Who is Dean Karnazes? An In-Depth Bio Of The Ultramarathon Man

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Dean Karnazes, also known as the “Ultra Marathon Man” and the “Perfect Human” popularized ultramarathons with his book Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner.

Karnazes once ran 50 marathons, in 50 states, in 50 consecutive days and has run 350 continuous miles.

Karnazes is the recipient of the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition Lifetime Achievement Award and one of TIME magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World.

A New York Times bestselling author, his latest book is called A Runner’s High.

Karnazes is also an entrepreneur and investor and serves on the board of several start-ups, including NIX Biosensors, OutFit and Speedland.

We spoke with Dean to build this in-depth look at what makes him tick: in this article we will cover who Dean Karnazes is, what makes him superhuman, and what keeps him going. 

dean karnazes

How old is Dean Karnazes?

Karnazes is 58 years old. He was born on August 23, 1962, in Los Angeles, California, to his Greek-descent parents, Nick and Fran Karnazes.

He has a brother, Kraig, and a had a sister, Pary, who died at the age of 18 in a car accident. Karnazes is married to his high school sweetheart, Julia, and they have two children. 

How did Dean Karnazes start running?

Karnazes started running for fun when he was in kindergarten on the way home from school.

By third grade, he was running in organized running events and by age 11, he was hiking areas like the Grand Canyon and Mount Whitney.

For his 12th birthday, Karnazes cycled 40 miles to his grandparents’ home for fun without telling his parents.

My earliest childhood recollections are from running home from school,” Karnazes shared.

I loved running as a youth and ran cross-country as a freshman in high school. We won the league championships and I decided that was as far as my running career could take me, so I quit.” 

Fast forward to the night of his 30th birthday and his life as a runner was reborn.

I walked out of a bar on the night of my 30th birthday and decided I was going to run 30 miles to celebrate. I blame my running career on bad tequila,” he joked.

dean karnazes

What running records does Dean Karnazes have?

Karnazes is most well-known for being the human to run the longest without stopping. The athletic and logistical challenges of his feats are what lure him. 

“I’m fascinated by difficult things. Combining running and adventure in unique and imaginative ways thrills me the way few other things do in life. Running is only part of the challenge, planning and resourcefulness play and equally critical role. You’re essentially recreating the wheel with each new endeavor,” he said.

Some of Karnazes’s running achievements include:

  • Running 350 miles in 80 hours and 44 minutes without sleep in 2005.
  • Completing “The Relay”, a 199-mile run from Calistoga to Santa Cruz, eleven times solo.
  • Running a marathon at the South Pole in −13 °F (−25 °C) temperatures in 2002.
  • Running a marathon in each of the 50 states in 50 consecutive days in 2006. This feat was made into a movie
  • Running 3,000 miles across the United States from Disneyland to New York City in 75 days, running 40 to 50 miles (65 to 80 km) per day, 2011. 
  • Running 148 miles (238 km) in 24 hours on a treadmill hoisted on a two-story platform above Times Square, 2004.
  • Winner, Vermont Trail 100 Mile Endurance Run, 2006.
  • Winner, 4 Deserts Challenge, 2008
  • American Ultrarunning Team, World Championships, 2005, 2008
  • Twelve-time 100-Mile/1 Day Silver Buckleholder at the Western States Endurance Run (i.e., better than twenty-four-hour finishes), 1995–2018.
  • Ten-time finisher of the Badwater Ultramarathon, known as the World’s Toughest Footrace.
  • Ran 3,000 miles (4,800 km) across the United States from Disneyland to New York City in 75 days, running 40 to 50 miles (65 to 80 km) per day, 2011. 

Karnazes also swam across the San Francisco Bay. He has been honored as: 

  • Outside magazine, Ultimate Top 10 Outdoor Athletes, 2004.
  • Competitor magazine Endurance Athlete of the Year Award winner, 2005, 2006, 2008.
  • ESPN ESPY Award winner, “Best Outdoor Athlete”, 2007.
  • Men’s Journal, Adventure Hall of Fame, 2007.
  • TIME magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World, 2007.
  • PanHellenic Foundation Paradigm Award winner, 2016.
  • Named by Men’s Health as the Fittest Man Over 50, 2019.
  • President’s Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition Lifetime Achievement Award, 2019.

What books has Dean Karnazes written?

