Pondering life on his 30th birthday and finding something lacking, Dean Karnazes staggered home from a night out drinking with friends, put on his gardening shoes and went for a run. A 30-mile run. All night.
When he survived that, he set his sights on a 100-mile race. Then 135 miles. Then 199 miles. Then a marathon at the South Pole. Last summer he completed 262 miles non-stop.
“I wanted to see if I could make it 10 marathons without stopping,” he said. “It took me 75 hours and the conditions were really tough; it rained for about 20 hours of that.”
Now 42 and running a natural foods company in San Francisco, Karnazes has just written a book called “Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner.”
He started running in kindergarten when he decided his mother was too busy looking after his new baby sister to pick him up from school, so he ran home instead. He ran in high school but gave up for over a decade through college, graduate school and into his 20s when he worked in sales for a pharmaceutical company.
“The thing that sparked it was booze,” he said in an interview, joking about his conversion to a way of life that seems to have done for him what religion does for many.
“I was in a bar drinking with a bunch of friends, feeling no pain. But I was feeling pain over the course of my life, I didn’t feel very satisfied with my job and my career.
“The answer that night seemed to be walk home, put on my gardening shoes — I didn’t have running shoes — and head south. So I put some money in my pocket and ran all night.”
These days he runs 70 to 120 miles a week and regularly runs all night, sometimes putting the kids to bed on a Friday night, setting out for a hot spring 70 miles from home and meeting the family there in the morning.
PIZZA ON THE FLY
“I’ll just set out with my cell phone and credit card and run up to the Napa Valley,” he said. The credit card is to keep him stocked with food since running burns a lot of calories.
“One of the things I love to do is in the middle of the night order pizza. I’ll give them my coordinates, where I’ll be at a certain time, and they’ll deliver a hot pizza.”
In his book Karnazes describes in gripping detail the pain and exhaustion of running his first 100-mile race in a mountain range with an elevation change of 38,000 feet (11,580 m) — equivalent to climbing up and down the Empire State Building 15 times.
“The first time I did it was really a journey into the unknown,” he said. “I had no idea if I could withstand it.”
Despite “pretty severe blisters, losing a toe nail as well as temporarily going blind,” he made it.
“I realized when I crossed the finish line that I had learned more about myself in the past 21 hours than I had accumulated in a lifetime.”