, 2010

My Interview with Dean Karnazes – Ultramarathon Man!

On August 10, 2010 I had the opportunity to interview the Ultramarathon Man, Dean Karnazes, by telephone from his home in San Francisco. Karnazes has written the New York Times’ best selling book, Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All Night Runner and, 50/50: Secrets I Learned Running 50 Marathons in 50 Days. He has also competed in thousands of ultramarathon races and has even run up to 350 miles in 80 hours without stopping. Never one to slow down or to stop dreaming up his next challenge, Karnazes has many upcoming adventures and has a new book hitting shelves next spring.

Karnazes will be running the TransRockies Race in Colorado August 22 – August 27. The 6-day 113 mile trail  run climbs over mountain peaks and reaches elevations of 12,500 feet. I am lucky enough to be able to run with Karnazes as my partner for Stage One/Day One of the race, which is 20.4 miles. Gore-Tex will be my host.

The Interview:

I have to ask, did you run this morning?

DK: (laughs) Of course.

How far did you go?

DK: A quick ten miles. Then I’ll go out for another ten miles this afternoon. I’ll run up a 2,500 foot hill.

I didn’t know there were any hills in San Francisco! (being sarcastic here)

DK: (laughs) Just a few.

How many miles do you average per week?

DK: My mileage ranges from 50-60 miles per week on up to 200 miles sometimes. It varies a lot because I travel so much. Last year I was on the road for 250 days.

There will be many runners reading this interview who are struggling to get through running 40-60 miles per week during training. They get burned out. Do you ever get sick of running?

DK: I love to run and I have some tips to keep it fresh and novel. I rarely use the same route twice. That keeps things new. It’s better to listen to your body than to your watch or your training schedule. Rules are meant to be broken. If you are feeling good, go faster than your recommended pace. Have fun with it. Go out for an eight hour run. Don’t worry about pace. Bring cash or a credit card. Pick a new and unchartered area with the goal to just be out there moving. Interact with people along the way. If you see a Starbucks and want a latte, stop for one. Make it about the experience. I always say, “Listen to everyone, follow no one.”

About how many pairs of running/trail shoes do you own?

DK: I go through 25-30 pairs a year. Multiply that by 20 years….

What personality changes, if any, have you noticed in yourself since you’ve been running?

DK: You know, the lessons of running translate into the lessons of life. I notice that I’ve mellowed my perspective. There’s a saying for ultra runners “when you’re feeling really good at the end of a race you start reeling in people.” Some days you are the fish and some days you are the fisherman. Running really teaches you humility.

You are really well known for all of your accomplishments and amazing feats as an ultra runner. What are YOU proudest of?

DK: I’ve raced on all seven continents at least twice. I’ve probably run thousands of races. But the single race that I’m most proud is a 10K. Yes, a 10K. I ran it with my daughter on her 10th birthday.

Do you have any pre-race rituals?

DK: No, not really. A lot of people get nervous before a race. I am always nervous before the start of a race. It helps me to say to myself to try my very best. That is my commitment. No matter how bad it gets, I will try my hardest. I put the blinders on and try to be the best me I can be that day. With running you can’t cheat yourself or take any short cuts. You have to pay your dues. There are moments where you are struggling and you need to look internally.

What’s the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you on a run?

DK: I was going to run this little race called the Badwater Ultramarathon. I would just be taking a jog through Death Valley (laughs). I had this brainiac idea to make a toga-like/kilt outfit. It would go over my knees and protect me and let the air flow. My wife, who is kind of an amateur seamstress, bought some UV protective fabric and sewed up this skirt. While I was running, it started to fall apart. Disintegrating. I kept spinning it around to the front to cover all the major body parts, but it kept getting smaller and smaller until it was a swatch. Pretty soon people were driving by cheering me on. I thought, ‘What great support!’ They were really cheering because my ass was hanging out! I don’t think I’ve told that story before.