When not spending hours on the trails, Karnazes is a prolific writer – and a New York Times bestselling author. His books include:

Karnazes’s latest book, A Runner’s High, was just released this year and is a book that aims to inspire and energize runners of all abilities. It is a universal story, one that all runners can relate to.  

dean karnazes

As Dave McGillivray, race director of the Boston Marathon, put it: “Dean’s accomplishments, his stories, his tenacity, his advice and his wisdom shine through in A Runner’s High and will inspire the reader to believe that anything is possible if you believe in yourself, have the courage, and run with your heart.”

What is Dean Karnazes’s best marathon time? 

Karnazes’s best marathon time is 2:42, without specific marathon training

I’ve always been more interested in the longer stuff. When I ran 50 marathons, in 50 states, in 50 days, I ran the final marathon—NYC—in 3 hours flat. So, I’m built more for endurance than speed,” he explained.

What running shoes does Dean Karnazes wear?

Karnazes wears a new brand called Speedland, developed by Dave Dombrow and Kevin Fallon who have worked on and led design teams at Nike, Puma, and Under Armour. 

“They’re really quite extraordinary, unlike any other shoe I’ve worn,” he said.

What does Dean Karnazes eat?

Karnazes is well-known for being the guy who ordered a pizza while out on a run in his book Ultramarathon Man, but his diet has become much healthier since then. 

Basically, if it can’t be picked from a tree, dug from the earth, or caught with my hands, I don’t eat it. So, nothing processed or refined. My mentor was a guy named Jack LaLanne. He once said, ‘If man makes it, don’t eat it. And if it tastes good, spit it out.’”

How much does Dean Karnazes sleep at night?

Karnazes doesn’t set his alarm. Instead, he allows his body to dictate how much sleep he needs. 

“Some nights that’s eight or nine hours, other nights it’s five or six,” he said.

Who is Dean Karnazes? An In-Depth Bio Of The Ultramarathon Man 1

How many miles does Dean Karnazes run in a day?

Karnazes doesn’t have an average number of miles he runs in a day. A typical week is somewhere between 70 to 120 miles, give or take

I mix things up constantly. Some days are short and easy, others are hard and long,” he shared.

Why can Dean Karnazes “run forever”?

Karnazes can run forever because he is physiologically elite, biomechanically very efficient, and mentally very tough, studies find.

Karnazes says why he can run forever is best explained by a Portuguese proverb, ’Who runs for pleasure never tires.’

I love running for nothing other than running itself. You have infinite energy for those things you love.”

It has been theorized that Karnazes has a condition called Lactate Dehydrogenase Syndrome in which he does not produce lactic acid during exercise. Some testing has supported this.

Dean told us that according to DNAFit, he has the ‘endurance gene’.

What motivates Dean Karnazes to keep running?

At age 58, Karnazes continues to challenge himself because he has a desire to be the best he can be, and “running is a medium that allows a person to measure themselves against themselves.

Regardless of your age or ability, few sports hold a mirror up to you the way running does. I like the honesty of that.”

Does Dean Karnazes ever get injured?

Karnazes swears by cross-training to stay healthy and prevent running injuries. Even just doing burpees or push-ups when you have some downtime can help, he says. 

Karnazes also uses the ElliptiGO. “It’s incredible strength and cardiovascular training with zero impact. Plus, it’s outdoors, which I love and it’s fun to ride, which makes the workout feel like play.”

Karnazes also advises runners to maintain a healthy bodyweight: “I know that’s easier said than done, but the more extra weight you carry the tougher the strain on your body,”

What time management tips does Dean Karnazes have?

For a man who seems to have aced productivity, Karnazes advises people to focus 90 percent of their time on that which is most important to them.

“We tend to get sucked into minor tasks and superfluous distractions. Have the discipline not to get lured into this temping trap…. 

Also, never sit down.”

So, does Dean Karnazes ever get tired?

Yes, but “only when I sit down.”

Learn more about Karnazes at ultramarathonman.com

Editor’s Note:

Thomas here, the founder of Marathon Handbook.

I just wanted to underscore what an inspiration Dean has been to me, and how generous he is . .

. . . a few years ago when Marathon Handbook was just getting started, I reached out to Dean to ask if he’d consider writing the foreword to my book The Stage Race Handbook.

Much to my surprise, he replied quickly (this was back when maybe 5 people visited the site) and delivered a great foreword – check it out here.

Photo of author
Whitney Heins is the founder of The Mother Runners and a VDOT-O2 certified running coach. She lives in Knoxville, TN with her two crazy, beautiful kids, pups, and husband. She is currently training to qualify for the US Olympic Trials marathon.

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