Running with (the mind of) Dean Karnazes

November 21, 2010

Its early Sunday morning and the sun (what?! YES!) is streaming through the windows over the pool, and I am swimming through defined rays of light in the bubbles I create as I move through the water. The sky is blue but the air is so chilly and its nice to be inside, out of spandex, away from sweat, and simultaneously recovering and preparing for another week in the saddle, on the trail.

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to listen to Dean Karnazes, the original and renown Ultramarathon Man, speak here in Portland. He talked about what he ate, how he trains, how he “races,” and how it is that he has managed to explore the absolute brink of what humans, and athletes, can do.

“One step at a time.” he says.

He has run 50 marathons, in 50 states, in 50 days. Physiological studies have shown that he processes lactic acid better than any human ever tested. Literally a Superhuman, he once ran 350 miles “just to see what it felt like.” In 2008, he raced and won the 4 Deserts Challenge, running across the Sahara, Gobi, Atacama and Antarctic deserts in a single year. The man ran a marathon in ANTARCTICA. Seriously. And he continues to think of more ways to run, inspire, and test the limits of his own endurance and thus, that of each of us. Next up, he says, a marathon in each country of the world in a single year because running can unite, and inspire….and who knows what it might lead to (though he does not purport that anything more than meeting a community of runners worldwide would be the result.)

It was pretty fantastic to be able to encounter him, now, at this time of the season. I had heard so many stories of this man as a bit of an egoist, slightly high on the horse of his accomplishments. Karnazes is not the fastest ultra-marathon runner out there, but he is one of the more decorated. Instead, I found him to be a straightforward, humble speaker, grateful for his audience, graceful, and motivational for he upholds the philosophy that more of us athletes should take into consideration as we train and race; today I will do my best and that is all I need to do.  A bit like the one of the messages of Eastern philosophy; be present in this moment. This of course, inspires the question of whether Karnazes is able to complete these unbelievable feats because of his unmatched physique, or because of his fine-tuned mental fortitude. Did his mental endurance enable his inner athlete? Or is it his genetic makeup that just can’t be stopped? Official “training” has not yet started in this household but pondering superhuman endurance seems a fun mental pass time for months off of training.

Yesterday morning, as I was trotting through the forest, under a canopy so wet and thick and a sky so dark that frequently you would believe that the sun was already set, I thought again of his words and called over and over again his phrases, a bit struck by the commonalities between this unbelievable man, the philosophy that he follows, and the thoughts that were running through my mind as I was leaping over mud puddles and through trees.

If I put in the time, acknowledge discomfort and let it go for the sake of the next moment, it will pass. And I will be able to push on. In running, there is no faking. I, and every runner out there must “pay the man;” we either put in our training, or we don’t. We either prepare, or we don’t. And if we don’t, there is no hiding. No excuse. We will get out what we put in. When you feel like crap, you run like crap. When you feel amazing, as I did this particular morning, singing through the forest as I ran, you run like a rockstar. Running is more than something we DO, it is a mirror for whom we are.

And perhaps, if we find ourselves as impassioned with our running, with being in the moment with our bodies and our pace, as Mr. Ultramarathon Man does, we too will be able to redefine human endurance, one mile at a time.

Well, it certainly is motivation to run, isn’t it?

Learn more about Dean Karnazes, and his book, Ultramarathon Man at his website.

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