Ever have G.I. issues on runs like the rest of us?

DK: Yes, I get those things. I just don’t see them as problems. If you run for over 80 hours at a time you’re going to have to go. I carry toilet paper in my running pack. McDonalds is the best food chain on earth. I don’t eat the food, but they have the cleanest bathrooms.

Let’s talk about this third book you’re writing. Can you give us a teaser?

DK: I just submitted it with Rodale [Publishing]. It’s called, “RUN! 26.2 Stories of Blisters and Bliss.” They are short adventure stories about running marathons on all seven continents. Most of the stories are by me, but some are from guest contributors. It comes out next spring.

I know you’ve talked about a goal of running a marathon in every country in a year’s time. That’s 270 countries times 26.2 miles. I did the math for you: 7,074 miles! Are you still working on making this happen?

DK: This is absolutely something I am working on. I love the idea from the standpoint of - how can we possibly pull this off? It is daunting in every way.

I’ve heard you say that “the best thing you can do as a runner is choose your parents.” Were your parents runners?

DK: Yes, my dad’s a marathoner. He used to do sprint distances and then started marathoning. My mom is an endurance animal. She does three day events like the Susan G. Komen three day walk.

Since the Tour de France ended a couple of weeks ago there’s been a resurgence of talk about Lance Armstrong and doping. What do you think of the subject?

DK: I personally think it’s tragic. As much as I love to compete, that’s the dark side of competition. I love the ultramarathon because no matter if you are first or last, you get the same thing: a belt buckle. And, you get the self gratification of knowing what you accomplished.

Could you beat Pheidippides [first known marathoner] in a foot race?

DK: (laughs). If it meant dying at the end.

Now for some rapid fire questions. Answer in three seconds or so:

Three things in your refrigerator:

DK: Greek yogurt, lettuce, coconut water

M&Ms or Reeses:

DK: Neither. I’ve changed. No more junk food. I’ve gone clean.

Brand of toilet paper?

DK: (laughs). I can’t remember the name. Something flowery, velvety and soft.

Guilty pleasure?

DK: That’s easy. Chocolate covered espresso beans.

Alcohol, yes or no?

DK: Yes,  a glass of red wine periodically. It’s great for recovery.

What’s on your nightstand?

DK: The book, “The Four Hour Work Week” by my friend Timothy Ferriss. He’s a runner too.

What shows do you Tivo?

DK: I don’t even have a Tivo. I don’t watch TV. Maybe the news every once in awhile. What am I missing?

Me: Just the Bachelorette!

Ipod, yes or no?

DK: Yes. I use an iPod for about ¼ of my runs. I also love to read, but don’t have much time, so I listen to lots of books on my iPod

Baklava or ice cream?

DK: Baklava of course!! I’m Greek!

Now, we’re off to the hills to run some mountains! See you there, Dean. And thanks for your time.


PS: I did use some of your question suggestions. Thanks to Jamoosh for the M&Ms vs. Reeses question, M.J. for her question about how Dean’s personality might have changed with running, Trailmomma for her question about pre- race rituals and, G. Schleuse for her question about what accomplishment Dean is most proud of. I loved all the insightful questions, but just couldn’t use them all.


  1. SO SO SO SO cool!!! i loved reading his answers! So inspiring!!! I am so excited for your run!!! :)

  2. eeeeeeeeeeeek. SO AWESOME! love the picture at the end too :)

  3. Don't you love saying that you just "called up Dean" today?! Amazing.

    Loved this! Very cool to get some insight into THE Ultramarathon man :) I'm off to check out where those stages are being held - D & I might have to stalk that race to get a glimpse of the runners!

  4. Wow. He is amazing and after reading some of your posts you seem pretty darn awesome too. good work.

  5. first, awesome.
    second, Sam has some mad photoshopping skills ... I'm gonna hire him.
    third, is this amazing man aware that you have the bowels of a sick puppy?
    Have you considered the possibility that you may have to pop a squat and crap in the woods next to DEAN KARNAZES? I'm sure it won't be a big deal ...

