BOOK REVIEWS: Ultra-Marathon Man

I run because it always takes me were I want to go.
-Dean "Karno" Karnazes

Recently one of my good friends told me they had been so inspired by the short description I gave of Dean Karnazes' book "Ultra-Marathon Man - Confessions of an All-Night Runner" (which was incidentally, mostly written from transcripts recorded by Dean during his all-night runs) that they had rushed straight out and ordered it.

My friend is injured and the book sounded like just the type of inspiration needed. Books are certainly good for that, I have read "Feet in the Clouds - A Tale of Fell-Running and Obsession" many times and it never fails to stir me on when I feel weak, lazy, or just lack motivation. "Rest and recovery, I've never heard such bloody rubbish in all my life". Indeed...

Book Reviews - A Personal Tale
So I start my series of book reviews with Dean's autobiography, 280 pages of witty, hilarious, interesting, and touchingly sad at one stage, rendition of a man who has taken obsession as far as, if not further (how to measure), than our own fell heroes, Billy, Joss, John, Hugh, Kenny and all the others.

Not surprisingly, the tale comes out somewhat grander, somewhat more boisterous, perhaps a feature of the difference in culture between America and the Irish and British Isles. To the book's credit it is very personal, even down into gritty (and sometimes gross!) detail, and the man's passion always shines true and reverberates authentically with even "normal" runners like us (that the borders of human stamina are forever expanding is proven by the fact that most jogger would consider myself and the rest of us hill runners pretty crazy in the first place, yet we are nothing like Dean).

I'm looking forward to writing these columns. I'm a fan of books, and while my reading now mostly comprises of running literature and tales, I have traditionally read everything: science, history, fiction, philosophy and much more. Our Earth is a wondrous place, and you cannot experience it all, nor understand it all, in one lifetime. Books help us expand our consciousness beyond these natural limits and, temporarily, see the world through someone else's eyes.

Dean Karnazes - The Ultra-Marathon Man
You can read all about Dean, or "Karno" as he's known in the world of ultra-runners on his homepage So who is he?

I'll allow you to read most about him himself, but suffice it to say that he went from talented cross-country runner to sedentary to a life-long obsession with testing himself against the world's hardest ultra challenges, including the Western Trail 100 Mile, the Badwater 100 Miler in Death Valley, California (one of the world's hottest marathons), a 199-mile relay race (only Dean ran it on his own), and participated in the first running of a marathon to the South Pole on Antarctica (Irishman Richard Donovan, who once ran from the North tip to the South tip of Ireland, also took part in this race).

To cap it off, he had the unusual "honour" of being elected one of the "Best Bodies of the Year" in Sports Illustrated, and has been voted one of the "100 most influential people" by Times Magazine.

Some Quotes
To warm you up a bit, here's some of my favourite quotes from the book:

One has either made it to the top of the mountain, or one has failed. Life is rarely neatly defined. Goals are often ambiguous and elusive. Seldom do people know exactly what's required of them to succeed....All I needed to do was run from here to there. No ambiguity about it...Just run and don't stop.
Amen brother!

I've also inducted a handful of new recruits into the ranks of ultra-endurance running. Sadly, most are now ex-communicated and have never forgiven me for dragging them into the sport. One ex-friend ran 60 miles with all night. He hasn't run a day since. That was four years ago.
The sport is not for everyone...

Runner's are real people. They don't run for money or recognition, they do it out of passion. Most have day jobs that pay the bills, and running is a labour of love....Without discipline to rise before dawn and pound out the miles, you'll never make it. If the fire in your heart isn't strong, there's no point trying....Some are running from the bottle. Some are running from past transgressions. Most are just hyper-energetic adrenaline junkies out to savour life to the last drop...Whatever the case may be, all have an internal fire that burns strong, for one reason or another.
Dean on runner's as athletes, what makes them good, and why we run. Can you recognise your own reasons? I certainly could as I read it...

Boy, did I know defeat. There was really no defeat more devastating than running oneself into the ground short of the finish line...I'd loved every second of it.
On our defeats in running, and why they aren't...

What they cared about was that a person had taken the time to train, and sacrifice, and dedicate himself wholeheartedly to the pursuit of a dream.
"Karno" on why spectators cheer on runners they don't know.

Thought it hurt like never before, I no longer just numbly accepted the pain for what it was. now I went after it, sought it out, hunted it down...."To Hell with the pain, bring it on."
Dean demonstrating the mindset of the great runners.

Running, to me, remained the purest form of athletic expression. It was the simplest, least encumbered sport there was, and the definitive measurement of raw stamina.
Let's finish on that note!

I'd give Dean's book 4.5 Walshes out of 5, it's definitely a good read, especially if you get the version with Dean's training and diet tips. Particularly interesting is that he eats no refined carbs at all when not competing, relaying only on slow-absorbing carbs (starches and fibres).

He also mentions a lactic acid buffering solution called Cytomax (check it here) and the use of pedialytes as extreme electrolyte (it's for babies suffering from acute diarrhoea and vomiting!).

During races though, he will anything especially modern refined foods, the reason being that it's stripped of pretty much anything except energy. During one race, Dean burned more than 28.800 kcal, to replenish this with "real" food would cause anyone's system to burn out. Modern, unhealthy, refined foods (white sugar etc.) is actually useful in such situations as they contain nothing but energy!

The cross-training part will probably leave most breathless, as Dean does 200 push-ups, 50 pull-ups, and 400 sit-ups, twice a day!

Enjoy the read, be inspired, and go run (more!)...