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In It for the Long Haul

Erin Crowell - April 23rd, 2012  

“UltraMarathonMan” to speak in Petoskey

Dean Karnazes has a lot of numbers in his life.

In 2006, he ran 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 consecutive days (that’s 26.2 miles per run). In 2011, he ran from California to New York City, or approximately 3,000 miles, averaging 40 to 50 miles per day.

He has run a 200-mile relay race solo (running alongside teams of 12) ten (10) times. His hottest run was through Death Valley in 120 degrees, while the coldest was a trek to the South Pole in a knee-knocking 40 degrees below zero. He’s also run on every continent. Twice.

Last week during the 116th Annual Boston Marathon, while 4,000 people withdrew from the race due to 80-degree temperatures, Karnazes ran from his hotel to the starting line (26 miles) as a warm-up before running the actual marathon race.


Karnazes has accomplished all this after the age of 30. That’s the moment – despite having run a marathon at the age of 14 – he said he became a runner.

He’ll discuss his late-blossoming running career, including the ups and downs and colorful stories and characters he’s encountered along the way, when he speaks at Petoskey Middle School on May 9 at 7 p.m.

The story of how Karnazes got back into running is one such story.

“I was sitting in a bar on my 30th birthday and it was around 11 o’clock at night and I said to my friends, ‘You know what? I’m leaving. I’m going to go run 30 miles tonight to celebrate my 30th birthday,” he recalls in a phone interview from his home in San Francisco.

Like out of a movie scene, Karnazes rose from his seat because he “just felt like running.”

“I literally walked out of the bar and ran 30 miles.”

After he accomplished that, he decided to go a little farther…then a little farther still. But unlike Tom Hanks’ character Forrest Gump, who ran until his beard grew long and scraggly, Karnazes’ desire to push a little further came during a routine five-mile run in his neighborhood.

“After that initial 30 mile run, I started just doing five mile jogs, thinking my fitness was really good. Then I was running up a hill one day in San Francisco and these two guys just blew by me and they were carrying backpacks. I basically chased them up the hill and when I got to the top, they were doing pushups,” he laughed. “I was like ‘Okay, I’ve got to find out what they’re doing.’” For the father of two, it was the first introduction to the world of ultrarunning, races that exceed 50 or even100 miles.

“I thought the farthest distance was a marathon. I asked them if a human is even capable of doing that.”

The answer was yes, and more, as Karnazes continued adding new challenges and farther distances.


Karnazes is well-known for the time he called a pizza place from his cell phone and had a pie delivered to an intersection he would soon be passing while on one of his ultra runs.

“I’ll never live that story down,” he laughs. “It got to the point where a lot of pizza delivery guys would show up because my friends would call them.”

These days, Karnazes has been fine-tuning his diet, such as avoiding high fructose corn syrup, artificial colors, hydrogenated oils and trans fats. But that doesn’t mean he skimps on calories.

For his run across America, Karnazes was consuming 6,000 to 8,000 calories a day, enjoying some of his favorite healthy foods like Pacific salmon.

He’s passionate about childhood obesity, making it one of his top priorities when it comes to awareness and fundraising.

“We’re losing the battle against obesity and I think we almost need to attack it.

We’re trying things like removing junk food from school vending machines and improving programs, but it’s just so endemic and cultural. There are huge populations where being overweight or obese is the norm. What we really need to do is demonize obesity.”

Karnazes raised over $177,000 hosting several 5K races during his run across America to benefit Action for Healthy Kids, a non-profit geared to getting kids moving.


While determination plays a major role in Karnazes’ ultra endeavors, he possesses a genetic advantage.

“Scientists found that I have a really efficient mechanism for removing lactic acid,” he notes of the byproduct created by muscles during excessive bouts of exercise. In other words, Karnazes feels little or no pain running eight, ten or 15 hours.

Although he doesn’t take it for granted. “I should exercise my fifth, but I’ve never had an injury…knock on the side of my head,” he laughs. “I take supplements and for saving joints, glucosamine is great. I also consume a lot of omega 3 fatty acids.”

He also does a lot of cross training; but when it comes to rest, he doesn’t do much of it.

“The longest I’ve gone without exercise is three days in the last 15 years. I had the flu and my doc said, ‘Don’t run.’ Well, I got worse so I said screw it. I ended up getting better after I went for a run.”

Karnazes says many people have enjoyed his presentations, some approaching him afterwards saying their lives have been changed.

So, regardless of your fitness level – whether you’re a runner or a marathon couch potato – it should be a fun, interactive evening, a chance to observe one of humanity’s crazy exceptions and just think, “Wow, really?!” Speaking of which, when asked what his next endeavor will be, Karnazes already has it figured out.

“This might sound crazy, but I’m going to try to run a marathon in every country of the world in one year. I’m setting a global expedition of 204 marathons in one year.”

Yeah, have fun with that.

Dean Karnazes is the author of “Ultramarathon Man,” “50/50” and “Run!” He will speak at the Petoskey Middle School auditorium, presented by Bearcub Outfitters, on May 9 at 7 p.m. Admission is a $5 minimum donation at the door which benefits the middle school’s Adventure Education Program. Children 12 & under are free. For more info on Dean, visit

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