  6. Geesh...it just makes me want to grab my wallet and go run....for the whole day! I love running inspiration! One of the things I love most about running is that no matter what our level of "expertise", for those of us who love the sport, we are all the same! Great read!

  7. Dean carries t.p. Your problems are solved.
    Great interview. Thanks.

  8. Love the interview! His book coming out in the spring looks awesome. I can't wait! I love that he said to just go out for an 8 hour run...what?!!

  9. Thanks again for using my question - soo excited to hear the recap of your run together with him!

    And HOW COOL is it that he's most proud of running a 10K with his daughter?!?!

  10. Ahh I love this! I read the story about his 10k with his daughter and cried.

    Can't wait to hear the race report!

  11. GREAT interview! I wish I was YOU!

  12. What a wonderful interview! Nicely done... I loved reading it! :D

  13. Great interview. You are one lucky lady.

    What an inspiring experince you are having.

  14. Awesome interview! When do we get to interview you?

  15. That is awesome! You just 'chatted up' Dean! lol Thanks for using my question, I think I squealed like a school girl! lmao

    Can't wait for you to run with him and report back to us here!

  16. great job! loved reading it!! makes me want to do another ultra.

  17. I read your interview as soon as I received an email about your article this morning! AWESOME! You did a great job. Thanks for sharing!!

  18. wow, that was great...love the Badwater story....funny....can't wait for his next book to come out...

  19. This is so inspiring and such a great interview. Thanks for sharing! I can't wait to hear about your run with him.
    So funny that he uses McDonalds restrooms!

  20. LOVE this! I liked his "Listen to everyone, follow no one" advice. I'm so excited for you!

  21. so so so awesome!!!! LOVED it :)

  22. That was sooo cool! Congrats on a great interview :)

  23. Great interview...you are sooo famous now!

  24. This is freaking awesome.

    This coconut water craze is killing me & I apparently need to go to the McD's HE GOES TO. Yikes, the ones I've been in are straight a*s.

    You rock.

  25. How appropriate that you're the first one he told the bare-assed Badwater story!

  26. Great-Great-GREAT interview. I just loved the question whether Dean gets sick of running. His response is awesome and so motivating. In fact, for my first marathon in Oct., I keep telling myself...what else would you rather do for 3 to 4 hours in the morning other than run?! It keeps me motivated.

  27. Oh, nice interview. I DID get my question answered, if indirectly. I now know that DK wipes his post-trailgift ass with "something velvety and soft." I can rest now.

    I'm waaay late for the whole hydration discussion (I've been in the woods, again), but I have used just about everything. Iv'e run with some prototype CamelBak waist belt for years, but have finally gotten sick of the bulkiness. I tried the handbottles for awhile, for me they work and aren't too difficult to manage, but it gets tiring after 15 miles or so. I've run a bit with the CamelBak M.U.L.E., but it's a bit too much and moves around a lot, though the huge water capacity is a big bonus for a thirsty runner like me (generally will go through 2 20 oz. bottles in a 12 mile summer run). I just this morning got a Nathan pak and think I'm in love. It really doesn't seem to move at all and I like the front pockets for gels and things. I've yet to try it on a run so the jury's still out, but I'm very hopeful.

    Here's what I think of the hydration bags themselves. CamelBak is nice and sturdy, and I had one for many years that performed well, then died in its 7th year. Pretty good life. I got another one, and it was similarily sturdy, but the damn thing tasted funny, no matter what. I used a lot of electrolyte tabs to mask the taste, but then learned to hate electrolyte tabs. I got a NorthFace bag, no taste and works well. Occasionally (like, yearly), I have to cut and reseat the tube at the bite valve, 'cause it leaks a bit. Easily repaired and no biggie. With this new pack I have Nathan's bag, which is different all together in that it closes on top like a ziploc. Easy for cleaning!

