I saw Dean Karnazes coming out of the Marriot Hotel the day before the New York City Marathon in 2013. He bounded down the sidewalk with unbridled enthusiasm and energy as I boarded the bus to the expo on the opposite side of the street. My wife spotted him first and said “Hey- isn’t that the guy you read about? The one who runs forever?”
Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner was published in 2005, but it remains part of the conversation among distance runners today. It was my first introduction to the fringe group of athletes that push themselves to cover extraordinary distances in grueling multi-day events. Today, the fringe group is edging closer to mainstream and the popularity of ultras (anything longer than 26.2 miles) is booming.
The book begins with an all-night run where Dean orders a pizza to satisfy his hunger as he runs through the night to reach his destination 150 miles away. He calls a pizza place on his cell phone, asks them to deliver a large Hawaiian pizza, an entire cheescake, and a coffee to a road crossing he’s headed towards. When it arrives, he rolls it up like a burrito and eats his meal as he continues his run down the dark, lonely highway.
Dean tells his very personal story in an entertaining and engaging manner. At times, his ego and energy and can be a little over the top. But, he is larger than life and doing something extraordinary, so readers will understand the confidence required to attempt such feats of endurance. Karnazes also recognizes that he could not do what he does without the help and support of his family and friends.
Much of the book is spent answering a simple question: “Why do I do this?” For Karnazes, he finds the rewards of running long distances is both personal and communal. His running attracts attention which he then uses to raise awareness for charitable causes, sick children, or the general state of health and wellness in our country. On a more personal level, pushing his limits makes him feel more alive. As he writes in his book, “it wasn’t acclaim I craved, but adventures that involved out-of-body experiences, intense pain, nights without sleep, and a supreme sense of accomplishment.”
“It’s supposed to hurt like hell.” – Jack McTavish (Dean’s Junior HS Track Coach) on racing
If you are looking for a book that will entertain you with some crazy stories of ultramarathon running, and introduce you to the legendary Dean Karnazes, this is it. Ultramarathon Man probably won’t motivate many readers to become part of the ultra crowd, but it will make their own goals seem more attainable by comparison.