Dean Karnazes’ 3 Tips For Injury-Proofing Your Body

Dean Karnazes has been bulletproof throughout his ultrarunning career. Photo: Chad Riley

Ultrarunning legend Dean Karnazes shares his advice on how to become unbreakable.

This past August was a milestone of 20 years since a mild-mannered (and successful) marketing executive named Dean Karnazes had a few cocktails at a jazz bar in the Marina district of San Francisco when he inexplicably slipped out the back, went home, peeled down to his boxer shorts and ran to Half Moon Bay. Karnazes had given up running in his teen years but with his impromptu all-nighter of a 30-mile run he took a skydive-like plunge into ultrarunning. Since then, Karnazes has found himself absorbed by the challenges of the Western States 100, the Badwater Ultramarathon (which he won in 2004) along with many other classics. He’s perhaps most known, however, for his made-for-media super-exploits like running from Disneyland to New York City in 75 days, a 350-miler in 80 hours and 148 miles on a treadmill in 24 hours.

In an interview conducted with Karnazes for the October 2012 issue of Competitor Magazine, I asked him how he deals with all the injuries he must certainly be slammed with considering not just the racing but the tremendous quantities of mileage he consumes in training.

“Knock on wood,” Karnazes, who just turned 50, replied with a shrug of his shoulders. “I’ve never been injured.”

Even with the onslaught of pounding out 300 miles per week for more than 10 weeks when he ran across America?

Not even a sick day, Karnazes said, allowing that he “did have a couple of blood blisters.”

Want to be durable like Dean? Here are Karnazes’ top three injury-prevention tactics:

1. No sitting allowed. “I rarely sit,” Karnazes said, and explained how he avoided sitting as much as possible because of the damage it can do in terms of weakening posture and wrecking the body. His home office is equipped with a stand-up desk which he uses when writing and churning through e-mail. In addition to the biomechanical benefits, there’s evidence suggesting that reducing the amount of time sitting during the day fine-tunes the metabolism even for those who exercise regularly. (Source:“Television time and continuous metabolic risk in physically active adults.” Healy, G. N. et al. 2008. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise)

2. Cross-training. “I think total body training is essential, at least for what I do,” Karnazes said. He injects six quick circuits of a Navy SEAL routine into his normal day. “Between emails. Whenever I’m starting to bonk I’ll pop out a set,” he explained. The routine includes push-ups, sit-ups and pull-ups. Karnazes believes it was because of this cross-training he was able to net his 9th finish in 10 tries at Badwater two summers ago despite a low amount of running volume going into the race due to a heavy travel schedule. Karnazes also admitted that when he travels the first thing he does upon walking into a new hotel is to check out the gym for a pull-up bar. If there isn’t one he’ll improvise—even if he’s stuck with using the shower curtain rod in a bathroom.

3. Avoiding overbuilt running shoes. “I tell runners to listen to everyone but follow no one,” Karnazes said. He recalled that as a high school runner back in the 1970s he would run to the beach, stash his shoes in bushes and run barefoot in the sand. “Minimalism is nothing new to me,” he said, talking about the new wave of barefoot-simulating running shoes on the market. “I remember meeting with Nike 10 years ago ago and they brought me in to see all of their new medial posts and other widgets and gadgets. I said, ‘You’re overbuilding these shoes. Just let the foot be the foot. You’re causing injuries because you’re forcing these people with poor biomechanics into a good biomechanical position but their bodies aren’t aligned for that.’ What happens is they end up compensating with a weird gait because they’re maligned. When Nike came out with the Free they hit the nail on the head.” That said, Karnazes counsels runners to be careful when jumping into a minimalist shoe. “Try it and see if it works,” he advises. “But I don’t think we’re engineered to run barefoot on the asphalt.” His ultimate advice for starting on the path toward stronger, more injury-proof feet? Start by adding some foot-strengthening work into your routine with occasional short barefoot runs in the sand or on the grass. Plus, use time at home as a conditioner. “When you get home walk around your house all day in bare feet.” Karnazes said that you can add this to the habit of not sitting down. “Stand up more and bounce on your toes a lot.”

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