Q&A With Ultramarathon Runner Dean Karnazes

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Dean Karnazes is an American ultramarathon runner, and the author of numerous running books, including Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner.

This book is often credited with at least partially popularizing the sport of ultramarathon running and bringing it into the mainstream.

Among his many endurance feats, Karnazes once ran 50 marathons, in 50 states, in 50 consecutive days. He also ran 350 continuous miles.

Karnazes, who is of Greek ancestry, recently launched Greek Running Tours

We grabbed a few minutes with Karnazes to learn more about Karnazes’ foray into the world of ultrarunning, how he stays fit and healthy at his age, his advice for endurance runners, and how he’s helping everyday runners experience the magic and legacy of running in Greece.

Keep reading for some valuable insights from this incredible endurance athlete in our Q&A with Dean Karnazes.

dean karnazes
credit: Kalimera Kollective

How did you get into running?

Karnazes says his earliest childhood recollections are running home from kindergarten. He also ran competitively until freshman year in high school, after which he quit running and fell away from the sport until the night of his 30th birthday.

So, what compelled Dean Karnazes to get back into the sport?

“On the night of my 30th birthday, I was in a bar and decided that instead of having another round of tequila to celebrate, I was going to run 30 miles to mark the occasion,” recalls Karnazes.

Not only is this a huge goal right off the bat, and a distance that almost all runners have to train months or even years to be able to complete without stopping, Karnazes says he did it drunk and fully unprepared, yet he didn’t let that stop him

“I was drunk. I didn’t even own running gear at the time, but thankfully I was wearing comfortable silk boxer-short underwear, so I peeled off my pants, threw them down the alleyway, and started stumbling drunkenly into the darkness,” he recounts. “That night forever changed the course of my life.”

Although you would think that it would be physically and mentally difficult to get back into running after decades away from the sport, Karnazes says that the 30-mile run away from the bar and towards his new life was as much of a literal shift in his life as a metaphorical one.

After that, his trajectory as the intrepid runner he’s become took off and he’s never looked back.

“I somehow made it 30 miles that night and became a newborn runner. The passion for running I remembered as a younger man came right back to me,” says Karnazes. “If you have passion for something, it seems easier (even when it’s not).”

dean karnazes
credit: Kalimera Kollective

What is your training like these days?

“Roughly half of my training is done with a stated goal, the other half is just freeform running for nothing other than the joy of running itself,” explains Karnazes. “As I’ve gotten older, I also do a lot of cross-training on something called an ElliptiGO.”

An ElliptiGO is essentially an elliptical machine you can ride outdoors like a bike because it’s on wheels. 

This piece of equipment provides a low-impact form of cardiovascular exercise, and as Karnazes notes, the ElliptiGO motion is more like running than a traditional bike, making it a fantastic form of cross-training for runners.

What is your lifestyle like to support your training?

“When it comes to sleep, I’ve always been a restless sleeper. I’ve tried everything imaginable without much difference,” admits Karnazes. “I’ve recently started sleeping on a waterbed and that has helped.”

Karnazes is also serious about the quality of his diet, treating his body like a premium machine that deserves only the most premium fuel.-

“As for my diet, I like to say if I can’t pick it from a tree, dig it from the earth, or catch it with my hands, I don’t eat it. I don’t eat anything processed or refined, nothing from a bag or box,” explains Karnazes. “This means no bread, cereal, or pasta. I mainly eat food from the sea for protein and lots of leafy greens and fresh vegetables.”

Karnazes has a great dietary motto:

“Real food forms the basis of my diet; if it comes from a plant, I eat it, if it’s made in a plant, I don’t.”

As for coffee, like many runners, Karnazes is a big fan.

However, instead of mixing in common add-ins like milk, cream, sugar, plant-based milk, or even the more esoteric MCT oil and grass-fed butter for the Bulletproof coffee fiends, Karnazes enjoys his coffee a little differently.

“I add fresh rosemary to the grounds before brewing,” he shares.

What kind of mindset do you have when you run ultramarathons? 

When I’m taking on these big challenges, I try not to think about anything but the present moment of time,” explains Karnazes. “Being in the present helps reduce the anxiety of what’s to come. It also helps me focus on executing rather than thinking.”

Karnazes says people often ask him what he thinks about when things get rough during his ultramarathons and daunting physical challenges. 

He says the secret is in dissociating from the obstacle.

Karnazes reports, “I tell them I try not to think. Thinking is the problem; doing is the solution.”

Q&A With Ultramarathon Runner Dean Karnazes 1
credit: Kalimera Kollective

What advice do you have for people who want to start ultramarathons?

When you get a few minutes to pick the brain of one of the world’s most indomitable and incredible endurance runners, you have to jump on the opportunity to get some advice for everyday runners looking to get started with ultramarathons.

Unsurprisingly, Karnazes is a fount of nuggets of wisdom for newbies.

“Hope for the best, but plan for the worst. Have a backup plan in place if things fall apart,” advises Karnazes. “Then puff out your chest and start moving forward. Don’t think, do.”

What was the hardest run you’ve ever done? 

Karnazes says the Badwater Ultramarathon in Death Valley is the hardest race he’s ever done and arguably, one of the hardest races on the planet. 

Q&A With Ultramarathon Runner Dean Karnazes 2
credit: Kalimera Kollective

“It’s a 135-mile nonstop footrace across the hottest place on earth,” he shares. “I’ve finished it ten times now and it seems impossible in hindsight.”

Can you share more about your latest running endeavor with launching Greek Running Tours?

Greek Running Tours takes people to places few tourists have the opportunity to see or visit. Our tours are unique and unforgettable,” explains Karnazes. 

So besides being of Greek ancestry and feeling connected to Greece, why exactly did Karnazes settle on Greece for his running tours?

“Running in Greece brings the senses to life. You experience the land more intimately on foot and it leaves you feeling enlivened and energized,” shares Karnazes. “The vibrancy of light in Greece is different from any place I’ve traveled; it’s distinctive to this magical region of the world.”

Plus, for all distance runners regardless of ancestry, there’s a lure of running in Greece as Greece is the birthplace of the Olympics and of the marathon itself.

“The history and lore of Greece are unprecedented. Then, there is the sheer beauty of Greece, and the magnificent food,” adds Karnazes.

Sounds like a winning combination for any runner.

When asked what the number one thing participants will remember from their Greek Running Tour, Karnazes shares:

“Our guests will be forever changed by the experience. Greece is something that enters your soul and your life remains richer from that point forward.”

You can follow Dean Karnazes on Instagram or learn more about Greek Running Tours.

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Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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