    Water bottles? I exclusively use CamelBack's Podium Chill, which keeps my icewater cool and has a mouthpiece that's always closed (no splashing!), yet is always open, too (easy sipping). Won't run (or yoga, for that matter) with any other bottle.

    There's a lot of opinion!

  28. Ok, I am still jealous of the fact that you spoke with him. I have always though of Dean as a bit of an egomanic, but a deserving one at least! I love his answer to the burnout question. I bet it would help me when I am feeling tired...the thought of stopping never occurs to me, mostly because I know its looked down enough on just to walk. With that statement he made me feel okay with the runner that I am. :) Great interview!

  29. Thanks for the interview! I can now show it to my husband who has a huge man crush on Dean!

  30. Great interview! That must have been so fun to do!

  31. Excellent interview! I am so jealous! You have fun and touch him and make sure that he is real...to a lot of us he just seems so unreal...but I bet he is!

  32. YOU ROCK! Love the interview, and also loved the article about you! :)

  33. awesome! i made Dean a sign once when he was doing the 50/50. i went to see him at the finish line in Boston and i made the cheesiest sign ever, it took me like 10 hours to make, it had to be perfect for him. when he saw the sign he asked me if he could keep it! he said he was going ot keep it on his bus until he finished all 50. i bet its hanging on his fridge now...

  34. First of all, Bethany + Ryan, that is so cute! I bet he has it framed, in his living room. Duh, because he is down to earth like that. :)

    Second, You are so lucky!! Can we trade lives for a day?

  35. Great interview. Love your questions and his answers are fascinating! He is crazy...in a good way.

  36. "Have fun with it. Go out for an eight hour run" ha! Oh Dean...

  37. Wow! 200 miles in one week?! I consider myself a HUGE success if I get 60 miles in one month!!!

    An 8-hour run? Just for kicks? A non-stop 80-hour run?! 25-30 pairs of shoes a year?!

    The whole interview was one WOW! after another.

    What a great interview. Thanks for sharing!

  38. Great article but surely that photo is "shopped"!!!

  39. Anonymous - yes of course it's shopped! Sorry if that wasn't clear. Just meant to be funny.

  40. That's freaking awesome Beth! I wanna run with Dean....waaaahhh!

    You'll have to give us the full scoop over beer after your trail run. Very, very cool. Looking forward to seeing you this weekend!

    You know what. I had another shitty ass hot run this weekend and my mantra was "shut up and run".

  41. Well done. A brilliant interview. Thanks.

  42. Awesome! Great questions! I am totally excited to hear there's a third book coming out! Awesome!

  43. Who cares if the photo was "shopped." It's very cool!

  44. Great job my writing, running, amazing friend. Because we are BFF's am I famous too? I'm just sayin'... I loved this interview felt like I got to know Dean better than I knew just from his books. He has a very personable way about him even from a distance and you made him even more human, real, and inspiring - just like the writer. THANK YOU!

  45. Congratulations. Very good interview. I think you've got a future in journalism. Seriously. Think of some article/interview ideas and send them off to Running Times (my preferred choice over RW).

  46. awesome, loved reading this!

  47. That was great!! Loved reading that. OMG, he makes running distances sound so easy. Loved the response to best race, heart melting just a little bit at that one.

    Unrelated note - thanks to boochez (sp?), the commenter above discussing hydration options.

    Have a kick ass run!!


  48. Awesome interview...makes me want to go out and run for 8 hours!! I'm tweeting a link now!!

  49. I love hearing that he gets nervous before races, too! What a great interview....thanks :)

  50. LOVED it!
    Now I'm off to "Go out for an eight hour run."

    Ha ha ha ha ha. I wish...

  51. What a great interview! What a genuine guy you are Dean. Very inspiring!

  52. Great interview. Thanks for sharing this!

  53. Thanks for interview. Cheers from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil!