Ultramarathon Man

By Dean Karnazes
295 pp. TarcherPerigee. $14.95.

Some books are deep dives. We’ve all reached for a lengthy read, scanned it’s heavy, thought provoking content, and debated whether or not the present time was appropriate for embracing the offerings of said book. “Ultramarathon Man” offers a care free pass from such considerations. It’s chapters are fun, easy, and it reads fast. It’s a good match for the person with the perpetual hectic schedule, who accuses their daily planner of thieving potential reading time.

From the seventh and eighth grade track team to an early mid life crisis moment (age 30), Dean Karnazes uses running as a means of finding a more purposeful, noble path in life. He wins a California State Long-Distance Championship (1 mile) and contributes as a freshman to a varsity cross-country championship. I love a good cross-country story, and radical nosebleeds stemming from physically bruising race conditions only added to my interest. However, the running accomplishments from Karnazes’s youth were fleeting. He puts his running ways on pause, stung by the hurtful criticism of a coaching mentor. Fifteen years would pass, with Karnazes expressing regret for occasional acts of debauchery during the span. Notably, it’s in this period that Karnazes is shaken by the accidental death of his beloved sister, Pary. The tragedy compels him to make better life choices. Later, it’s memories of Pary that help propel him through countless miles.

Moving to adulthood, running remains on hold as Karnazes finds success as a marketing executive. Inevitably, the drum beats of potential adventure garner more attention than the enticement of any corporate advancement. A 30th birthday reckoning with general lifestyle unhappiness gives way to an all night running bender, setting his life on a new course. There would be no return. “In the course of a single night I had been transformed from a drunken yuppie fool into a reborn athlete,” Karnazes said.

Impressive running accounts now ensue and become increasingly grander in scale. A sub 9 hour fifty mile race qualifies Karnazes for the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run. At that 100 mile recounting, Karnazes shares a compelling episode of nyctalopia (night blindness), brought on by low blood pressure and the bright light of day. A sub 24 hour Western States finish is followed by a couple Badwater 135-Mile Ultramarathons (the first attempt resulting in an undoubtedly rare DNF for Karnazes). Next, a marathon distance run finishing at the actual South Pole provides a glimpse into weather conditions that truly prohibits running (or any outside exposure for that matter). Finally, a Calistoga to Santa Cruz (CA) 199 mile relay run is chronicled. Normally distributed among 12 person groups, Karnazes tackles the race as a team of 1. For perspective I recommend visiting Google Maps and entering the two locations.

Narcissistic criticism is not scarce for for this book. To which I ask: What do you expect? This is Dean Karnazes’s accounting for running achievements to which the vast human population (aside from a percentage so minuscule it likely cannot be calculated) has no aptitude. He’s run 226.2 miles in a single instance and, yes, that’s earned him the right to embellish. That said, unpretentious acts are a welcome inclusion to “Ultramarathon Man”. In particular, Karnazes’s charitable contributions to children battling life threatening diseases, the Special Olympics, environmental causes, as well the focus he applies to his own children, making clear that quality time is extended to them in abundance.


#DidYouKnow courtesy “Ultramarathon Man”: It’s advised during Badwater’s 135 mile race to run on the white line edging the roadside. The line can reflect the day’s brutal heat, decreasing the likelihood of runners’ soles melting.

#Follow Dean Karnazes Here