The Real Dean: Going Long With Dean Karnazes

Photo: Chad Riley

The world’s most famous ultrarunner talks about his life, diet, cross-training and his favorite subject of all, running.

In August of 1992, Dean Karnazes, a successful advertising executive living in San Francisco, was having drinks with friends at a bar called the Paragon when a mid-life crisis struck and he returned to his childhood passion of running by taking off on an all-night bender in his underwear, running 30 miles and getting home at 4 a.m. His life forever changed. His love of running rekindled, leading him to push his limits and discover the world of ultrarunning.

From the classic races such as the Western States 100 and Badwater Ultra through Death Valley to his contrived conquests of running 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days, running across the country for the “Live with Regis and Kelly” national morning TV show and running 300 miles at a time, Karnazes’ exploits has drawn an unprecedented level of national attention to ultrarunning, fitness and, of course, Karnazes himself. His first book, “Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner,” published in 2005, sold more than 100,000 copies and led to TV appearances on shows such as “David Letterman” and “60 Minutes.”

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Yet, not everyone in the ultrarunning world has been so thrilled. Since his rise to national prominence, Karnazes has arguably become the most polarizing runner in the U.S. People seem to either love him or hate him. Those who appreciate his outside-the-box endurance exploits consider him inspiring and motivating, but there are plenty who vilify him on a regular basis for making a living as a runner by way of contrived endeavors and not solely as a competitive athlete. However, detractors haven’t slowed down Karnazes or limited his impact one bit.

There’s no mistaking his inspiring effect: Time magazine listed Karnazes as one of the top 100 most influential people in the world and in 2011 he published his third book, “Run! 26.2 Stories of Blisters and Bliss.” In addition to being a family man, Karnazes is also a successful entrepreneur—he started a company called Good Health Natural Foods in 1995 and continues to serve as president. He also travels around the country promoting his foundation, Karno Kids, in an effort to counter the rising levels of obesity in American youth. And he’s still running: This past July he ran in his 10th Badwater Ultramarathon.

Competitor recently sat down with Dean—something he rarely does—to get a glimpse of what makes him tick.

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